When someone suggests a more equal distribution of wealth in this country, they're often accused of engaging in "class warfare." But, when rich people, controlling political power, send poor people's sons (and now daughters) off to war, somehow no one points out that this is a form of "class warfare" that isn't merely ideological.

In July, I met a woman who was working as a host at a high altitude campground. She divides her time between a subalpine spot in Eastern Oregon and a similarly rarified location in Arizona. She said she needs to be in areas free of air pollution because she's chemically sensitive due to serving in the Gulf War. She said her disease is due to three factors coming together with unforeseen results:

"They over-vaccinated us. We got shots for every disease you can think of, including ones we wouldn't even be exposed to. They sprayed the areas where we were with insecticides every day. And then there was petro-chemical exposure." Never did she suggest it was Iraqi chemical weapons that were the source of her health problems. The chemicals used on our soldiers by our own military were too obvious and too constant.

"You guys were guinea pigs," I said.

"It's been the same in every war," she said. "Radioactivity during WWII and mustard gas in WWI."

I wondered why all the vaccinations and pesticide spraying and then thought, "Oh, the brass wanted the fighting force in top form, not swatting mosquitoes or coming down with chicken pox. If soldiers got sick later, or even had side effects the rest of their lives, it wouldn't matter. The point was to be most effective in battle."

In this respect, our soldiers are not only cannon fodder, they're subjects in vast, uncontrolled experiments, almost as expendable as laboratory rats. Our government even sent our men into ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately after we dropped atomic bombs in the world's first and only nuclear war. Our government's policy of experimenting on our own soldiers is probably why it's taken so long for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange to get any kind of compensation for their on-going health problems. The government and the military hierarchy would have to take responsibility for what they did, on purpose or perhaps accidentally.

They say war is hell, so perhaps I should accept these things as merely part of it. Well, I've decided not to accept war instead.

"But," you say, "war is the punishment necessary to deal with the people responsible for what happened on September 11, 2001." My response is, along with 40 families of victims, "Our grief is not a cry for war." I heard one of those family members on the radio; Kelly Campbell spoke with compassion and eloquence, urging us not to pursue war.

Kelly was also quite clear about censorship of information about their organization, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. She requested a meeting with President Bush, but he refused. Although news photos were taken of a vigil the group held, including shots of people hugging, their signs that said, "Our grief is not a cry for war," were cut from published photos. A caption merely said "Members of September 11 families comfort each other," with no mention that it was a peace vigil. "Ah," I thought, "that's why I sometimes feel so alone with my peacenik ideas...news about people who think like I do is often edited, cropped, or pushed aside."

The first step toward innovation is the visualization of a different way of doing things, even if it's a foggy, imperfect idea: The military-industrial complex needs to re-tool. They'll still make a lot of money, only with different results. The same intellects, the same logistical expertise, the same human resources, the same money could be poured into health care, food, housing, and education for people all over the world. $437 billion is proposed for our 2003 military budget, not counting veterans' benefits or interest on the national debt, up to 80 percent of which is estimated to result from past military spending.

War may seem inevitable because we're used to it. Until we begin to think differently about how to resolve conflict, we won't do anything different. If any country in the world has the means and the creative imagination to come up with an alternative to war, it's us, the U.S. If we had a department of peace that rivaled the department of war in terms of budget, that would be a start.

Victoria Stoppiello is a free lance writer from Ilwaco, where she has deep roots in our area's fishing tradition.

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