Wednesday, March 21, 2007

State Secrets vs. Life Itself

There's something enormously hubristic about this story:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy on Tuesday said it had asserted the "state secrets" privilege in a lawsuit by environmental groups, a move to keep the military from being forced to disclose classified information about the use of sonar believed to injure whales and other animals.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter, in a court filing submitted on Monday, said disclosure of the information requested by plaintiffs "could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security."
Which could be true, or might be nothing more than a way to cover up a hideously damaging report about American activities in the deep water oceans.

Some background: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Navy sonar testing and private industry oil and gas exploration (by detonating explosives, then studying the resulting seismic waves) has caused mass beachings of whales and other marine mammals, forced nursing mothers to abandon their babies (in effect, driving the mothers insane), and has even driven fisheries to bankruptcy by killing or driving away edible fish, meaning entire communities and even countries are now on the brink of starvation and relocation.

Some of these beachings due to sonar include:
October 1989: At least 20 whales of three species strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

December 1991: Two Cuvier's beaked whales strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

May 1996: Twelve Cuvier's beaked whales strand on the west coast of Greece as NATO ships sweep the area with low- and mid-frequency active sonar.

October 1999: Four beaked whales strand in the U.S. Virgin Islands during Navy maneuvers offshore.

May 2000: A beaked whale strands in Vieques as naval exercises are about to begin offshore.

May 2000: Three beaked whales strand on the beaches of Madeira during NATO naval exercises near shore.

April 2002: A beaked whale and a humpback whale strand near Vieques during an offshore battle group training exercise.

September 2002: At least 14 beaked whales from three different species strand in the Canary Islands during an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the area. Four additional beaked whales strand over the next several days.

May 2003: As many as 11 harbor porpoises beach along the shores of the Haro Strait, Washington State, as the USS Shoup tests its mid-frequency sonar system.

June 2004: As many as six beaked whales strand during a Navy sonar training exercise off Alaska.

July 2004: Approximately 200 melon-headed whales crowd into the shallow waters of Hanalei Bay in Hawaii as a large Navy sonar exercise takes place nearby. Rescuers succeed in directing all but one of the whales back out to sea.

July 2004: Four beaked whales strand during naval exercises near the Canary Islands.

January 2005: At least 34 whales of three species strand along the Outer Banks of North Carolina as Navy sonar training goes on offshore.
2006 saw an even greater frequency, pardon the pun.

So one wonders what kind of "state secrets" could possibly be more important than the entire South Pacific chain of islands, more important than the fisheries along the east and west coasts of the United States that provide millions of tons of fish to our dinner tables, or, in truth, the killing of intelligent creatures like whales and dolphins.

As a scuba diver, this distresses me, to know that our "national security" is held to a standard incompatible with our existence as human beings on a planet filled with life that we haven't even begun to understand.

And that security is predicated on pissing other humans off and then defending our country, when in truth, a small change in our attitude towards other people and other creatures would solve most of these problems at far lower cost than the billions and trillions of dollars we have and will spend to defend our 5% of the planet's land mass.

True security only comes when you respect other people. When you start building walls to provide yourself security, eventually you find yourself a prisoner within those walls.

Think about it: how many of us would willingly travel to anyplace other than Western Europe, the Caribbean, or maybe Japan and China? First, you have to take into account the fact that a small minority of us ever leave the shores of the United States, we're so afraid of what the world holds in store for us.

Most Americans don't even hold a passport, that's how jingoistic and chauvinistic Americans are: we think we have it all, when we have so little of the world's beauty and culture.

And now we're building walls, literally, to keep other out, but to keep ourselves in. We build them physically, we build them economically, and we build them psychologically, all designed to "protect" ourselves.

But who will protect us FROM ourselves? How does the United States stop from becoming a stultified dinosaur of a nation, irrelevant to anyone but those who would make a profit off our markets?

One way would be to stop taking ourselves so seriously, to stop believing that we are so much better than everyone (and everything) else. That charming self-indulgence-- particularly evident in certain states that are immune from immigration and diversity (*ahem* redstates)-- has to stop, which is why I've maintained all along that we ought to be welcoming Iraqi refugees and encouraging them to settle in places like Alabama and Tennessee and Wyoming.

The other way would be to start taking everyone (and everything) else more seriously. We've all travelled a road through a tough and dangerous world to get to this precise moment in time, and that ought to be respected and celebrated.

We claim to be a nation that is 85% Christian, and I'm sure there's a vast majority of silent Christians out there who live in Grace daily, but the overwhelming voices we hear are of the Pharisees of Hatred, of Greed, of Lust, and of Pride. These voices must be replaced, too, for us to truly take our place in the world and to do God's work.

Saving whales included. For it is written (Ecclesiastes 3:19):
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.