The passionate disagreements about the F-35 and industrial wind share a commonality: the meaning of home.
“Home is the place,” wrote Robert Frost, “where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Home and hearth are rooted in our soul, private places of respite and retreat from the grinding gears of public life. The expression “if these walls could talk” symbolizes that our dwellings are more than simply structures; they are storehouses of memories, giving us a sense of our individual and familial selves.
That is the romantic vision. Less romantically, we are never completely safe in our homes. We are wary of the stranger at the door, fearful of the burglar and the thief. We fear the sense of violation that comes with a lock pried, window broken and drawers thrown about indiscriminately. We arm ourselves with dead-bolt locks, alarm systems, barred windows and bullets and guns. The claim “I never lock my door” seems naïve and foolhardy. “Be careful,” we caution, “you never know.”
Yet, the common thief is our least injurious threat. Others who seek to invade our homes are superficially more reputable: the corporate elite, the politicians who do their bidding and the courtiers and camp followers who flatter them.
This ubiquitous and enduring coterie has, is and will always sweep aside homes, neighborhoods, villages and towns to satisfy their economic appetites, to satiate – momentarily – their greed.
Canadian geographers J. Douglas Porteous and Sandra Smith christen these acts as domicide, the killing of home. Their definition sounds clinically chaste: “the deliberate destruction of home by human agency in pursuit of specified goals, which cause suffering to its victims.”
Those victimized, living outside the pavilions of power and privilege, feel less than cleansed by the experience. They are the collateral damage of history, sacrificed for progress, done in by the rationalized execution of the greater good. They may seem distant artifacts from other times and places: the targeted civilians of Dresden, the displaced Hindus and Muslims of India’s partition, the flooded millions of the Three Gorges Dam.
Vermonters, though, are learning history also can be written in a present and more mundane tense. In Chittenden County, thousands of individuals and families are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their homes lie within the deafening acoustic profile of the newest golden calf of the American war machine: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. An imperialism of sound threatens their private spaces, but in a state where the governor, the mayor of our largest city, and the cousin-in-law of the F-35’s biggest congressional booster are real estate developers, the residents are over-matched.
Their homes are merely inconveniences, eventually to be replaced by placards boasting the latest “Coming Soon” salvation of the Vermont economy.
Elsewhere in Vermont, wind mania has taken hold. Ridgelines once thought of as sacred are now or soon to be scarred by dynamite and bulldozers building the pads and pyramids upon which the latest “green” icons stand. Homes that once saw the twinkling, nighttime stars now see the blink-blink-blinking red eye of the industrial Cyclops on the hills. Like children, homeowners are told, “Take your medicine. It will be good for you”, the prescription of bureaucrats who are distant arbiters of the public good.
Those who live out of earshot of the howling jets or beyond the sightline of the wind machines’ akimbo arms shrug their shoulders with indifference, smug in the assumed confidence that they are safe, their homes secure.
To them, those whose homes are threatened by domicide near the Burlington airport and close to the wasted hills whisper a warning, “Be careful. You never know.”
Bruce S. Post of Essex was state director for U.S. Sen. Robert T. Stafford.