As each day passes in this country's immoral, illegal and reckless war against Iraq I find myself not only growing increasingly angry and frustrated, but also bothered, bewitched and bewildered at the deafening silence of our farm community as the killing and bloodshed continues unabated.
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. Clearly, the progressive family farm movement needs to immediately begin to explore ways whereby we can not only make the farm voice heard throughout the country, but actively recruit our fellow farmers in this cause.
Of course issues such as the genetic 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 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.
As Maureen Dowd recently pointed in a 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."
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 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.
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 is going to have on our place in the world community relative to trade, etc. can only be described in terms of dread and here again who will more than likely be stuck with the consequences of such short-sightedness upon the part of our representatives and leadership?
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."
Recently the National Farmers Union issued a press release 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."
As a journalist, I was aghast at the statement, for given the track record of an uninformed and largely farm-ignorant media, I could only imagine how that story would be played to the public, if indeed any of the media decided to use the press release.
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 my 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 I 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 get the attention of the government and the American public to 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. 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 Washington reaction to his action, but the total silence and any kind of empathetic support from Watson's fellow family farmers nationwide.
Recently on television I was 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 deals with how the people there begin to cope with inevitable death.
As they seek to go about their everyday lives they pass a platform in the center of the city where a Salvation Army group are preaching and a band is playing. Above the platform is stretched a banner which lasts until death comes to the city, and which reads: "There Is Still Time Brother."
A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes a free e-mail newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email firstname.lastname@example.org.