Casualties Of A Different War

My father grew up on a small, family dairy farm in upstate New York.  He would get out of bed at four in the morning, milk cows, deliver milk, and then go to school.  I have a few old milk bottles imprinted with the label of Dann’s All-Star Dairy.

That was back in the 1930s.  Today, local dairies that sell milk to local markets belong to a bygone era.  They’ve been replaced by large-scale farming that produces in bulk and sells to coops or corporations.  The business my father operated before joining the Navy literally doesn’t exist anymore, along with a lot of small, family farms.

Driving Route 17 across the southern tier of New York State, where my father lived as a kid, is like passing through a war zone.  The empty fields and wreckage are still available for viewing.  Broken down silos and dilapidated barns slump beside the road, in between the dilapidated towns that once served the farms.  As I drive by, I imagine the lives that once inhabited the homes, the lights that once lit the broken windows, the people that once drove the machinery that rusts among the weeds.

I spent several weeks in Israel in 1971, only a few years after the Six Day War.  Burned-out tanks and bullet-ridden walls had not all been removed; you could still see the battle scars.  The landscape I occasionally travel through New York farmland has the same look, right down to the abandoned machines and haunted buildings.

The damage wasn’t done by an army, of course, but by economic forces in a different kind of warfare.  The pursuit of profit is just as ruthless as the pursuit of power, just as intent upon acquisition and conquest, at any cost, just as likely to do harm.  Power and profit are both methods for obtaining the productivity of others, while always making sure to return less than taken.

Small farms are unprofitable, and dispensable, because of capital requirements to increase profits by reducing costs.  As in other industries, greater profits are achieved through mass production, which also drives down prices and puts small-scale production out of business.  In the last five years, New York State has lost 23% of its farms.

Among those lost businesses, most of the bankruptcies will not be due to laziness or stupidity.  They will be due to changes in marketplaces over which small farmers have no control.  The defunct dairies, and the people who once inhabited them, are a form of collateral damage, casualties caused by aggression within a different field of force.

Our nation is filled with those casualties, people dislocated from their jobs, their homes, and their plans, due to the financial manipulations of others.  One in three Americans now lives in poverty or in the neighborhood next door.  Economic predation has far-reaching human consequences.

There are numerous examples.  My classes at the community college have many adults returning to school because their factory closed.  America’s economy no longer depends on industry, or factory workers, which means their skills no longer match the available jobs.  Retraining is essential to change careers, but if you can’t succeed at college, while also caring for a family and working a low-paying job, your chances of remaining middle class are not good.

People over the age of fifty, who are currently unemployed, have a good chance of never working again.  A high percentage will remain unemployed, or employed only part-time, or employed at a wage that cannot fully support them.  Many will spend the rest of their lives in poverty, through no fault of their own.  They cost more and have fewer productive years ahead.

There are all sorts of injured left behind in a capitalist society, where the acquisition of wealth is more important than the well-being of people, and money is the arbiter of morality.  In such a world, the rich are the righteous, and the poor are the embodiment of sin.  In common parlance, the rich are job creators, and the poor are lazy assholes.

The facts prove otherwise.  A third of the poor are children.  Over fifteen percent are seniors.  Most of the remaining adults work.  If you throw in the percentage represented by the mentally ill—the ones who will never find jobs because they’re strange—you account for most of those living in poverty.  In addition to the difficulties of being poor, they have to deal with the label of being a creep.

The Bible looks at them differently, and compassion for the poor is a consistent refrain.  The poor are not seen as responsible for their own condition; they are seen as deserving the help of everyone else.  The poor are the great concern of God, much more so than sinners, who tend to be measured by how well they took care of the poor.

As long as our methods for enrichment injure others, we have a commensurate responsibility to care for the casualties.  There are no excuses.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

One Response to “Casualties Of A Different War”

  1. So true…and sad….

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