Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Wars and rumors of war

by John Rember


We missed a Second Coming on Dec. 17. Jesus was supposed to arrive in Puerto Rico, in a televised event witnessed by billions. Jesus didn't show. It was just as well, because another Internet prediction had Jesus returning in 2006, but only after a head-on collision between Earth and a 14.4 mile-long asteroid. Jesus would then rule in peace for a thousand years, which makes sense, since the civilizations left behind by the asteroid would be run by rock lichens and blue-green algae, organisms not noted for their belligerence.

Still, when the power went out in Sawtooth Valley on Dec. 16 and it was 30 below outside, I began to worry. Storms had cut power in Washington and Oregon, and I visualized the outage spreading east, power plant by power plant, substation by substation, until all was dark.

We filled water bottles from the pressure tank, and kept the woodstove going and flushed the toilet with buckets of creek-water. Our cars were in the garage. We had a gas stove and 8 pounds of Costco spaghetti. Thirty hours later, the power came back. We were lucky. No pipes broken. The car started.

But it was a sobering lesson: Julie and I can stop worrying about the Rapture or the Second Coming or even giant space-rocks. Greenhouse effect or no, if it's winter in Sawtooth Valley, the End will come when electricity quits flowing upriver from Challis.

Sawtooth Valley is an extreme, but deprive the rest of the country of electricity and things would fall apart due to the human climate. The difference between this country and Uganda is that our 10-year-olds will have M-16s instead of AK-47s. A year's worth of food and water in the crawl space will only last a year, and even then you'll need to watch out for 10-year-olds.

These thoughts aren't the usual stuff of New Year's columns, but they do underscore the fact that Peace on Earth is more than just an ecumenical sentiment on a holiday greeting card. Even if you're not in Darfur or Baghdad or Chechnya, you depend on a complex web of people-at-peace to deliver food and energy to you. War breaks down these interconnected systems, often in places far removed from the battlefields.

Even the most callous war-profiteer has a stake in peace if he has children, because war always produces seeds that sprout years later in places you'd rather they wouldn't. I've wondered if Rumsfeld and Cheney, whose early White House service saw our defeat in Vietnam, weren't trying to heal that humiliation by beating up on Iraq. God only knows which bright young men in today's White House will be possessed by Iraqi demons in 2025.

But I suspect that the country as a whole will have other demons to contend with by then. The tragic cost of oil in human and environmental terms will be apparent to all but neo-conservative magical thinkers. We will look at climate in terms of major phase-changes. Decent men and women will continue to be weeded out of the political system, and opportunists and sociopaths weeded in. Electricity will be an iffy proposition in places like Sawtooth Valley, and not because of transformer failure.

These are grim New Year's predictions. But we're at war, and if you think the cost of oil is high, the cost of war is higher. It's not just the money. It's the failure to take the country toward energy self-sufficiency. It's the failure to educate an entire generation to the hard choices even victors face. It's in the crippled forms of no-longer-young soldiers coming home. It's in the violation of the social contract that occurs when wars are begun by old men who never went to war themselves.

If the years between now and 2025 are filled with war, we'll look back at this Christmas as the one when the country maxed out the credit cards, gave the kids everything they wanted, dressed up like Santa Claus, killed the fatted calf, put the new Lexus with the red bow in the driveway, and when the bills came due in January, declared bankruptcy and began a messy divorce.

So even though it's a long shot, I'm hoping for the Second Coming, preferably without the asteroid. It's our best chance for Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men, a Humane and Just Government, and a Dependable Power Supply.




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