Welcome to the Slaughterhouse

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by Nick Mottern and Jack Gilroy, published on Counterpunch, August 8, 2023

What does Ukraine need the most? Its military officials now list five things when asked, Dmitri Alperovitch said in his latest podcast, which was recorded in Ukraine.  Those five things are “artillery shells, artillery shells, artillery shells, artillery shells, and more artillery shells.”

U.S. President Joe Biden said much the same when asked a similar question about two weeks ago at the conclusion of this year’s NATO summit in Lithuania.: “What we need most of all is artillery shells, and they’re in short supply.  We’re working on that.” 

Just off Rt I81 in Scranton, Pa, Biden’s hometown, is Exit 185, now called the President Biden Expressway. Driving down the steep slope of the Expressway you will find the #4 Merchant of Death in the U.S., General Dynamics, operating the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant, just a chip shot away from the downtown.

On Saturday, July 22nd, some 80 peace and justice organizers from Vermont, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Long Island, New York City and upstate New York went to Scranton to focus on what the Ukrainians and the President of the United States say is the most important weapons needed: 155 mm artillery shells.  And, now too, cluster munitions of the type that take the form of 155 mm shell-like casings packed with 72 small grenades that can disperse over a 600 feet diameter target area when released from the shell casing after it is fired.

General Dynamics’ Scranton plant reportedly produces 11,000 155 mm artillery shells a month. But the Biden Administration has said that this and other artillery shell plants can’t keep up with the demand for killing in the Ukraine War.  Therefore, we are told, there is a need to ship cluster munitions out of U.S. stockpiles to kill Russians, even though 123 nations have signed a treaty banning the hideous weapon because if the little grenades inside the shells don’t blow up right away and kill and maim people who are targeted, they will do so later, when grenades that didn’t blow immediately are stepped on by mistake or picked up by curious children.  This is still happening in Laos and Viet Nam, 50 years after the U.S. wars there.

If the U.S. wants to help Ukraine, why is it sending a weapon that promises to kill Ukrainians for generations?  Does that mean the U.S. sees Ukrainians simply as pawns in its war with Russia?  And, if artillery shells are so needed, why is the Scranton plant not turning out shells 24/7 instead of only five days a week?  Is it a matter of General Dynamics executives feeling that the company is not making enough profit on artillery shells?  These are among many unanswered questions about this war.

And, of course, a larger question is, why are we letting our so-called leaders continue fueling wars while our climate catastrophe is killing thousands around the world daily and destroying the environmental basis for life on earth?

During the Vietnam War, students from the nearby University of Scranton protested outside the 155 mm artillery slaughterhouse. There is no record of any protests at the General Dynamics facility in decades.

On July 22, we learned how deeply Scranton culture supports militarism and the Merchants of Death as well as their native son, Joe Biden. Our estimate of Scranton participants at the rally was less than ten and two of them were Trump supporters who parked their tractor-trailer alongside our gathering.  Miniscule attendance by Scrantonians surprised us because the protest had received generous coverage in the Scranton Times Tribune, and one of us had also been interviewed for five minutes during drive time the day before on local radio station WILK.  In addition, local peace organizers were contacted, and to our knowledge, none attended.

Local television stations that were invited to send reporters ignored the rally, and while the Scranton newspaper sent a photographer to cover the rally, for which we are grateful, there was no reporting on who the speakers were and what they said.

With mainstream media in the pocket of the Merchants of Death, antiwar organizers must bring their own media.  You can browse our long video to catch short and pithy analyses of brilliant activist leaders like Professor Gloria Caballero Rosa, Bard Micro College; Martha Hennessy, Catholic Worker; Dennis Hill, Black Alliance for Peace; Joe Lombardo, United National Antiwar Coalition; Susan Schnall, National President, Veterans for Peace; Susan Smith, Operations Manager, Fellowship of Reconciliation USA; ; David Swanson, Director of World Beyond War; and Debra Sweet, Director of World Can’t-Wait. The rally scenes and thoughts of all of these amazing people of peace were captured in full by videographer Vera Scroggins (4) Rally for Peace in Ukraine – Scranton, Pa. Munitions Plant – 7-22-23 – YouTube

To question the region’s embrace of militarism by focusing on the largest artillery shell maker in the United States may have been sacrilegious to a region steeped in a religious embrace of militarism. The Catholic University of Scranton, just a few minutes walk from the ammunition factory, trains college students in the art of killing via ROTC. Ten colleges in northeastern Pennsylvania send students to train with the university’s “Royal Warrior Battalion”.

Just a short drive up I81 to the little town of Archbald is the #1 Merchant of Death in the world, Lockheed-Martin, making artillery rockets to be sent to Ukraine.  A twenty-minute drive from downtown Scranton is the largest military electronic storehouse in the nation, the Tobyhanna  Army Depot, the biggest industrial employer in northeastern Pennsylvania, with over 3000 workers.

Scrantonians are just one of many Merchants of Death brainwashed and money-washed populations in the United States. The region is historically Democratic, and their present Congressional representative, Matt Cartwright, is a member of the House Progressive Caucus. Cartwright is always ready and willing to praise new military contracts coming to northeastern Pennsylvania and always votes each session for more military spending.

We won’t give up on Scranton. The good people there deserve better than a house of death in the center of their town. President Biden repeats how he wants to renew passenger train travel to New York City from Scranton. Why not a more meaningful proposal like converting the ammunition plant into a rail production center.

In 1855, Scranton was the leading iron maker in the United States. Later, Scranton became known as the Electric City. Scranton Joe could leave a proud legacy by focusing on the building of electric trains in his hometown. Or would that not be the patriotic thing to do for his hometown of entrenched militarism?

It’s time for Americans to demand economic conversion from designing and producing tools to kill into serving the real needs of health, housing, climate and transportation. Are the people of Joe’s hometown simply going to accept being scammed by war profiteers and their obedient political servants?  Pope Francis told the U.S. Congress: “The arms industry is drenched in blood?

One of the chants at the July 22 rally was: “Who’s got the power? — “We’ve got the power!”

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