Recently I returned to Taos from Indiana. As I crested a hill on I-70 in northeast Kansas, I saw before me a military base that stretched as far as I could see, off to the north and west. I passed hundreds of rows of tanks, artillery pieces of every conceivable type, small jeeps, large trucks and earth movers, all pushed right up to the fence along the interstate. There were buildings scattered off to the horizon, yet I saw no people and imagined the facility to be abandoned.
Wikipedia informed me that there is a population of about 7,000 souls who inhabit this U.S. Army base of over 100,000 acres. This is all Ft. Riley, and has been in operation since 1853 when it was created to protect the settlers moving along the Santa Fe Trail. At one time in WW I, it was home to 50,000 soldiers. The base has a substantial infrastructure complete with a modern hospital and presumably hundreds of classrooms and barracks.
Who owns Ft. Riley? We do! We all do! More technically, all this is a federally-owned military base under the direct control of our commander-in-chief.
Sometime soon, events will force this commander to make a monumental choice. He may choose to join those of us who dwell in the 21st century and with the flick of his pen, order Ft. Riley and the U.S. Army to prepare to accept refugees from Syria, the Sudan, and other failed states. He could order the U.S. Navy and our Air Force to pick up those losing a grip on their lives and deliver them here to our Ft. Riley to be fed and housed and retrained for jobs needed in the near future.
Should he choose this opportunity, he would be respected for his humanitarian leadership and could well go down in history as an outstanding leader.
Why should he do this? He should do this because it is the right thing to do. We Americans have so much, they so little.
But now comes word that our commander has proposed an historic increase of $54 billion to our military budget. What will our commander do with this historic proposal? Will he follow in the footsteps of our last Republican president and with the flick of his pen order an invasion of some third world country, unleashing our American military might to snatch some desired resource, and in the process cause death and misery to thousands of our military families and millions of our fellow inhabitants of the planet, or will he do the right thing? What, at this point, are our options? Is our democracy at an end because neither of these choices were on the ballot? Are we in a position to change things?
If we have elected another war monger, we must act together. The humanist, Parker Palmer, advises that if “American democracy fails, the ultimate cause will not be a foreign invasion or the power of big money or the greed and dishonesty of some elected officials ... it will happen because we — you and I — became so fearful of each other, of our differences and of the future that we unraveled the civic community on which democracy depends.”
This is our democracy, not the commander’s, not the military’s, not that of the wealthy elites. Every now and then we need to remind the higher ups: “There are more of us than there are of you; do the wrong thing and we will remove you from power!”
Wolfe lives in El Prado.