The US Department of Offense has awarded a $1.05 billion contract to the Oshkosh Corporation of Wisconsin. Oshkosh is associated with Plasan North America, which operates a manufacturing site in Bennington, Vermont. The parent company of Plasan NA is Plasan Sasa. It is located in Israel.
The new government contract calls for the production of more than 2000 military vehicles which will be fitted with mine-resistant armor. The obvious benefit of contracts such as this one is the creation of jobs in a failing economy.
Senator Patrick Leahy was instrumental in securing the contract. The Senator has recently announced his plan for re-election. This contract will guarantee his re-election.
The chief selling point of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle is that it will provide added protection for the troops. Flag wavers can celebrate. The production of this new vehicle is on the fast track and it will be used to escalate the war in Afghanistan.
In spite of those two advantages -- the boost to the economy and the protection of military personnel, there are some issues. Is this really the best use of limited funds? The town that will benefit from this contract has a high number of homeless, a hospital in financial stress, and so many who do not have access to medical care that a clinic has been set up. Because of lack of funds, the clinic is in operation for only three hours per week and does not provide dental or vision care. The homeless shelter cannot accommodate the growing need in the community. People are often observed picking up cans and bottles along the side of the road. The 5-cent deposit might make a difference in the person's struggle for survival. Young men are often seen holding "Will work for food" signs on the roadway near Price Chopper.
There is also another often ignored issue -- the impact on the culture when a significant part of a local economy is based on military contracts. Bennington, Vermont is a beautiful old mill town. The population consists mainly of family-oriented, blue-collar workers with high values and a strong work ethic -- families who have lived in Vermont for many generations. In contrast to the "townies" are transplants from around the world. The newcomers are often referred to as "flatlanders" even if their permanent home is in Switzerland. Many relocate to Vermont to attend Bennington College. In the past, Bennington was known as the most highly-priced college in the US. The college no longer holds that distinction. There are also two other colleges in the town of Bennington. The contrast and unique mix in the population gives Bennington a rich culture: young, old; rich, poor ; those who have learned from books, and those who have learned from life experiences. There is an active arts community.
The Bennington Peace group has a long history of good work and resistance to war, so how can the silence about military contracts be explained? Peace activists in Bennington and small towns all across the US have been silent. There is self-imposed censorship when it comes to the issue of Pentagon contracts and local jobs. The time to break that taboo has arrived.
Will the churches ever break their silence on this issue? An important moral question needs to be answered. Would it be moral to provide a bulletproof vest to someone who was intent on invading, looting, and occupying a neighbor's house? What is the moral difference between providing bulletproof vests to a gang of home invaders and supplying Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles for the invasion/occupation of Afghanistan?
The best way to protect the troops would be to keep them on US soil. They are needed to build housing for the homeless.
And yes, that manufacturing site in Vermont, it could be converted into a factory that builds tractors for farmers. $1.05 billion would provide a lot of high quality tractors that could be donated to family farms.
Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont, USA.