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All My Sons 

Wednesday, Jan 23 2002
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Now that anthrax fears have died down and the Taliban--al Qaeda threat has evaporated, American troops in Afghanistan are confronting the war‘s most fearsome nemesis yet -- their own equipment. Last weekend’s fatal crash of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter reminded us that, in both peace and war, accidents usually claim more military lives than combat. (Between 1980 and 1999, according to the Defense Department, 563 military personnel died as a result of hostile action -- nearly half of these in 1983‘s Lebanon barracks bombing -- while accidents accounted for 19,488 fatalities.) Although accidents will happen (ask the families of 20 European skiers and nine Ehime Maru passengers killed, respectively, by an American plane and a submarine), some seem to happen more often than others.

In recent years Stallions have become almost as legendary for their crashes as for their service in Vietnam: In one particularly grim seven-year period during the 1980s, 20 Marines died in Stallion accidents. What’s especially disturbing is that the aircraft in line to replace these aging warhorses is the controversial V-22 Osprey, which has crashed four times over the last decade of testing, resulting in the deaths of 26 Marines and four civilians. (The Afghan Stallion crash is being cited as evidence of the need to speed up approval of the Osprey.) Even worse is the not-so-invisible hand of the marketplace that seems partly responsible for these disasters. Sikorsky Aircraft, maker of the Super Stallion and RH53 Sea Stallion (whose breakdowns contributed to 1980‘s Iranian desert disaster), has been hit in the past with multimillion-dollar lawsuits involving fatal accidents; and, in May 2001, Helicopter News reported that the Kaydon Corp., a subcontractor that provides Sikorsky with ball-bearing assemblies, pleaded guilty to a pair of felony charges related to a 1996 crash. (Kaydon admitted it falsely certified the assemblies.)

The story of the Boeing-Bell Osprey is even more sinister: Last August, eight Marines, including a colonel, were investigated by the corps for falsifying test data about the troubled chopper, resulting in reprimands but no trials. Unavoidable accidents are one thing, but dooming soldiers in the field in order to cut production corners or to rush into operation an experimental aircraft is a heinous crime. And yet a peculiarly American one. Reading reports of the two helicopters, one is reminded of Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons and its character Joe Keller, who knowingly shipped cracked cylinders for fighter planes during WWII. At play‘s end, Joe, who avoided prison by sticking his partner with the blame for 21 pilot deaths, says of these fatalities, “I guess I didn’t realize they were all my sons.”

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Now that the Justice Department has charged John Walker Lindh with “conspiring to kill American citizens,” it might do well to look at American industry and its allies within the military. Whether U.S. soldiers die from bullets or accidents, their deaths can all be traced to some cause, and not all the culprits are sitting in cages at Guantanamo.

OUR SONS THE FANATICS

“He chose to embrace fanatics, and his allegiance to those fanatics and terrorists never faltered.”

--Attorney General John Ashcroft,

condemning John Walker Lindh

“Unique among the nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. And because we have understood that our source is eternal, America has been different. We have no king but Jesus.”

--Senator John Ashcroft,

upon receiving an honorary degree

from Bob Jones University, 1999

“Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You‘ve got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I’ve got to do more. We‘ve all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we’ll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.”

--Senator Ashcroft praising Confederate values

in a 1998 Southern Partisan interview a

THE TIMES, THEY HAVE A‘CHANGED

Carol Jahnkow has seen the influence of American war culture spread in signs great and small, from the way big media snaps its shoe-polish rag at Pentagon briefings to the presence of military recruiters at high schools in San Diego, where she has been a peace activist since the late ’60s. Although these have not been great times for self-described “secular pacifists,” it is soft-spoken nonconformists like Jahnkow, toiling beyond the liberal glow of northern cities like San Francisco and Berkeley, who keep alive the spirit of dissent in Southern California.

Today she denounces what she calls the “militarization” of San Diego‘s annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade, which was held this past Saturday.

“It had a very large presence,” she says, “of armed-forces units and law-enforcement groups like the FBI, DEA and Border Patrol, who marched and recruited at the parade. They’re part of a system whose glorification of violence runs against everything Dr. King was about. The parade organizers told us that Martin Luther King belongs to everyone -- that this was their idea of diversity and inclusiveness.”

A longtime member of the War Resisters League, Jahnkow is also executive director of the Peace Resource Center of San Diego as well as a member of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, a small but feisty ad hoc group that has bravely fielded, in the American city most dominated by the military, demonstrations against the government‘s bombing campaign in Afghanistan and its downsizing of the Bill of Rights. The nationally affiliated San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice (SDCPJ) had a 120-strong contingent in the King parade, whose route, Jahnkow says, has been moved away from San Diego’s black neighborhoods along Broadway to the less visible harbor area.

Although there is some grumbling in the SDCPJ, which has about 500 members, that the anti--Afghan war movement‘s influence is dwindling, Jahnkow notes that the current peace campaign is only 4 months old. Still, San Diego’s fledgling anti-war community has already experienced a schism, with some people joining International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), a group that favors linking anti-war actions with other political issues. Jahnkow says she welcomes the split as a way of offering more people more forms of involvement. Besides, she feels, members of the peace movement have spent too much time in the past fighting among themselves.

“We should try to stop beating ourselves up and move on. I‘ve been at the San Diego Peace Resource Center 20 years,” she says with a bemused sigh. “Where does the time go?”

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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