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'There is still time brother'

by A.V. Krebs
The Agribusiness Examiner

(Sunday, April 6, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- As each day passes in this country's immoral, illegal and reckless war against Iraq we find ourselves not only growing increasingly angry and frustrated, but also bothered, bewitched and bewildered at the deafening silence of our nation's farm community as the killing and bloodshed continues unabated.

As you know recent issues of the AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER have been running --- admittedly --- anti-war and anti-Bush articles and commentary, including Issue #Issue 230 which was devoted to this unspeakable tragedy. In each case any number of cancellations in reaction to our position was expected.

Yet, aside from one cancellation --- from a lawyer --- these news articles and commentaries were greeted with only silence by farmers.

Admittedly, not all farmers in this country read the AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, but since those who do are ones that we could fairly call concerned and thoughtful, the fact that there has only been silence gives one due cause for alarm. As a footnote, we should hasten whatever farm response we have received came from non-U.S. farmers and interestingly enough all were favorable to what we have published.

The point here, however, is not that we are not looking for praise, but rather the point is at this critical moment in our history as a nation silence and apathy have no place in the public discourse when it comes to this war and the farm community is no exception to that maxim.

Yet, despite the late hour there is still time for the progressive family farm community as a collective to immediately begin to explore ways whereby it can not only make the farm voice heard throughout the country, but actively recruit our fellow farmers in this cause.

Recently in an e-mail from Farm Aid's Mark Smith he reminded us of a quote we frequently invoke in situations like the present coming from the German theologian Martin Neimoeller over 50 years ago:

"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.
"Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
"Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
"Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
"Then they came for me, and by that time nobody was left to speak up. "

Of course issues such as the genetically engineering of our crops, country-of-origin food labeling, battles against the checkoff system, support for the Conservation Security Program, food safety, etc. are important issues and deserve our support, but frankly they pale against the backdrop and consequences of what is currently taking place in the Middle East and what the effects of that obscenity will have on our country and its farmers.

Lost in recent headlines we are already seeing the affects of this war in the Bush budget currently being debated in Congress. Mammoth tax cuts for the rich and a $74.7 billion war budget which practically nobody, (except the war mongering White House) believes will be the actual cost of war, are about to be put into place.

Put into place by cutting veterans' benefits (support our troops, but only when they are killing the enemy !!!), depriving millions of children of a decent education ("leave no child behind" . . yea sure !!!) cutting Medicaid payments so health insurance and the pharmaceutical companies can enrich their already overflowing coffers ("compassionate conservatism"???).

And surely money will be sought elsewhere in the coming months to pay for this war and who is more than likely, if past history is any judge, to be the first asked to make up such a shortfall ???

And that is simply on the home front. The affect this war assuredly will have on our place in the world community relative to trade, etc. can only be described in terms of dread. And once again we have to ask the question: who will more than likely be stuck with the consequences of such short-sightedness upon the part of our representatives and leadership ???

Clearly, as Maureen Dowd pointed out in her Wednesday New York Times op-ed, "This war was designed to change the nature of American foreign policy, military policy and even the national character --- flushing out ambivalence and embracing absolutism."

When two members of the President-Select's chicken-hawk brain trust, Bill Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan, argue in a book-length call for battle, The War Over Iraq , "well what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?" they are simply echoing the thoughts of a chicken-hawk of another era. It was none other than Henry Kissinger, who once proclaimed "the U.S. today has the reach and the power of an imperial state, yet domestic perceptions have not caught up with that reality. Such lack of understanding is not healthy, but leads to isolationism."

In all our past wars the farm community has actively engaged in the national debate on the causes and consequences of the conflagration, all the way from paving the way to our own war of independence to the extremely relevant and blunt words A.C. Townley, co-founder of the Non-Partisan League during World War I spoke to a farm rally in Jamestown, North Dakota on July 9, 1917:

"It is absolute insanity for us to lead ourselves or anybody else to believe that this nation can succeed in war when hundreds of thousands of parasites, the gamblers in the necessities of life, use the war only for the purpose of exacting exorbitant profits. We are working, not to beat the enemy, but to make more multi-millionaires."

Earlier this week we received a press release from the National Farmers Unions concerning their concerns about humanitarian aid to Iraq in the form of wheat. In part the release read that while the NFU "supported humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq and other needy countries, [it] was concerned that certain practices would depress domestic markets. In order to fulfill food aid commitments and minimize negative domestic market impact, NFU is supporting additional funding for humanitarian aid in the supplemental appropriations package that Congress will soon consider."

Frankly from a journalistic perspective, we were aghast at the statement for given the track record of an uninformed and largely farm-ignorant media, we could only imagine how that story would be played to the public, if indeed any of the media decided to use the press release in the first place.

One need only point to the recent Farm Bill and how the media milked dry, with help from the Environmental Working Group, the question of "subsidies" and "greedy" farmers as underscoring our alarm over the aforementioned NFU release.

What makes this all the more frustrating, however, is in essence the NFU is right in raising the issue of the "minimizing negative domestic market impact" because it again raises the basic issue family farm agriculture must deal with --- a fair price for what it produces.

But we would argue raising that issue in this specific context was not the time nor place to do it. Rather a more appropriate time and place to make the fair price argument forcefully and clearly would have been a few weeks ago when North Carolina tobacco farmer Douglas W. Watson sat on his Deere tractor in the Constitutional Gardens Pool between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. With an American flag flying upside down, a recognized signal of distress, Watson for nearly 72 hours sought in his own way to focus the attention of the government and the American public on the plight of rural America and family farmers.

The media made much of the fact that his protest was centered around a cut in his tobacco subsidy, "subsidy" which has now become a media buzz word for farmers being on the government's welfare dole. Yet, at the heart of Watson's protest was the unfair and unjust below cost of production prices family farmers are being paid today whether that be in tobacco, grain, meat, poultry, fruits, vegetables, etc.

Tragically the reaction to Watson's protest was not simply the expected media ignorance and public and official security conscious Washington reaction to his action, as one saw in reading articles from the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal (Issue #232), but the total silence and any trace of empathetic support from Watson's fellow family farmers nationwide.

For several years now we have argued, largely unsuccessfully, that the progressive family farm community needs to establish some kind of "rapid response network" whereby it could dispatch to as wide an audience as possible a unified message within a 24-48 hour time span after an event like the Watson action, presenting in a clear and forceful way exactly what the essential issue is relative to such direct actions, farm and food legislation, speeches, corporate corruption, etc.

Now, more than ever, we feel the need for such a communications system and that the progressive family farm movement needs to devote both immediate time, money and their collective imaginations to such an effort. Their first priority in this regard, however, should be this monstrous war.

The other evening on television we were watching a rerun of the classic 1950's anti-war film "On the Beach." It is the story of the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust that spells the end of the world. Only southern Australia and the city of Melbourne remains alive and the movie in large part deals with how the people there begin to cope with inevitable death. As they seek to go about their everyday lives they frequently pass a platform in the center of the city where a Salvation Army band is preaching and playing. Above the platform is stretched a banner which reads: "There Is Still Time Brother"

At the time the film was released this editor and his then wife belonged to an American Friends Service Committee peace group in Seattle, Washington. Each evening in shifts the Committee would pass out leaflets, that she had designed, urging the theater goers as they came out of the movie to support an atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty.

One rainy evening after we had passed out the leaflets at the last showing and after all the patrons had left we noticed many of them had simply discarded the leaflets onto the rain slick sidewalk. In the dark, however, one could still see the top line of dozens of these leaflets, with a replica of that Salvation Army banner which at the end of the movie was now flapping loosely over a dead city and world:

"There Is Still Time Brother !!!