Puget Sound's Conflict

Our dovish region depends on military spending.

Is there any other region in American more opposed to the war in Iraq yet more involved in fighting it? An estimated 20,000 of the 250,000 Gulf troops are from the Puget Sound area, relying in part on Boeing machinery and Microsoft software to bomb and attack Iraqi troops and civilians. Conversely, more than 25,000 demonstrators (some say 50,000) marched Seattles streets Feb. 15,one of the largest gatherings on a day of worldwide protests against the now-launched Bush war in Iraq. Its ironic, at least. Is it also hypocritical? Seattle economically profits from the war and the nearby defense installations it protests. Or is it a genuine geopolitical mind-set that divides us as doves and hawks at the city limits? The proximity of large military installations is one thing, muses Matt Holdreith of the Green Lake Peace Vigil, the political temperament of Seattle another.

Seattle is notoriously liberally correct, protesting the inclusion of nuclear U.S. submarines at Seafair events while approving the mooring of a Soviet/Russian sub from the Cold War era, on the waterfront. From Pierce to Kitsap to Snohomish and Island counties, there is enough surrounding firepower to send Iraqs clocks spinning back to Mesopotamia time. With eight major military facilitiesincluding the world-ending Trident subs and their 475-kiloton nukes of nearby Bangorblended into our scenic waters and forests, Seattle and its defense-minded neighbors are collectively the people who sport peace symbols but keep guns in their closets.

I dont think it is hypocritical, for one thing, says Mary Hanson, a Seattleite who has been protesting the lethal Trident force for about 20 of her 57 years. If Seattle is a liberal oasis, its not in spite of but because of the military surroundings. Ground Zero [the Trident protest organization] goes back to the 70s when 3,000 people climbed over the fences to stop the building of the base. They were appalled by what these weapons can do. The fact that the base is here is the reason were here.

Hanson notes that her group has no sort of economic ties to the military. We are independent working-class peopleIm a gardenerand were following our hearts. Still, anyone in Seattle directly shares the spoils of its neighboring war makers. For all the talk about a high-tech, aerospace economy, its the military that pumps an estimated $8 billion into the regional economy, according to government figures, a sum crucial to a state cutting back on education, law enforcement, and health spending. The militarys impact far outdistances any other regional industry: soldiers, sailors, and fliers number about 55,000 locally, and 70,000 military dependents spend money in and around Seattle. Another 15,000 civilians work at local facilitieswhich will be adding $278 million worth of new construction this year. In economic terms, says Marples Business Newsletter editor Michael Parks, were armed to the teeth.

Seattle-grown Boeing, of course, is Americas No. 2 Pentagon contractordefense sales, which the company now lumps in with space and communications sales, accounted for $25 billion of Boeings $54 billion in revenues last year. Much of Boeings weaponry and defense equipment is manufactured elsewhere in the U.S.Apache and Chinook choppers in Arizona and Pennsylvania, for example. But Boeing still produces airplanes and components for the B-2, AWACS, and airborne laser system locally, using a great number of Seattle workers and services, and is expected to assign expanded work here on Star Wars II, the missile defense system. Those defense sales help offset the decline in commercial airplane production in Everett and Renton. The U.S. defense budget is obviously going up, says editor Parks. Given that Washingtons share has been rising, we will benefit from that increased spending.

Thus the war, like the trickle-down from military neighbors, will economically do good things for the Emerald City. How does pinko Seattle deal with that? The question really should be, How can federal dollars be most cost-effective in stimulating the economy? says Seattle City Council member Nick Licata. That question was raised when the Navy was looking at a home port in Puget Sound. Seattle, under Mayor [Charles] Royer, rejected it, but Everett did accept it. I was a leader in fighting the home port location in Puget Sound and had worked with an economist from Wisconsin, who did a study on the multiplier effect of civilian versus military investments. Her study showed that more jobs would be created with nonmilitary investments.

Green Lake activist Holdreith wanted to reformulate the question, too, arguing the real test is whether the proximity of military installations whose personnel are bound for Iraq causes you to question your commitment to peace. My answer is that the visible presence of military personnel redoubles my commitment. I would much sooner that no soldier be put in harms way if it can be avoided.

Actually, organizers say, they thank their protest targets for helping swell their ranks. Hanson says there are Bangor workers in her group, and Holdreith recalls Iraq-bound military men at his vigils. Ellen Bovarnick of the Eastside Suburban Peace Network says, Everyone in our group knows someone in the militaryor knows someone who knows someonewho is at risk [in Iraq]. We also have war veterans in our group. In my view, that gives us an even stronger commitment to peace. And we all support our troops.

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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