Thursday, December 30, 2004

 

Lots and Lots of Energy

I have to confess that I have a weakness for PBS documentaries. I was watching a snippet from one such documentary the other day, about WWII, when it made a point about a Nazi policy I'd never heard about before. Evidently it was Hitler's official position in the early days of the war that the peacetime lifestyle of the average German was not to be affected by the war. The Nazis evidently waited a rather long time--nearly until the time period of the Battle of Stalingrad--to put the German economy on a war footing. Meanwhile, the Americans were building Sherman tanks like Fords, and the Russians were churning out T-34s (another kind of tank) in their thousands.

A few days ago, in another snippet from the same series of documentaries (it is apparently functionally endless, since it seems to have many parts and PBS tends to re-run such things frequently), I learned that the English suffered severe hardships during the war, and that the British government set every man-jack to growing vegetables on every available patch of ground.

The upshot of the tidbits of information seemed to be that the American, Soviet, and British goverments were far more Draconian in terms of the sacrifices they imposed on their citizens than the Germans were. At least at first.

So what has this got to do with now? Well, the causes and aims of the War in Iraq are subject to dispute, as well as to misunderstanding and blatant propaganda, but from my perspective it seems obvious that it's got quite a bit to do with the Saudis and with oil. It doesn't seem rational at all that we'd be spending four billion dollars a week to "get rid of a bad guy" who was deposed two years ago and later found hiding in a hole in the ground, or that "establishing democracy" abroad can be such a crucial priority for people who exhibit such flagrant disregard for it here at home--or that Iraq would be the ideal place to start even if spreading democracy were the goal. But in any event, I'll grant you that the motives for the war may be somewhat open to interpretation, if you'll grant me, in return, if just for the sake of argument, that oil probably has at least something to do with it.

So why, then, aren't we conserving energy?

The lately departed Attorney General was quick to point out that his many restrictions on civil rights were similar to the restrictions imposed on us in other, larger, more pressing wars. No similar rationale, however, has been put forward for getting the U.S. economy on a "war footing" by demanding economic sacrifices of the American people--specifically, to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

When this war began, I assumed that the reason for it was the instability of the Saudi royal family. I assumed that our analysts had looked at the situation in the Middle East and seen that if the decadent and unpopular Saudi royal family were ever deposed and replaced by a hostile Islamic fundamentalist government, we'd be in deep doo-doo. Now I think I gave the Bushite cabal too much credit; now I think it's likely that the Bushites are just doing their Saudi friends a favor, using American tax dollars and American lives to allegedly "re-stabilize" the region to improve the peace of mind of the Saudi fat-cats--and perhaps, in the process, to gain some direct control over Middle Eastern oil production too. (Heh heh heh...wouldn't that be a nice little "unintended consequence.")

I live in a little working-class town in the Midwest. Where I live, at least, it seems like half of all the personal vehicles on the road are SUVs, enormous extended-cab pickup trucks, or so-called minivans (which are almost all now maxi-vans, but never mind). Recently we had a cold snap, during which the temperature got down to a brisk-but-tolerable 5 degrees fahrenheit (about -15 deg. C). I took my son to the toy store. In the toy store parking lot I pulled in near an immense, gleaming, chrome-bedecked black Hummer H2--with its motor running. Just out of curiosity, I looked in its windows to see what kind of person drove such a manner of beast. And it was empty.

Now, admittedly, it's nice to live in an area where you can leave an expensive vehicle idling unattended and expect it to still be there when you get back. But really. Most nights, on the local news, we are told of some young Wisconsinite with smiling countenance and bright future who got rubbed out in Iraq; we see the stricken faces of the mother and father, the brothers and sisters, see the Wal-Mart portrait of the uniformed young person with spouse and small kids. And yet we still think it's reasonable to leave an 8,600-lb. truck idling (at zero mpg, obviously) while we're shopping, just so we can leave its heater on, to avoid momentary discomfort when we return to climb back up into it. (How much can the interior of a Hummer cool down during half an hour in the Toys'R'Us? Can it get all the way back down to 5 deg. F? And if it did, how long would it take to heat up again?)

As we were leaving, a stylishly dressed woman with a tiny sack came out of the toy store and climbed into the (presumably still warm) H2, which then went lumbering away.

There just seems something badly wrong with this whole picture to me. No, not quite "wrong"--wrong might be the wrong word. Evil might be a better one. Ignorant comes to mind. Selfish just won't keep quiet, either, along with various adjectives for emphasis.

So anyway, we're at war. But the policy of the government, spoken or not, seems to be that the peacetime lifestyle of the average American shall not be infringed upon. We should be grateful, I suppose, that we just have Fallujah to deal with, and not Stalingrad.


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