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Is There a Connection Between Northwest Salmon and the War in Afghanistan?

February 2015

Dear Watchers

Is There a Connection Between Northwest Salmon and the War in Afghanistan?

by Bill Distler

Bill Distler was born in Brooklyn, New York, and reborn as a peace activist two weeks after returning from Vietnam in 1968. Even though he still thinks about the war too much, he loves his family, and he hopes they know that. He is a founding member of Veterans For Peace, Jonathan J. Santos Memorial Chapter 111, Bellingham.

Whatcom County, our home, is filled with miracles and wonders. In March 1980, my family moved to a cabin along the Nooksack River, upriver from Deming. On our first Thanksgiving there we walked down to the river, just to watch the river flow. In a shallow rivulet right in front of us, a salmon swam past, its back out of the water. Then another, and another. I was stunned by the beauty and the power of it.

My brother Ken said “Look up!” There was an eagle flying over our heads, about ten feet up, following the salmon. I felt like a witness to a miracle. It felt like some of life’s most profound mysteries had been shown to our little group standing next to the river.

The next year on Thanksgiving, the same scene repeated. Just upstream from where we were standing was a little beaver dam.  I never saw any of the salmon try to jump over the dam. Maybe it was too high, or they were too tired. Instead, they would circle in the pool below the dam and in a few weeks their bodies would line the banks. Then the eagles would gather and there would be no shortage of food for them.

There is no shortage of miracles and wonders in Whatcom County. There are orcas and cougars and even our very own volcano. And to top it all off, we are surrounded by wonderful people.

Immigrants to this area over the last few centuries owe a great debt to the Lummi people. The Lummis teach us what is important about our new home based on their spiritual tradition and their history. I’m aware of the irony of witnessing my first sacred salmon on Thanksgiving, a day that brings up mixed feelings for many of us.

It may seem like a stretch to say that there is a connection between the survival of salmon in the Northwest and the war in Afghanistan, but they are connected.  The land and the people of Cherry Point in Whatcom County and the land and the people of Afghanistan are both threatened by the desperation of the fossil fuel industry.

In the beginning, using coal and oil to provide heat and light seemed logical. But fossil fuels have overstayed their welcome.  Healthier ways of providing those things were known for centuries, passive solar construction being one example. It’s just that those healthier ways didn’t create huge fortunes.

The fossil fuel industry is desperate now to extract every last bit of fuel from the ground and burn it before an agreement builds among the world’s citizens that there are better ways of heating and lighting our homes than by digging up poisons and spreading their toxic effects around the planet.

The threats to the way of life of the indigenous people of Cherry Point and of Afghanistan stem from the same cause. The fossil fuel industry, in its death throes, wants to squeeze out the last drop of profit before the wells run dry.

In return for the loss of our planet’s health we are offered a few hundred “good paying jobs.” Right now, our politicians seem to be under the hypnotic trance of the energy industry (“When you awake, you will find your pockets stuffed with campaign contributions.”) If our government representatives were not corrupted by the money of the energy industries, they might push for an alternative vision of hundreds of thousands of “clean energy jobs.”  Instead of the Congressional habit of parceling out weapons-making jobs to every Congressional district, they could start subsidizing local green energy production jobs. Why couldn’t every county have its own local source of employment that at the same time relieved us of the burden of the toxins that are accumulating in our air, land, and water?

Scotland, Germany and several other countries have shown that switching to green energy can be done.1 We could revolutionize our energy system right now, but it is being slowed down by those who don’t want the change just yet.  They are saying: please, just let us burn up the last bit of our investment in poison and then you can have your wind turbines. But we can’t wait for that day. We have to demand that our government stop subsidizing poison and switch to water, sunlight, and wind energy. These methods may have their own drawbacks, but right now they look ninety-nine percent better than continuing with the same old poison.

The connection with Afghanistan is that the war there is really a struggle between corporations, as represented by the lost soul of Dick Cheney, and the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, for the stealing rights to the immense fortune in natural gas and other minerals in Afghanistan and its neighbors to the north. Our taxes and our soldiers’ lives have subsidized this struggle.

While our taxes subsidize forcible resource acquisition in Asia (known as “claim-jumping” in the Old West), they are not subsidizing research on green energy systems here at home. Lack of subsidies for green energy here means fewer jobs building a new clean energy system. This leads us to snatch at a few hundred fossilized jobs while we prepare for more wars to steal more energy; a perfect loop of self-destruction. 

The historian and activist Howard Zinn asked in an essay, “Are we citizens or politicians?” He felt that the job of citizens was not to accept half-baked proposals from timid politicians but to demand what we believe to be best for our country and let the politicians worry about how to satisfy us.

Should we wait another ten years to make a demand on Congress, or should we act now? Do we know enough, or does the question need further study? Can we ask Congress to stop spending more than $50 billion this year on war in Afghanistan? Instead, let’s use half of that $50 billion to relieve the suffering of the Afghan people and the other half to subsidize a healthier future for Whatcom County and the planet.

1“Wind Supplied 98%of Scotland’s Household Power in 2014 and Other Amazing Green Energy Stories,” by Juan Cole,; Jan.4, 2015.

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