Luck goes both ways for America

Posted June 15, 2010, at 7:52 p.m.

Miriam Webster defines luck as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity, the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual, or favoring chance.” This dictionary meaning states that luck can be good or bad. Actually it can be both. Clearly, what’s excellent for some people is dire for others.

U.S. history is riddled with lucky moments. Look how lucky we were to find oil in Oklahoma, and luckier still that the natives didn’t put up much of a fight when we took their land. We have had similar fortunate experiences in the timberlands of Oregon and the Black Hills gold mines of South Dakota.

Yep, from the abundant fishing stocks off our eastern coast to the oil-soaked soils of Texas, the U.S. has a history of natural resource abundance and a fortunate ease of exploitation of those resources. Alas, for the folks who once inhabited this great land — they too of course had lots of luck, but all their luck was bad.

Still, this good or bad luck definition implies a lack of human initiative. In order to operate on a premise that the Mexican-American war which gave us Texas was good luck for the U.S. and bad luck for Mexico and the indigenous people, one must assign total power to that “force that brings good fortune or adversity.” And as a Homo sapiens, I’m unwilling to take free will out of the equation.

I prefer another construct of the word luck. An old rich guy I once knew explained his financial good luck as “opportunity meeting preparation.” And when we figure this sort of prior planning, we know that different entities get lucky all the time.

Let’s look at the World Trade Center bombings. Intensely bad luck for countless folks, from the people at the World Trade Center that day, to the whole of the American people, to the world in general, which is never served by senseless violence. But for the terrorists it was opportunity that met with preparation. Lax airport screening, national security briefs disregarded, expired residency visas ignored — man, you can’t count on two hands the good luck those murderers had when it came to striking the world’s strongest nation. And they weren’t just prepared, they were incredibly well-prepared. They went to flight school, learned English and boarded planes in rural areas to diminish the likelihood of detection.

Bad luck for the U.S. equaled good luck for the terrorists.

And since then — since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the initiation of our “boot in the ass” diplomatic style — the military industrial complex has experienced incredible good fortune. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. military expenditures have increased 220 percent since we began “reacting” to 9-11.

In fact, in 2009 U.S. military spending was $170 billion — good for arms dealers and the Chinese and Japanese who lend us the money, bad for our economy at home and for our grandchildren who will pay it back. Oh, and fatefully bad for the people upon whom we use the weapons, most of whom are bad-lucky civilians.

Additionally, we can’t be sure how astronomically lucky the military industrial complex has gotten, seeing as additional weapons costs are buried in non-Pentagon budgets. For example, the cost of nuclear weapons in 2008, $29 million, falls under the Department of Energy.

That’s another statistic from the folks in Stockholm — because unless we get outside the mainstream U.S. media, who are good-lucky to be working, we wouldn’t know this. The U.S. Census Bureau states that since 2005 19 percent of journalists and correspondents lost their jobs, nearly twice the national unemployment rate.

But son of a gun, we’re still getting lucky. Monday’s New York Times reported that we have our troops all over a piece of central Asian land that serendipitously has some of the richest mineral deposits in the world. And better still, it’s richest in lithium, which we need for our modern electronic devices. Check Monday’s head-line, “U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan.” Then ask what’s left of the Oglala Sioux Indians about how lucky it is to have U.S. troops all over your natural resources.

If the war in Afghanistan isn’t opportunity meeting preparation, nothing is.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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