North To Alaska! I’m goin’ north, the rush is on.
In fall of 1975, after graduating from CU Boulder with a European history degree, I headed North to Alaska to find my fortune.
An intrepid friend of mine, Jimmy Gray, had done it. A few years before, he’d gone to Alaska’s North Slope and gotten a job working on the oil pipeline. Like everyone, I knew the working conditions were brutal: long hours, isolation, frigid temperatures. But, working on the pipeline paid more than almost anything else someone like me could do. And, if you didn’t blow it, in a year or two you could have a sizable nest egg.
And, that’s what Jim did: his few years on the pipeline gave him a financial kick start on life.
But, for me, no dice. By the time I got to Anchorage, for every unskilled job opening on the pipeline, there were at least 10 applicants cooling their heels in the union hiring hall waiting for a call that never came.
So, I went to plan B. First, driving bus for the Anchorage school district. And then, when school let out, driving taxi around Anchorage during the night shift-it was still dark at night when I first got to town.
The land of the midnight sun.
Ever tried to work the night shift and then sleep during the day? It isn’t easy; if I got five hours of sleep after driving taxi for twelve hours at night, I felt lucky.
So, I had plenty of time to read. And I spent most of that time reading the second volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It’d belonged to my dad; his neat, cursive signature is still just inside the cover of both volumes.
Originally published about the time of the American Revolution, the book spans centuries and thousands of pages. While modern scholars may quibble that it’s outdated, to a babe in the woods of history like me, it was a work of astonishing scholarship.
The man on the white horse.
At this point, decades on, do I remember much of what was in those thousands of pages? Not really.
But I do remember this much: the vaunted Roman Legions, which had originally conquered most of the known world during the time of the Republic, played a big part in bringing down the Empire. Why? Because the Legionnaires and their generals that had started out being the servants of the Republic wound up being the corrupt and cruel masters of the Empire. They were better at court intrigue than at keeping the barbarians at bay. Again and again, they made and unmade emperors. Sometimes in a matter of days; 193 AD is known as The Year of the Five Emperors.
And the very size of the empire became it’s Achilles heel. With a frontier that stretched over thousands of miles and three continents, border incursions and wars were never ending.
History repeating itself. Except on steroids.
Now, the American empire dwarfs the Roman empire. And we suffer from many of the same distempers.
In eastern Europe we poke the nuclear armed Russian bear by pushing NATO right up to the Russian border. In the South China Sea, rather than minding our own business, we delight in bearding nuclear armed China. And this is not to mention our perpetual wars in the Middle East.
But, astonishingly, our own southern border remains a leaky sieve to a region rife with drugs and the murderous gang warfare that has left nearly 300,000 dead. And anyone who has the temerity to suggest that the border be walled off is “racist”.
But did you see the news? Trump is pulling US troops out of Syria. Now, if he could just man up and do the same in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those tribal, dark-age regions have been at war with one another for millennia. And there’s nothing we can do to stop it. So, yes, Virginia, I guess there is a Santa Claus.
For the love of money. Blood money.
Our enormous military establishment has very little to do with national security. And much more to do with money. We spend more on arms than the next seven nations combined-several of whom are our allies.
And now the military is proposing that we spend more–lots more. Enough so that we can not only continue, indefinitely, to fight the low intensity wars in the Middle East that have become back page news. But also to “rearm” to fight major conflicts against countries like Russia and China.
So, the defense contractors and their lobbyists will be on easy street. As will the generals and admirals. And their obedient political pets in the US House and Senate.
But what happens if we, the people, dare try to turn off the spigots? Who knows? But when a general on a white horse-or tank-comes riding into Washington, DC demanding that the gravy train start rolling again, don’t say you weren’t warned.