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Sunday December 5th

Teach-in Examines War, Economics Relationship

The teach-in, titled "The New War Economy: Who Will Pay?," featured Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin as its keynote speaker. The event was sponsored by the UNC Department of Epidemiology.

Steven Wing, associate professor of epidemiology at UNC, began the event with a discussion of changes in the public health field since Sept. 11. He focused on an increase in bioterrorism preparedness, which he said has led to further militarization of public health care.

Wing said these changes have widened the disparities in health care, including racial and class discrimination demonstrated during the recent anthrax scare. While most government buildings closed their doors to be decontaminated, postal employees were instructed to keep working, Wing said. He added that a large number of these workers are black men.

"This reveals the entire disconnection between public institutions and the working class people," he said.

Wing's discussion was followed by Arjun Makhijani's presentation on oil, war and the global economy.

Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said the current war in Afghanistan is a result of the Middle East's oil embargo in 1973. He said increased oil prices, coupled with then President Richard Nixon's decision to take the United States off the gold standard, jeopardized the nation's control over the world economy.

"The United States realized in 1973 that it did not control oil, the most important commodity in the world," Makhijani said.

UNC anthropology Professor Catherine Lutz then spoke about the United States' military budget, which is the largest in the world. She said the United States spends more on its military per year than all other countries combined.

"We tend to think of the budget as the skeleton of the state," she said. "The military gets most of the bones."

Lutz also stressed the indirect effects of increased military spending, namely smaller budgets in areas like civilian health care.

"People who could have benefited from health research might still be alive today," she said.

The teach-in concluded with a presentation by Jensen, the keynote speaker.

Jensen, who has publicly scrutinized the war in Afghanistan, said he was openly criticized for his skepticism by the dean of the University of Texas at Austin.

But Jensen said he has held firmly to his stance against war.

"You cannot stabilize the political situation of a country by bombing," he said.

He emphasized the growing number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, including a death toll that has nearly equaled that of Sept. 11.

But Jensen said the biggest threat lies in a government that is using its war on terrorism to extend its own dominance. He said this effort has been largely facilitated by manipulating the emotional reaction to Sept. 11.

"Nation states should not, do not have emotional reactions," Jensen said of President Bush's war on terrorism.

Jensen said Bush should have treated Sept. 11 as a criminal act, asking the world for aid in a reasonable, serious police action against the al-Qaida network. But Jensen stressed that this use of force should be complemented by a greater focus on foreign policy.

He also said he worries for the state of both nations involved in the conflict in the upcoming years, not just the victims of terror.

"I didn't just feel emotion about the people who died in the World Trade Center in September," Jensen said. "I felt overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness for what was coming."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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