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April 2003
Vegetarian Advocate: The Carnivores’ War

By Jack Rosenberger


As I write these words in late March, the American invasion of Iraq is ongoing. The American military has bombarded Iraq, particularly around Baghdad, with more than 1,300 cruise missiles and bombs and American ground troops are driving toward the nation’s capital, but have encountered stiff resistance in some areas. Countless Iraqi civilians and soldiers are wounded or dead. As for the American toll of wounded, dead, or missing, Pentagon officials aren’t exactly forthcoming.

As I ponder the meaning of the American-Iraq war, I think about the differences between carnivores and vegetarians, and it strikes me that this armed conflict is a carnivores’ war.

Ten years ago Kim Powell, an Assistant Professor of Communications at Luther College, wrote a dissertation on the values of vegetarians and how their lifestyles caused nonvegetarians to change their way of eating.

According to Powell’s research, vegetarians share six primary values: health, coexistence, compassion, life, rights and peace. Of course, these values are not unique to vegetarians. Many carnivores hold them dear.

Powell discovered that when most people become vegetarians, they do not change their values. “The vegetarian movement does not expand by changing the values of others,” says Powell. “It works by persuading individuals to act on their values.”

In short, vegetarians practice what they preach. Compassion, peace, and healthy coexistence are not mere words; for vegetarians, they are a way of living.

The primary carnivores in the American-Iraq war are, of course, George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein. Broadly speaking, neither of them embody what Powell has identified as vegetarians’ primary values. In fact, the similarities between the two presidents are frightening. Both men are rigid, uncompromising leaders who do not appreciate or tolerate opposing points of view. It’s their way or the highway. Both men have defied international opinion and used their nation’s military forces to invade and try to subdue foreign nations. Both of them are religious fanatics. And both use their political power to protect their own vested interests: in Saddam’s case, it is Iraq’s ruling Baath party; in George’s case, it is America’s wealthy elite.

America, Home of the Bankrupt
In Yonkers, New York, Frank Multari has shown his support of the man that Saddam contemptuously refers to as “Junior Bush” by erecting a large sign outside his auto body shop. The sign reads: “Protestors keep your big mouth shut. You live here, you reap the benefits!! Support your country, your president, your troops. Yours truly, a Vietnam vet.”

Do you think Frank is a carnivore or a vegetarian?

In 2000, when Bush assumed the presidency, the United States had a budget surplus of $236.4 billion. Today, the nation’s budget has dropped a little. The estimated deficit is $159 billion. Yesterday, Bush announced he would ask Congress for nearly $75 billion to cover the cost of the Iraqi invasion for the next six months. At the same time, he has proposed a tax cut of $726 billion which will primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans.

As for the benefits we are reaping at home, here are a few appetizers of information about how America is taking care of its own citizens.
• More than 41 million Americans lack health insurance. In fact, America is almost the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide its citizens with healthcare.
• Some 33 million Americans live in poverty. Of these impoverished citizens, nearly 12 million are children.
• More than three million Americans will be homeless at some point this year. Of these unfortunate souls, one million will be children.
• Approximately 130 million citizens live in counties in which the air is deemed unhealthy at times, as the area is besieged by at least one principal air pollutant. Put another way, nearly half of the American population is more or less regularly exposed to health-threatening air pollution.

And for a taste of how we treat our war heroes, nearly 700,000 American veterans will be homeless at some point this year—a staggering 23 percent of the entire homeless population—and 56 percent of them will be non-white. That’s quite an eye-opener, considering that former military men and women make up only nine percent of the total U.S. population.

As for healthcare, last year thousands of veterans were turned away from Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals due to budget cuts. In Connecticut, the VA’s acute psychiatric unit saw 300 beds reduced to 20. In some states, war heroes have to wait months just to see a primary care physician. For example, more than 42,000 veterans are on a waiting list to see a doctor in Florida. That doesn’t seem to concern Bush. In spite of a huge increase in defense spending, the VA’s budget has been cut—again.

These are hardly shining examples of compassion, peace, and healthy coexistence.

The War at Home
Dinnertime in the Levy-Rosenberger household: we’re sitting around the kitchen table eating pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes and lightly toasted pine nuts. Zoe, our seven year-old daughter, informs Rani and I that during school her classmates and she wrote letters of support to the American troops. Then she informs us, “The people in Iraq are bad.”

It’s one of those moments that, as a parent, you wonder what the right thing to say is. “I’m sure there’s a family in Iraq sitting around their kitchen table right now, eating a meal,” I tell Zoe. “And they’re probably saying, ‘The people in America are bad.’ After all, we invaded their country.”


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