War, What Is It Good For?

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Back in a simpler time and place, a day before jobs (at least real jobs), families and mortgages, I was a regular at one of Lincoln, Nebraska’s more disreputable establishments. Known as Myron’s, it was a dank and dirty hole in the wall dispensing that which Made Milwaukee Famous. Truth be told, I really didn’t like Schlitz, being a Bud man myself, but economics always intrudes. Myron’s regular bartender was the roommate of my roommate’s brother and the friends and family discount made Schlitz the sensible choice.

But a further disadvantage to spending time at Myron’s was the music. As the bartender was doling out free beer, he felt entitled to curate the jukebox with little regard for requests from the peanut gallery swilling on the dole. This dispenser of the brewer’s art had a particular fondness for Credence Clearwater Revival, Blood Sweat & Tears and similar caterwauling crews of dubious talent, which was bad enough but he absolutely loved Edwin Starr.

A lackluster member of the Motown roster utterly dominating “Soul Music” charts of the times, Edwin Starr was proof that Phil Spector did strike out occasionally. But Starr’s lone hit single, “War” captured the heart of Myron’s bartender and he played it, and he played it, and he played it. As a side note, the bartender in question graduated as a civil engineer, going on to become the overall project manager on some of the Nebraska DOT’s largest projects. So much for the career enhancing effects of long hours in the study hall.

But while I have long put aside the sour taste of Schlitz with the smell of a smoke filled bar but a distant memory, the lyrics of “War”, sung in Starr’s gravely raspy voice still echo in my ears. There was little poetry in the lyrics, rather the recurrent chanting of an unimaginative protest march set to music. But the endlessly repeated chorus expresses a commonly held opinion, both then and now:

“War, huh, yeah

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Uh-huh

War, huh, yeah

What is it good for

Absolutely nothing

Say it again, y’all”

That war is an abomination is not arguable. That most adroit of its practitioners, William T. Sherman, notably said of it; “War is hell”. But to say that war is good for nothing elevates the emotions over reason, a common shortcoming of the ill-remembered Sixties, as well as an increasingly dominant strain in public thinking during the decades following.

While war is evil, a horror inflicted upon the innocent, a terrible and dread illness of the human condition, to say that it is “good for absolutely nothing” is to be blind to the obvious. War is the great arbiter of irreconcilable differences, the boiler driving the engine of the human condition. War appears, on the evidence – while certainly not good – to be good for a great many things.

To the retired engineer addicted to metaphors, the past three decades of our country’s history are an extreme example of an ungrounded system. Reality, that great combination of immovable object and irresistible force, compels all else to conform to it. Yet particular circumstance allows temporary bubbles of peace and prosperity to separate themselves from that reality, resembling nothing so much as an ungrounded electrical system.

As a cold front sweeps across the plains, the moist air in the clouds is isolated from the earth below by the insulating properties of the dry air separating the two. As energy builds within the system, the voltage climbs higher and higher. And then when the voltage climbs high enough, it arcs through the dry air and we have a thunderstorm.

In the course of human events as well, sooner or later, an event breaks the self-referential bubble of the isolated system and the ungrounded system is suddenly reconnected to reality, in technical terms – grounded. The longer and more complete the isolation, the greater the difference between the bubble and reality becomes, the more violent the sudden shock of grounding.

War is one of those events that penetrate the self-referential bubble thereby reconnecting the system to reality. And contrary to Mr. Sharp’s lyrics, war is good for grounding cultures that have lost touch with reality. And while war is to be regretted, something we earnestly pray to be spared from, most times it appears to be the only way to ground a culture, draining the body politic of hubris, belief in fairy tales and numerous other associated sins.

It seems there are wars and then there are other wars. The Adorable West has been at war, nearly continuous war for the past twenty years, but somehow the isolation from reality simply continued. Perhaps there was no reality of war inside the isolated bubble. Even as their fellow citizens were maimed and died in their tens of thousands, the prosperous isolation of the meritocracy continued uninterrupted while those feeding at the well supplied troughs of the military/industrial complex grew fat.

But the war in the Ukraine is different. Perhaps the difference has to do with the greatly increased stresses in the system created by the meritocracy’s feckless management of the Covid misadventure. People so frightened of Covid that they masked up in their car with windows closed, now vociferously urge unrestrained brinksmanship with a nuclear power.

In my own life, I recognize that I am not the bravest person, often shrinking from the simple action that might require some level of courage. In the time after that moment of cowardice, I have found a secret shame to be the result of my failure, a secret shame goading me into an ill-advised bravado later, as I attempt to redeem myself in my own eyes. Despite the best efforts of the Academy and Therapeutic Culture, humans still feel shame. Perhaps there is that at work now in our body politic.

The blackened earth of the approaching storm’s first lightning bolt is at our local gas station. Only two years ago, the average price of gasoline in the US hovered around $2/gallon. Now well north of $4/gallon, while this morning I paid $6.00/gallon for diesel fuel. War, what is it good for? Perhaps a look at Exxon’s latest financial statements might provide insight.

The defining difference between the Adorable West of the present day and the unremembered racist past, the feudal systems of the Patriarchy built on serfdom and slavery, is the existence of cheap energy produced by fossil fuels. Our bubble of prosperity fueled by cheap fossil energy has allowed the willfully ignorant, led by the messianic, to forget this foundational truth, this sine qua non of our Adorable existence.

In the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor beginning WWII, one of America’s great warriors defined how the war was to be won. Chester Nimitz said that “Winning the war is a matter of beans, bullets and oil.” As the war dragged on, the benefit of actual experience with war led Admiral Nimitz to change his priorities, saying that now “Winning the war is a matter of oil, bullets and beans.” Bullets and beans, despite their importance, do not happen without oil.

In Europe, the war might well have ended in the fall of 1944 with Allied forces in possession of Berlin, depriving the Soviet Union of the opportunity to build an Iron Curtain isolating Eastern Europe and generating a Cold War. But the armored columns of Patton’s 3rd Army driving across France ran out of that oil referred to by Admiral Nimitz, allowing the fleeing German forces to reestablish a defensive line along the Rhine.

Within the bubble of our isolation the Adorable West has deluded itself, believing in fairy tales and even worse, acting on those beliefs. The Adorable West believes itself to be Cinderella, emerging from subservience to the oppression of wicked step-patriarchs and heading for the Prince of Unicorns Ball. Perhaps nowhere so thoroughly and so regrettably as in Germany, the economic powerhouse and lodestar of the European Union (EU) has this fantasy had more pernicious effects.

If you will allow me a brief adjournment, an intermission from the safe spaces of good taste, and step into the thickets of cultural stereotypes, an admittedly racist reading of history suggests that the German character tends toward conformity, a willingness to subsume the individual within the collective will. Add to that the zeal of a reformed sinner arising from her various wicked behaviors during the 20th Century and you have modern Germany.

As with the reformed alcoholic, modern Germany has been fanatic in modeling an Adorable image to the eyes of the world. Perhaps no Western leader matched up to Angela Merkel in the eyes of the Adorable West. She was the very image of what we imagined an Adorable leader to be, Hilary Clinton without the liability of her political tin ear, without the burden of Bill’s peccadillos. Is there any progressive cant that the secular Saint Merkel did not spout? She not only talked the talk, but also very visibly walked the walk.

She oversaw a Germany committed to being a “righteous” citizen of the World, relentless in the shuttering of its coal fired power plants and breathing the green intoxication of renewable power. Hidden from the red carpets and fawning media surrounding St. Merkel, Germany’s engineers replaced their coal fired power with natural gas fired power. Practical realities prevailed as the engineering Morlocks cannot join the public’s dance around fairy poles. Electrical power does have to be produced after all, otherwise slavery and serfdom might make an unfortunate reappearance.

And in the crowning glory of her career as the doyen of Adorable fantasies, Angela Merkel declared that German would close all of its nuclear power plants. And so as the Ukrainian War unfolds, perhaps no point in the Western world is so close to Ground Zero for lightning as Germany.

With nuclear power vanishing and coal rapidly becoming a distant memory, Germany is almost wholly dependent on natural gas if it is to continue as a civilized nation. This is unfortunate as Germany has no domestic natural gas production, relying instead on supplies from a declining North Sea and Russia. Adding grave insult to grievous injury, Russia is also the largest supplier of crude oil to German refineries. It seems the famous freedom of the autobahn is dependent on the goodwill of Vladimir Putin.

As sometimes happens, per example Hunter Biden’s mislaid laptop, circumstances coincide to fuel “conspiracy theories” around what are only the misunderstood actions of selfless public servants. The German Chancellor before St. Merkel was Gerhard Schroeder, leader of a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Green Party. It seems that even in Germany, socialists and greens find common cause, united by their belief in unicorns.

The direction of Germany’s energy policy, a commitment to green energy and the abandonment of nuclear power, began prior to the coronation of the sainted Merkel and was initiated by Herr Schroeder. Upon leaving office, Gerhard Schroeder was tapped by Vladimir Putin to join Gazprom’s Board of Directors, Gazprom being the Russian state-owned gas/oil energy company. Only a paranoid QAnon conspiracy theorist would think this iniquitous, or have thoughts of its parallels to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.

Of course times change and with them come different circumstances. But the mantle of St. Merkel is heavy and not so easily shed. When Russia invaded the Ukraine, Germany was expected to join the chorus of condemnation. After all, when the tent of the Temperance Movement sets up at the edge of town and the drums of the Revival Band pound, reformed alcoholics are expected to sit in the front row, shouting a chorus of loud Amens. But while the cost to most of the singers in that chorus, including America, was and is close to nothing, the costs to Germany could be quite steep, almost existential.

Taking her cue from our own sainted ex-President, St. Angela Merkel had taken her bows and left the stage before the costs of establishing unicorn habitat came due. Her successor, Olaf Scholz, is left to make the hard choices that are left to those who must suffer the morning’s hangover and pay the bills due from the riotous evening before. Additionally poor Mr. Scholz labors under the not small burden of being neither a woman, a person of color or LGBTQ+.

In contrast to Germany, America is spared, at least in the short run, the deadly serious choices that must be made. While we have been spared, we have done much to make the rest of the world face even more painful choices. As for those of us in America’s bleacher seats, as is the common human condition, we have put the onus for our own ignorant behavior on our leaders.

And so we come to Joe Biden. I have come to think of him as Eeyore, the sad eyed donkey companion to Winnie the Pooh. I would think President Biden has a great deal of sympathy for Olaf Scholz, understanding the burden of following a saint, sweeping up the floor of the Great One’s detritus. Though Joe has the benefit, as Olaf does not, of having that emotional uplift coming from rescuing a country from despotism, the damsel in distress saved from the ravening dragon of Trump.

But imagine the discomfort, the embarrassment of Joe Biden. It is not as if any of this is his fault. Joe is not an original thinker or a man of opinions, strong or otherwise. If he was, Joe would have neither wealth or the Presidency of these here United States. Despite a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for Joe Biden’s candidacy, the popularity of Bernie Sanders in the last primary season frightened the Democratic Party’s heavy hitter’s into searching for a reliable foot soldier to head the ticket. And well, reliable foot soldier has practically been the definition of President Biden’s fifty years in Washington.

But now here he is, President Joe Biden in the middle of a s**t storm of monumental proportions. I expect he is overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. Virtually his first act upon election was to cancel the Keystone pipeline, a particular sore point to the consiglieres of the Democratic Party’s mafioso families. By doing so, Joe did what he was asked and was promptly rewarded with acclaim from the Blue Coast intelligentsia. You could see him smiling with pleasure, basking in the approval of such notables as the Squad and Al Gore.

Next he appointed Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior. As Secretary, she will have a free hand to manage 10% of the US land mass, the greatest reservoir of untapped fossil fuels and mineral deposits in the country, if not the world. More tummy rubs came his way as Ms. Haaland is an outspoken and doctrinaire opponent of development on government lands, most especially of oil, gas and mineral development with a special antipathy for pipelines. And importantly, very importantly, she checks many boxes of oppression, being a birthing person of color as well as a member of the oppressed indigenous peoples.

Perhaps giddy with excitement by the many “Good boy!!” exhortations whispered into his ear by his handlers, Uncle Joe picked another of the oppressed classes to head the risibly misnamed Dept. of Energy, Janet Granholm. Ms. Granholm besides being another birthing person is a Harvard educated lawyer and senior fellow at the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute. She also served as Governor of the State of Michigan, a state where transparency and effective leadership are both expected and celebrated.

Realizing that Ms. Granholm, while a self-declared woman, did not end the need for diversity in the nation’s production of energy, President Biden also appointed Sam Brinton as an Assistant Secretary to Ms. Granholm. Mr. Brinton checks many boxes as a nonbinary drag queen, a self described openly gender fluid person.

The list goes on. The federal government of the United States has relentlessly intruded into the business of the nation’s energy for the past 50 years. As a result, they now are the 800 lb gorilla in the room. And now, it is obvious that the gorilla’s ringmasters are not appointed on the basis of competence or ability, but on their hostility to the business of energy as well as the changing fashions of identity politics.

All this is business as usual, life in the unicorn corral that is Adorable America. But then the Ukrainian War happens. Inflationary pressures continually rising for a couple of decades creating a gas filled room, are now ignited into a blazing inferno by the spark of exploding oil prices.

People, even the docile responsible press, are bubbling with anger. Mr. Biden is pointing fingers as fast as he can in as many directions as he can. But I imagine in private, he is miffed. Mortimer Snerd shouldn’t be laughed at because Edgar Bergan made him do stupid things.

Luckily memories are short in the Land of the Free in the 21st Century, else an angry pessimism among the hoi polloi would be even more prevalent. In the replay of the 1970’s now running as a movie trailer preview of our future, we might expect the government to become even more involved in the business of energy to our everlasting regret. Do you remember Old Oil, New Oil and New New Oil? The ability of the government to really F*** Things Up is almost infinite.

Back in the 1970’s, we also had Old Gas, New Gas and New New Gas. We might even have had New New New Oil/Gas except for the election of Ronald Reagan ending the madness. In fact, look up the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act passed by Congress in 1978 if you want to both chuckle and see a demonstration of federal buffoonery.

But in the 1970’s, America had not yet renounced coal to generate electrical power. Today, America’s electrical power grid rests on natural gas fired power generation, natural gas that has price spiked even more than oil. Wait until the electrical utilities reprice their kilowatts to account for the doubled and tripled natural gas prices.

“War, what is it good for?” Energy prices and inflation are simply the first flashes of lightning in a thunderstorm still gathering strength. Let us return to Germany for a moment and if you will, again grant me license to engage in stereotypes, racism and hate speech.

Germans first burst upon the world stage at the Battle of Arausio in 105 BC, perhaps the bloodiest defeat ever suffered by the Roman legions as well as being the death knell of the Roman Republic. The Germans again featured in another bloody defeat of Roman arms in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, effectively marking the end of Rome’s imperial expansion. The 31st of December, 406 AD marks the crossing of the Rhine by German forces and the subsequent Fall of the Roman Empire.

The Western Roman Empire was reunited under a German, named Charlemagne, in 800 AD, through force of arms. For the next twelve hundred years, the German people, in many guises held sway over central and eastern Europe. They were not noted as a peace loving people. The Hessians, so reviled by the Continental Army of George Washington, were Germans from around present day Frankfurt employed by the British as mercenary troops.

It was the late arrival of 50,000 German troops under Field Marshal Gehard von Blucher that turned the tide and won the Battle of Waterloo, thereby ending the France of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. Germany’s many principalities and duchies were united under Otto Von Bismarck in 1871 creating the modern German State and greatly increasing its ability to make mischief. France, supposedly the most powerful nation in Europe at the time was promptly and brutally smashed as part of the building of the German nation in 1870. In defeat, France was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty, foreshadowing the debacle of a misshapen revenge at Versailles fifty years later. The actions of Germany in the century following, WWI, WWII, the Stasi dominated GDR of the Cold War, are familiar history.

For over 2,100 years, Germany has been a dominating force in the Western World, an aggressive, troublesome and militaristic power. I think that perhaps we have lost our sense of historical realities as we ignorantly imagine the first left handed gender fluid self described indigenous Disney Princess astronaut to be of historical interest or importance.

In most of our lifetimes, we have known Germany as a peace loving nation, a place to visit or buy fancy cars from. Perhaps that is what Germany will be in the future, but if history is any guide, we might admit to a worrisome thought of an entirely believable alternative view.

The War in the Ukraine has been a wakeup call for Germany. Whether because of America’s feckless leadership or simply the awakening of a resurgent German character, we can expect changes. Olaf Scholz, that fellow tasked with sweeping up after St. Merkel, has announced the rebuilding of Germany’s armies. We might remember that twice before in the previous century these armies would have swept Europe into despotism without the intervention of millions of America’s conscripted soldiers. Are we ready for a replay?

In somber conclusion, I am sure among the lessons Olaf Scholz and his countrymen have learned in the past weeks is that countries with nuclear weapons are treated much differently than those without.

“War, what is it good for?”

4 Responses to “War, What Is It Good For?”

  1. Jeffrey esbenshade says:

    I drilled a well in Kansas under Carter Admin. I was under “new oil’ price controls.Kansas has long life wells but major production is short lived and Carter
    taxed all the profits away. I paid Kansas severance tax, Ellis County school tax.
    I never owned any more oil wells, Mr Carter removed all the fun from the business.

    Trump and Bush told Germans not to purchase so much nat gas from Russia. Now they are paying the price. Lesson learned is we need “all of the above” when it comes to energy. The sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow.

    Lesson two, USA has given Europe blood and treasurer since 1917. Two World Wars, Cold War, Marshall rebuilds plan, Berlin airlift. The defense of Europe must be
    the Europeans themselves. The Esbenshade family has conscripts from WWI to WII to Korea & Vietnam.We did not move to Canada we reported to our induction stations.
    Europe, I say to you “our 8-year-old grandson Jacob is not coming to defend you”

  2. Geoff Singleton says:

    Perhaps the German economy wouldn’t be a dependent upon Russian gas if their Government hadn’t prematurely closed all their nuclear power plants. Their government was dependent upon Green Party support who made this a condition for their support. Greens don’t realise that nuclear power is carbon neutral. The German people are now faced with the potential of power cuts.

  3. David Kroon says:

    Ah yes, Jake the bartender.

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