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Excerpt from Endgame

Testimony (p. 378)

From chapter "Making It Happen"

Six or seven years ago I gave testimony before several panels of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Northwest Power Planning Council, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies overseeing the murder of the salmon. The ostensible purpose of these panels was for citizens to give representatives of government and industry input concerning the fact that dams on the Columbia and other rivers kill salmon. The real purpose was for all of us— myself included—to make ourselves feel good by pretending to do something useful while we stood by and watched salmon rapidly slide to extinction.

Here’s the testimony I gave at one such panel:

“In 1839 Elkanah Walker wrote in his diary, ‘It is astonishing the number of salmon which ascend the Columbia yearly and the quantity taken by the Indians.’ He continued, ‘It is an interesting sight to see them pass a rapid. The number was so great that there were hundreds constantly out of the water.’ In 1930 the Coeur d’Alene Press wrote, ‘Millions of chinook salmon today lashed into whiteness the waters of northwest streams as they battled thru the rapids.’ The article went on to say that ‘the scene is the same in every northwest river.’ The Spokesman-Review noted that at Kettle Falls, ‘the silver horde was attacking the falls at a rate of from 400 to 600 an hour.’

“And now? In order to serve commerce this culture dammed the rivers of the Columbia watershed. Local groups and individuals—including those who knew the salmon most intimately, the Indians—fought against the federal government and the river industries, but dams were built, and now most runs of salmon in the Northwest and California are extinct or on the verge.

“The destruction of the salmon is not unique. It is the story of this culture. After a leak of poisonous gas from Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, India, killed up to fifteen thousand human beings and injured up to five hundred thousand, an anguished doctor made the commonsense proclamation that the company ‘shouldn’t be permitted to make poison for which there is no antidote.’ That’s what dams have been since the beginning: ‘a poison for which there is no antidote.’

“In order to make the cultural pattern perfectly clear, here are more poisons this culture has created without creating antidotes: It created the toxic mess at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation with no consideration for how to clean it up; before the first atomic bomb’s detonation, scientists feared the explosion would create a chain reaction destroying the atmosphere, yet they proceeded; this culture has clearcut its way across this continent—indeed across the planet—with no thought to an inability to restore those forests; politicians do their damnedest to allow pollution of aquifers with no clue how to clean them up; global warming, the ozone hole, acid rain, and other results of technological ‘progress’ are examples of poisons for which there are no antidotes.

“Why does this culture do this? One reason is that within this culture knowledge and technological ‘progress’ are driven by fiscal profitability. This fiscal profitability inevitably involves forcing others to pay for the economic activities of the producers. The Downwinders—and all humans and nonhumans who will live in eastern Washington for the next 250,000 years—pay for Hanford with their health; those who drink from Spokane’s aquifer pay with their health for the economic activities of those who pollute it; the salmon and those of us who would have eaten them—or merely watched them climb Kettle Falls—pay for the profits of the industries that have turned the rivers into a series of lakes.

“Recently, Senator Slade Gorton commented on salmon: ‘There is a cost beyond which you just have to say very regrettably we have to let species or subspecies go extinct.’ I would turn that statement around: There is a cost beyond which you just have to let destructive pieces of technology go extinct. There is a cost beyond which you have to let a treasonous collaboration between government and industry go extinct. There is a cost beyond which you have to let destructive worldviews go extinct. There is a cost beyond which you have to let civilization go extinct. The extinction of the salmon is not a price I’m willing to pay to support the irrigators, barging industry, aluminum industry, and producers of electricity, each of which is fighting desperately to cause salmon to go extinct.

“It may be incorrect to say outright that dams are ‘a poison for which there is no antidote.’ There is a realistic way to save salmon. I’m not speaking, of course, of the runs already extinct. The culture will forever carry that crime on our collective conscience. But other runs can be saved by a simple expedient. Remove dams that kill salmon. Blow them up. Even from a strictly economic perspective (in other words, from a perspective that ignores life), the dams aren’t necessary: Randy Hardy, Bonneville Power Administration Head, admits there is a ‘glut of power on the market at rates lower than’ that of the dams. Yet instead of removing dams the Administration’s response is to approach state and federal governments to request further subsidies. The public pays to kill the salmon. Corporate interests obstruct the removal of dams just as dams stand in the way of salmon on their way to spawn. For years politicians have studied the salmon to death, with each study revealing what we already know, that dams kill salmon. We’ve known this forever: laws were passed during the reigns of both Richard the Lionheart and Robert I (Robert the Bruce) in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries forbidding the erection of fixtures that would impede the passage of salmon on rivers and streams.

“Steve Clark of the Bureau of Reclamation gave us the real reason for the studies, when he said that he wished that salmon would go extinct so that we can ‘get on with living.’

“Industry representatives at this and other panels have repeatedly stressed the need for proven solutions. I will give them a proven solution: blow the dams and allow the Columbia to once again be a wild river. It is time for us to stop studies that have been a mere stalling tactic on the part of politicians and the business interests they represent. It is time to find a way to remove the dams—dams that are killing salmon—so that we, and the salmon, can get on with living.”

I received a standing ovation for that testimony (from the audience, obviously, not from the panelists), and throughout the rest of the evening, many of the speakers said simply, “I support the Jensen alternative. Blow the dams.”

Weeks later, I gave the following testimony at another panel:

“Every morning when I wake up I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. Every day I tell myself I should continue to write. Yet I’m not always convinced I’m making the right decision. I’ve written books, good ones, and people have read them. At the same time I know it’s not a lack of words that’s killing salmon, but rather the presence of dams.

“Anyone who lives in this region and who knows anything about salmon knows the dams must go. And anyone who knows anything about politics knows the dams will stay, at least for now. Scientists study, politicians and businesspeople lie and delay, bureaucrats hold sham public-input meetings, activists write letters and press releases, I write books and articles, and still the salmon die. It’s a cozy relationship for all of us but the salmon.

“In the 1930s, prior to building the dams, the United States government knew the dams would kill salmon, and proceeded anyway. One reason they proceeded, and they were very explicit about this, is that salmon are central to many of the region’s indigenous cultures, and much as killing buffalo helped bring Plains Indians to terms, the government knew killing salmon would break the collective cultural back of the region’s Indians. This is all a matter of public record. I repeat, one explicit reason dams were built was to destroy salmon stocks, and thus destroy native cultures. This is genocidal behavior under the law. It is a Crime Against Humanity, and anyone who participates in it, to this day, is guilty of a Crime Against Humanity.

“Make no mistake. The dams are instruments of genocide, just as surely, explicitly, and intentionally as the gas chambers at Treblinka, Birkenau, and Auschwitz. Lest you think this connection is spurious, no less an authority than Adolf Hitler said he based his genocidal lebensraum policy on the ‘Nordics,’ as he called them—that’s us—of North America who’d had ‘the strength of will,’ in his words, to exterminate an ‘inferior’ people.Just as Hitler’s genocide was only able to take place through the witting or unwitting assistance of hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats, technicians, scientists, businesspeople, and politicians who were merely ‘doing their jobs,’ so, too, with this ongoing genocidal and ecocidal project.

“From the inside, it’s possible to rationalize any horror. First person account after first person account of genocide and ecocide reveals that the psyches of nearly all high-level perpetrators are surrounded by an almost impenetrable wall of denial and abstract justification. Nazis never killed Jews; they used ‘scientific treatments’ to improve the health and vitality of the German nation. By the same token, members of this culture have never killed Indians or destroyed their cultures; it’s merely Manifest Destiny to ‘overspread the continent.’ Likewise, none of you on this panel are killing salmon, you’re producing electricity and helping irrigators.

“Any of you who represent Kaiser Aluminum, Bonneville Power, or other corporate, commercial, or governmental interests—which are fundamentally the same—and who fail to see how you are lending your talents to a genocidal project—why mince words, how you are committing genocide—are in famous company. While on trial for his life in 1961, part of Adolph Eichmann’s defense was that no one ever told him what he was doing was wrong. Eichmann was merely running a railroad, efficiently transporting human cargos east and cargos of clothing, hair, and gold fillings west. His hands were clean. He killed not a single Jew. Yet by lending his talents to the project he was responsible—and was ultimately held responsible—for the deaths of millions. The same holds true today for each of you. You are merely trying to improve corporate profits, or make the region’s economy run more smoothly, or otherwise just ‘doing your job.’ But ‘doing your job’ in this case means committing ecocide and genocide.

“I say this to every bureaucrat here, to every representative of Kaiser Aluminum, the Bonneville Power Administration, Senator Slade Gorton’s office, Senator Larry Craig’s office, Senator Jim McClure’s office, to all members of the Northwest Power Planning Council: I will not allow you Eichmann’s excuse. What you are doing is wrong. It is genocidal conduct under the 1948 United Nations Convention on Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, to which the United States is a signatory. I plan on someday seeing each and every one of you brought to justice and accountability for your crimes, and I want for it to be a matter of public record that you have been told that what you are doing is wrong.

“As for the rest of us, those of us who care about salmon, we must learn the difference between real and false hopes. Sea minks, great auks, passenger pigeons, Eskimo curlews, Carolina parakeets, great runs of salmon. You would think by now we would have learned that this economic and political structure is antithetical to life on this planet.

“We keep hoping that somehow corporations like Kaiser Aluminum will do the right thing.By now we should have learned. To expect corporations to function differently than they do is to engage in magical thinking. The specific and explicit function of for-profit corporations is to amass wealth. The function is not to save salmon, nor to respect the autonomy or existence of indigenous peoples, nor to protect the vocational or personal integrity of workers, nor to support life on this planet. Nor is the function to serve communities. It never has been and never will be. To expect corporations to do anything other than the purpose for which they are expressly and explicitly designed, that is, to amass wealth at the expense of human and nonhuman communities, is at the very least poor judgment, and more accurately delusional.

“Similarly, after Hanford, Rocky Flats, the Salvage Rider, dams, governmental inaction in the face of the Bhopal, the ozone hole, global warming, the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet, surely by now there can be few here who still believe the purpose of government is to protect us from the destructive activities of corporations. At last most of us must understand that the opposite is true: that the primary purpose of government is to protect those who run the economy from the outrage of injured citizens.

“The responsibility for protecting our landbases thus falls to each of us. This means that all of us who care about salmon need to force accountability—force accountability—onto those causing their extinction; we must learn to be accountable to salmon rather than loyal to political and economic institutions that do not serve us well. If salmon are to be saved, we must give BPA and Kaiser Aluminum a reason to save them. We must tell these institutions that if they cause salmon to go extinct, we will cause these institutions to go extinct. And we must mean it. We must then say the same to every other destructive institution and to those who run them, and we must act on our words; we must do whatever is necessary to protect our homes and our landbases from those who are destroying them. Only then will salmon be saved. Only then will the genocide stop.

“Saving salmon from extinction means taking out dams. Everyone knows this. Even the Corps of Engineers now acknowledges this. But there is a vast difference between acknowledgement and action. So we must tell the government that if it will not help us in this, if it will not back up our resolve to save salmon, to stop the committing of genocide, to save our communities, if it will not remove the dams, then it must be us who do so. Again, we must mean it.

“When dams were erected on the Columbia, salmon battered themselves against the concrete, trying to return home. I expect no less from us. We too must hurl ourselves against and through the literal and metaphorical concrete that keeps us imprisoned within an economic and political system that does not blanche at committing genocide and ecocide.

“I’ve been told that before making important decisions, members of many native cultures would ask, ‘Who speaks for wolf? Who speaks for salmon?’ I ask that here. If salmon were able to take on human manifestation, to assume your body, or yours, or yours, or yours, what would they do?

“And why aren’t you doing it?”

The response by members of the panel? They called security on me.

The response by the rest of us, myself included? The dams still stand. The salmon still slide toward extinction.

So much for discourse.


It’s one thing, as my friend Jim at the Post Office pointed out, to talk or write about taking out dams, to talk or write about taking down civilization, to talk or write about protecting the landbases where we live, and it’s quite another thing to make it all happen.