It Will Take a Movement to Stop the F-35
by Matthew Andrews
Vermont is a rural state, mostly known for its cheese, ice cream, and
winter skiing. It’s also widely regarded as one of the most liberal
states in the country. But like the rest of the United States, Vermont’s
economy is heavily driven by military spending. Even in Vermont, money
talks. So when the Air Force proposed stationing their new F-35 war
planes at Burlington Airport, politicians lined up to support it and the
community has been deeply divided.
The Burlington Airport in Vermont buttresses the state’s most populated
towns. It currently hosts the State’s National Guard and F-16 airplanes.
Despite having no enemies to fight, these war planes engage in training
exercises on a daily basis. The noise they generate is more than a
nuisance. An estimated 200 homes have been abandoned since 2008 in the
surrounding communities of South Burlington, Winooski, and Williston.
The new F-35 war planes will be four times louder. This noise would make
3,400 homes “not suitable for residential use” according to the Air
Force’s own analysis. We should not be surprised that the same
government that builds such deadly weapons is also willing to callously
displace our communities.
A lively resistance has sprung up within the affected communities. A
variety of tactics are being used to educate the public of the impact
these war planes would have, to lobby the air force and politicians to
reconsider, and take legal action. This past July, several hundred
people rallied and marched to voice popular opposition to the proposed
project. While many local community members worried about the health
affects of noise exposure, and the impact on property values, there was
also a vocal contingent led at least in part by the International
Socialist Organization and members of Occupy to oppose the F-35 from an
anti-war position. The march visited the offices of the entire Vermont
congressional delegation – one by one – to shame them and challenge
their support. Demonstrators also called on Burlington’s City Council,
which owns the land, to exercise their power to reject the project.
This burgeoning community struggle must expand with the support of
allies throughout the state and country to avoid being steam-rolled by
the Military-Congressional-Industrial Complex and its local surrogates.
Indeed, the entire congressional delegation from Vermont, as well as the
governor, and mayor of Burlington have lined up to support the project.
They have said the F-35 is inevitable. Even the nominally independent
Senator Bernie Sanders has said on Vermont Public Radio that the F-35s
are going to be built anyway, so Vermont ought to host them in order to
create jobs. Sanders says they are necessary for the Vermont Guard to
continue its mission. Vermont politicians are happy to pose as
progressives in order to please a liberal constituency, yet too often we
fail to challenge them when they help themselves to slice after slice of
the bloated war budget.
The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive project. The New York Times
reports that they intend to spend as much as $396 billion to buy 2,456
of the F-35 war planes by the late 2030s. Massive projects like this
will not be stopped by small communities surrounding airports. These
communities, however, may be the leading edge of a revived peace
movement if they tap into popular dissatisfaction over government waste,
a lagging economy, and senseless warfare.
The anti-war movement sprang into high gear when it looked like Obama
was going to bomb Syria. But we also need to engage the slow movement
building struggles that connect our more abstract anti-war ideals to
real policy decisions being made at home. For those of us outside the
impact zone, this is our best opportunity to take a bite out war
hysteria, interventionism, and the tax-funded war economy.
The mantra of job creation is trumpeted to silence debate over the
wisdom of having a war economy. We should remind those who are swayed by
this argument why we want jobs in the first place. Jobs allow people to
raise their standard of living and spend money locally, subsequently
benefiting the local economy. This can be accomplished by any program
that spends in a particular community. The second benefit of job
creation is that workers produce goods and services that contribute to a
higher standard of living. Military spending fails on both counts. It’s
hard to dispute that little of our military spending has anything to do
with keeping us safe. But even on the matter of job creation itself,
military spending measures up the worst among possible options according
to a recent report from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)
at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. According to 2009
numbers, PERI found that $1 billion spent by the military creates 11,200
jobs, versus 16,800 by clean energy development, 17,200 by health care,
or 26,700 by public education. Even increasing consumer demand through
tax cuts would lead to 35% more job creation than military spending.
Despite the public rhetoric about job creation and security, the
powerful forces have their own motivations for basing the F-35 in
Vermont. Following the money trail gives us a much more accurate
understanding of the real motivations. If the project moves forward,
developers may be the biggest winners. The City of Burlington already
received a $40 million Federal grant to buy out local residents affected
by the F-16. This program must multiply to make way for the louder F-35.
While this land may be ruled unsuitable for residential use by the FAA,
it can still be zoned for commercial and industrial use. The Boston
Globe cites an unnamed Pentagon official who says that the
base-selection process was deliberately “fudged” by military brass so
that Leahy’s home state would win.
The next confrontation over this debate will be Monday, October 7th at
the Burlington City Council. Four Progressive Party members will propose
a resolution to oppose the F-35. As the land owner, the Burlington City
Council could prohibit their tenant, the Air National Guard, from
operating the war planes. The other members of the 14 member council
however have not yet broken ranks with the project and its boosters,
including Mayor Miro Weinberger and groups like the Greater Burlington
We can expect most of the debate on October 7th to be about the risks
posed to the 1443 homes in the crash zone, or the 3410 residential units
projected to be caught in the high-noise contours of the jets. These
liabilities could have a direct financial impact on the city, which
seems to be the only consideration these politicians are ready to
Groups like the ISO, Occupy, the Progressive Party, and Liberty Union
Party are beginning to challenge the militaristic perspective of our
elected officials. We do not see a world full of enemies that must be
dominated by ever superior military might. The United States needs to
quickly convert from an economy that is addicted to war to one that
sustains the Earth and the needs of all people. There are more than
enough jobs and plenty of security to be found in these more noble
expenditures. The struggle to stop the F-35 in Vermont can only be won
if we build a statewide movement to reject it. Furthermore, only a
nationwide peace movement has the potential to ensure these planes are
never built and never drop bombs over places like Syria, Yemen, Iraq or
Afghanistan. And finally, only an independent political movement can
promise to rescue our tax dollars from the war machine and invest them
back into our communities.
The race for superior weaponry has been pursued, and largely
accomplished, by the United States government. Not only has it failed to
make us safer from terrorism, but it has led to endless warfare. We have
sacrificed the world’s natural resources and beauty, as well as our
nation’s blood and treasure, only to enrich a tiny corporate elite.