Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Pinon Canyon Compromise?

We’ve been asked why we are so unwilling to compromise. Over the past four years the people of Southeastern Colorado have been resolutely united in our opposition to the expansion of the Army's Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. We are uncompromisingly against the federalization of 6.9 million acres of productive agricultural land in order to turn it into the world's largest life-fire range. We are unyieldingly standing together to prevent the projected dispossession of 17,000 of our neighbors, (the Army's estimate of how many people would be "relocated.") Our mantra has been, "not one more acre!" And during these years, one politician after another has suggested to us that we should sit down at the table with the military and hammer out a compromise, a win-win solution which would allow the Army expand its Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site without destroying our economy, environment and culture. But we have some pretty good reasons for being unwilling to compromise.Politicians hate taking sides. They want everyone to like them, and more importantly to vote for them. Whenever they come down decisively on one side of an issue they risk losing votes on the other side of the debate. Politicians prefer the middle ground, imagining that they can keep everybody happy and voting for them. In the case of Pinon Canyon there is an obvious electoral and economic imbalance between the two sides. On one side is a motley crew of dusty, dry-land ranchers, crusty conservationists and historians, and musty, left-over 60s peace advocates. Plus, we live in a sparsely populated part of Colorado and are far from being a powerful voting block. On the other side is the most highly funded agency of the federal government; the Department of Defense, and one of the richest and most influential sectors of the Colorado economy; the defense industry. Together they comprise what former President, Dwight Eisenhower called, "the military-industrial complex." Even for politicians who sympathize with us there's not much to be gained in standing with us against the military. Politically, compromise looks like the clever way to go. I generally agree with the idea of people sitting down together to work out their differences, but this situation is different. The problem with us sitting down with the Army is that the Army is not a person. It is a huge Washington D.C. bureaucracy. The people who serve in the military have subjected their individual sentiments and opinions to a higher authority and are obliged to obey directives which come down to them from the over-arching command and control structure of the Department of Defense. Soldiers are certainly human beings with individual feelings and opinions. But they have made the ultimate human compromise; to set aside their own thoughts and emotions in obedience to policies and agendas set for them by military planners in the Pentagon. In order to negotiate any real compromise we'd have to be able to "sit down at the table" with a policy-maker who has the ability to exercise judgment and discretion. That is not the role of a soldier. Ideally the people of the Southeastern Colorado community would sit down together to participate in the formulation of our vision for the future of our region. And this would involve compromise. But "The Army" is not a person, or even a group of people. It is a federal agency without a permanent physical presence in the community or any consistent human expression here. Of course the Army is made up of human beings, but those individual humans represent policies and programs that they have no discretionary power to alter. "Theirs is not to reason why." In the last four years, there have been three different commanding officers at Fort Carson, two different Secretaries of Defense and two different Secretaries of the Army. "The Army" comes into Las Animas County from far away to use the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, maybe twice a year, and then leaves. They have no stake in the community beyond this limited use of a resource which happens to be located here. They have no attachment to, or investment in our community. From their perspective the land here is simply an available commodity. And the expansion is not their plan to defend or forsake; it was formulated, perhaps decades ago within the secretive, inaccessible and unassailable inner sanctums of the Pentagon. The military strategists who first dreamed it up are very likely working as civilian contractors and consultants by now. And the people who are currently under orders to advance the plan have no particular axes to grind. They are simply trying to be good soldiers. They didn't create the plan and they have no authority to alter it. Since they are not personally responsible for the creation of the plan and have no authority regarding the implementation of the plan they have no "standing" when it comes to determining the future of our Southeastern Colorado community. In a sense their role is just like a bomber pilot who releases a bomb at prescribed coordinates. It's nothing personal. Just following orders.There's a big difference between our self-determination with the compromises that we'd have to make to work out our conflicting interests, and a powerful outside interest moving in to try to determine the future of our community. The military personnel who are involved with this issue at Fort Carson have nothing to gain or lose, personally and they have no authority to alter the plan. They are simply following orders. Besides, we've already experienced the results of "compromise." In the early 80s we resisted the establishment of the current Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, but ended up compromising. We made a deal with the Army. In exchange for them taking 240,000 acres of Las Animas County, dispossessing multi-generations ranching families, plundering our historical and natural treasures and losing the tax revenue from the land, the Army promised that they never use live fire and that they'd never seek any future expansion. They've broken both of those promises. So much for compromise.So we are not interested in any more compromises. And we are not very excited by politicians who suggest that we should compromise with the Army. We're looking for politicians who'll do what military men are taught not do; exercise judgment and decide. We're looking for politicians who'll consider, not just the vote-count, but the injustice of a powerful military moving in upon powerless citizens to take their land and their lives. We are looking for politicians who will be uncompromising, willing to stand, shoulder to shoulder with the people that they represent against the power brokers of the military-industrial complex.

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