Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Spring Day in Southwest Virginia

From my Appalachian Trail Journal:

I’m first out of the shelter in the morning and have the trail to myself. The sun is behind clouds. The day is cool this early. I get occasional views to the west and can see fog hanging in the valley below. The scene is very calming and serene. I reach Jenny’s Knob for lunch and leave to the rumble of thunder. About half hour later, the storm hits just as I am starting up a ridge. Rain pours hard and lightning strikes in the near distance. I pass under a high voltage power line, flinching with each lightning flash. The storm lasts about an hour. The day is now very humid.

I catch up with Red, Gary and Radar at Kimberling Creek and cross its impressive suspension bridge around 3:30, heading for the campground at Trent’s Store about a mile down the road. The campground is a collection of worn travel trailers clustered around a shower/toilet building. For $4 we can set up our tents in the adjacent field. It’s like camping at Old McDonald’s Farm. Two pigs lounge in their pen not far away (far enough and downwind, fortunately). Cows graze nearby and a couple horses are in the corrals between us and the store where we can get burgers and sandwiches at the deli grill. The man and woman from last night’s camp arrive and set up their tents with us. They are Paladin, who is hiking the AT section from Damascus, Virginia to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and June Bug, a young Israeli thru-hiker. Many locals come into the store while we eat, mostly guards from a nearby state prison. Bland County, like so many rural localities, takes what jobs it can find.

We wake to a wet camp. Not rain, heavy condensation from last night. We walk out as the sawmill across from the store begins its day with a high pitched whine, "singing its song", according to Paladin. Walking back to the trail, I feel like I’m commuting to my day’s work. Real commuters pass in their vehicles. I wonder what they think of a bunch of people out hiking and camping as if we didn’t have care in the world. They’re indifferent; my adventure has no real bearing on their lives. But it is real to me, especially here in southwest Virginia, the remote and exotic region of my home state. It is familiar to me although I am seeing much of it for the first time. Damascus, Troutdale, Burke Garden, Bland and soon Pearisburg and Catawba. I’ve known those names all my life. Now I am seeing the land that goes with them.

Bush Administration to Create Auto-free City Served by Mass Transit.

In a totally unexpected move, the Bush Administration has announced its support of mass transit and the elimination of personally owned automobiles. Under the plan, all private vehicles will be prohibited on city streets. Residents will move about using free public transportation provided by local authorities. The move comes as a surprise to administration critics who have often complained about policies favoring automotive interests over mass transit. (Warning. Some statements in the preceding paragraph may be fictitious.)

It would be a surprise if this were occurring in the United States. It’s not. It is happening (or is planned) in Fallujahh, Iraq as a strategy for controlling the city after civilians are allowed to return. As reported by Anne Banard of the Boston Globe , military authorities consider automobiles to be potential bombs and will be banned from city streets. Returning civilians will be required to register, submit to a retina scan, give DNA samples and wear identification badges. Authorities may require men of military age to work in organized battalions under Occupation supervision.

Fallujah is the next promise of the BushCheney war machine. It will be the model that demonstrates how Occupation forces will control a city that is home to many resistance fighters. The US will use martial law to “lock down” the city, civilians and their movements will be highly controlled until civil order is established in the city. In one respect, this is a variation on what US forces should have done as part of the initial invasion: establish full control of the country, capture and disarm the army and organized militias, protect national and economic assets and quickly rebuild the infrastructure to restore essential public services. That strategy might have worked early on when many Iraqis saw promise in the American invasion. It has little chance after almost two years of broken promises and hardship. Falluja residents, in particular, are unlikely to feel much other than anger and hatred when they return to the rubble of their homes and businesses in a city leveled by the American onslaught. At best, they will comply grudgingly and look for opportunities to repay this blood debt to America.

Combine this hostility with the massive task of screening 250,000 returning refugees in time to vote in the January 30 elections and BushCheney has yet another recipe for failure. The Globe reports that organizing and screening a single Red Crescent convoy leaving Fallujah recently took over two hours, causing to anger and tensions between Marines and scores of young men who gathered at the embarkation point. Controlling thousands of refugees returning through limited entry points in the may be possible but delays, interrogations and likely detentions will create further resentment.

If Fallujah is a model of anything, it is a model of a bad policy becoming even worse. Far from “liberating” Iraq, US policy and actions in that country have further immiserated a nation that has already been tortured by decades of dictatorship, war and sanctions. Fallujah is simply the latest example BushCheney sliding down the “slippery slope” into a quagmire. It was supposed to be the battle that “broke the back of the insurgency” but almost a month later Marines are still fighting to secure the city as the calendar counts down to an election that cannot be held without disenfranchising 20 percent of Iraq’s population and cannot be postponed without outraging the 60 percent of Shi’a Iraqis who see the elections as their historic opportunity.

According to one Marine commander quoted in the Globe article, the US needs to establish itself “the dominant tribe” in Fallujah. “They’re never going to like us. The goal is mutual respect.” The Marines have earned respect, all right. Iraqis more than respect the Marines fighting prowess and the force at their command. What the Marines have not earned, nor are they likely to earn, respect for their presence. Without that, Fallujahns will continue to fight and the “model city” will be a scene of continued violence and death.