War and the Natural World
“Scarred Lands & Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War” by Alice and Lincoln Day
My cadets always listen carefully to the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” It is a law that applies in the most surprising of contexts, none more so than warfare.
The unintended consequences of war—both good and bad—are fascinating to my students. My cadets always engage with lesson plans on the technology that came out of World War II, for example, or the packs of wild dogs in Vietnam which are the descendants of U.S. canine corps from the late 1960’s, or the marine sanctuaries formed by sunken battleships.
In their visually dramatic and far-reaching documentary film, “Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War,” filmmakers Alice and Lincoln Day bring to light another dimension of unintended consequences: what war does to our ecologies, both global and local. In a passionate and well-researched narrative, the film documents the impact of battle on its “silent casualty,” the natural world.
What follows is a lengthy and thoughtful interview in which the filmmakers talk about the implications of this largely unstudied impact. As a teacher, I regard the Days’ work to be a wealth of original lesson plans that can be scaffolded in a number of directions. They mention over a dozen supporting works at the end of the interview, many of which can be accessed online. The interview below along with clips from their film can serve as an introduction to the study of war as well as the study of ecology.
As citizens, we are all at war. It is invaluable, I think, for our students to understand all aspects of war; their generation will bear its own share of war’s legacy. I hope you will take the time to follow the trail to their web site www.scarredlandsfilm.org and a full viewing of the film itself.
Objective: After watching a documentary on the effects war has on the environment, reading an interview with the filmmakers, and answering the discussion questions below, learners will be able to explain the unintentional consequences of war on the environment, analyze the importance of these consequences, and discuss how such damage could be mitigated, prevented, or repaired.
About the Authors. Alice T. Day and Lincoln H. Day met at Columbia University as graduate students in sociology. Their earliest joint project was a book (Too Many Americans, 1964) about how continued population increase can adversely affect the quality of life not only in less developed countries but also in more developed countries. The Days have traveled extensively in the United States, Australia, Europe, and Turkey, and less extensively in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. They lived in Australia for 23 years and have dual American/Australian citizenship. The Days have a son and a daughter and three grandchildren.
© Journal of Empire Studies 2012
This is a very interesting article that covers an aspect we rarely care to look at. War, although sadly a necessary evil, doesn’t just destroy mankind, it destroys earth. As the result of war you have scuttled and sunken ships littering the ocean floor, some modern day ships containing chemicals that are slowly being released into the ocean. If you have ever visited Normandy Beach where the D-Day landings took place in 1944, the massive naval artillery craters are still present as a silent reminder.Old tanks, vehicles, weapons, and ammunition brass always can be found at battlefield sights, not to mention all of the infrastructure and beautiful buildings that have lasted for centuries that are pummeled to the ground. War ravages the landscape, No Man’s Land still looks as dreary and desolate as it did in 1914. Not to mention you still have threats of uncovered mines in places like Afghanistan that don’t just maim people but the landscape too. Today, it is even worse. Although not a result to warfare we can see the effects of Chernobyl. Still uninhabitable and desolate and wont be life sustaining for possibly hundreds of years. Just imagine if we ever do resolve to a nuclear war the devastation of our planet. Although it is a sad concept that our environment is just as much of a casualty as humans are in war, I still believe that in order to prepare for peace, we still need to prepare for war, although we all hope for peace not just for mankind, but for nature herself.
What struck me the most with this interview was just how long these “unintended consequences” remain issues for. When we think of the destruction from nuclear warfare, we often look no further than the initial casualties. Alice and Lincoln Day show how the nuclear bombs in Japan during World War II effected the generations after the attacks rather than just those who lived through the bombings. I also found it interesting that the white phosphorous, a chemical agent often used in warfare, will ruin farming soil for ten years. As a future US Army officer I believe that it would be interesting to study how the United States military has taken steps to reduce the environmental unintended consequences that often occure as a result of their weapons and tactics.
I wholeheartedly agree that war effects the natural world in which it takes place. I believe that the wars of previous centuries even when fought with antiquated technology were be equally destructive to nature. while it was their were no atomic bombs dropped a conquering force would do everything in its power to erase the memory of its enemy from their lands. When the Roman Empire defeated Carthage at the end of the third Punic War. Roman soldiers burned all of carthage to the ground, so that their was not a trace. After they sowed salt into all the field so nothing would grow, which was a common Roman practice. In our own history during Sherman’s march to the sea, General Sherman burned and looted everything in front of him. every house, railroad, and crop was destroyed to deplete the south’s morale. Later, we used all of our so called advanced technology to accomplish the same end result.We used weapons of destruction and fear, such as the atomic bomb or napalm, to crush the enemy peoples resolve. These are examples of total warfare which had achievable goals. unlike some of the wars of today where we are not fighting national forces supported by their civilian population. While the destruction of the environment is a terrible loss sometimes it is necessary “collateral” damage. In some cases such as Truk Lagoon and Agent Orange, led to unforeseen, unintended aftereffects. unfortunately at the time they could not of been avoided because lives and the fates of wars were at stake. Hindsight is always twenty twenty.
This article discussed how the bombings affected the generation of people. Think og the later generations to come from these bombings. It stated that the farm land was not fertile for ten years. That not only affects the generation that got hit. It affects their kids. Also, the chemical agents get into the blood stream. The next generation come out with major birth defects. Then the next generation after them come out worse. Now, with the environment. It states that 4000 ships were sunk. That is basically like trash at the bottom of the ocean. The rust and other materials could harm the life in the ocean. The oil inside the ships could kill millions of animals, fish, and vegetation in the ocean.
I would have to agree with Cadet Mengle on the white phosphorus issue. Our country’s military has over time grown more and more aware of its image. I think it would be very interesting to see what research and development the military has done to stop these unintended effects
Another thing I found interesting was the topic in question eleven. There is no argument that nuclear warfare has the potential to have the largest impact on the world’s ecosystems. However, how high is the threat of a nuclear war today and in the future. While hostile countries sluggishly research ways to project nuclear missiles the US and its allies are developing ways to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons. My view is that nuclear warfare has the highest potential for disaster, but should no longer be considered the threat it was during the Cold War era. I agree completely with Alice and Lincoln Day when they say that the biggest threat to the environment is the world’s attraction to war. We must either form a distaste for conflict, or find more eco-friendly ways to fight each other.
Being from America its easy to forget the impact war has on the enviroment. Not haveing the consequences of war in our own back yard gives us a false image of the envirment being perfectly fine when wars end. It is impressive how the enviroment can rebuild its self after wars though. its almost a beautiful thing to see a sunken battleship remodeled into a habitate.
This article gave me a whole new perspective to war. I had always known that war was destructive but this is giving me insight on just how destructive war can be. Not only is the time of war destructive but this article explains how before and after war are just as bad. Before the war we must get the proper materials for the weapons, test the weapons and so on and so on. During war I’m sure we all know how that can hurts the environment. Then after the war we think it’s all over but we couldn’t be more wrong. The large amounts of weapons never used in the war are just left overseas that do damage to the environment. And probably the point that was most interesting to me was about the sunken ships, and planes that were taken down on or over the ocean from World War II. The ships that sunk all those years ago are still eroding at the bottom of the sea releasing harmful chemicals into the water and some of the ships were oil tankers. The release of oil into the water is extremely harmful to the environment and to the marine life. And on land it wasn’t much better due to the only atomic bomb that we have ever used. It had not only destroyed Japan but also their land with its chemicals. The farmland couldn’t be used for the following 10 years! And I’m sure the chemical in the air did a number on the health of the population. With war constantly changing it may get even worse. Hopefully there will come a way so that we don’t continue to harm the Earth that we all live on.
This article is interesting because I was totally ignorant to this topic prior to this reading.
Rarely are actions affiliated with war determined just/fair on the basis of how they affect the environment. For that matter, decisions in a time of war take into account very little other than the effectiveness the action will have. Basic questions like how many American soldiers are in danger, how many enemy soldiers will be killed, does it forward the progress of the original mission, are the questions that determine what kind of action should be taken. Trying to align the views of an environmentalist, with a war hungry country is like trying to mix oil and water. Although there may be no middle ground for the two sides to meet on, one thing is and will remain for sure; our actions overseas and within our own country will continue to have reprocussions on the environment. Whether we feel and see the affect war has on an environment now, or 20 years down the road, there is one thing to remember; the world economy is majority dependent on goods and services that rely on the wellbeing of the environment. Oil, grain, textiles, all of the major production and trade goods originate from the environment. We may very well be destroying our economy with each bomb we drop, or each explosive we set in the water. These are real issues, that aren’t getting real attention by people in power.
This is an interesting article and takes a look at war that hasn’t really been looked at. When we think about war we think about Japan and the atomic bombs. We usaully think about the casualties caused by it, but not the after effect. We can relate it to Vietnam and the napalm and the different agents and gases used during that war that effected their enviornment. We could even relate it to more recent wars such as Afghanistan with the IEDs that constantly take the lives of Marines and Soldiers but also effect our enviornment. While I am not a big person about the enviornment and global warming and etc. “The white phosphorous from the flares we used in our invasion has left the farmers in Iraq with un-tillable soil for almost a decade.” I never thought of it like that, hell before i read this article i did not even know that the flares could have/ are having such an effect. The news and the media is more concerned about the inhumanities and how this war is “evil” but should be trying to make a difference instead of complaining. Our Marines, Soldiers, Seamen and Airmen should not be held responsible for this though. During the heat of the battle none of this is running through their heads and they are worried about survival and trying to kill an enemy who wants to kill them. As a hopeful 3rd generation Marine and a first generation Officer if I ever was deployed I believe this would be the last thing running through my head. I believe that we should be more worried about the effects of war on the enviornment instead of something like littering and turning off the lights.
Combat technology has raised new issues concerning warfare. Not only does it destroy trees and other landscapes, but it also disrupts ecological systems, and lessens access to resources such as food and water. A main concern is how many civilians are killed as a result of war in todays world; the term is known as “collateral damage” as if their deaths were a necessary and expected incident of war. 100 years ago 10 percent of deaths in war were civilians, were as todays wars have an opposite of 90 percent casualties consisting of civilians.
Human tendency towards war is to focus on casualties, objectives, completed missions but we tend to overlook serious problems that arise as the result of war. We look at the statistics of casualties of soldiers of both sides but never property damage, nuclear damage, collateral damage, and even casualties of civilians. Nuclear fallout, now in recent times has become a major threat especially with countries like the United States who possess around 3000 active nuclear warheads. Look at the effects of Chernobyl. The land will not be inhabitable for hundreds of years. Imagine if nuclear explosions happened as result of a nuclear war. The areas wouldn’t be inhabitable for many years to come and could ultimately destroy Earth as we know it. The Earth has become a major casualty of war. Other casualties that are included are civilians who are not involved in conflict. After the bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the after effects of the bombs were just as terrible as initial impact. Children for future years were born with defects, parents were scared for life, radioactive material is still present and dangerous. Even non nuclear explosions have a major casualty rate on civilians. In Vietnam, land mines and IEDs still are unknowingly placed and armed, and there are still casualties from the Vietnam conflicts. As stated above, a hundred years ago civilian casualties were 10 percent of all casualties. Now in today’s conflicts, 90 percent of casualties are civilians, not to mention the collateral damage to the Earth itself. With warfare always changing, there is no telling what kind of damage humans can do to each other as well as to mother earth.
The effects of war can be devastating in many ways. It not only effects the individuals fighters, it also effects the environment and nearby civilizations. War can permanently change an environment while the environment has no choice but to let it just happen. History proves that once an area is targeted for a warpath there is nothing that can be done to stop the effects of war from being completely devastating. A great example can be found in the European cities during World War II when both forces would fight through the towns, the building and streets would be left in ruins with the population having to re-cooperate from the sever losses that they are left with. When the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki the two cities were literally flattened and any living thing instantly became non-living. These examples prove that when war targets an area nothing is safe and the outcome will always be negative.
In my personal view on the world, these things are necessary for its safety. I believe that freedom is not free and it has a price and everybody at sometime has to pay a small fee. The fee is small sacrifice of land or animals and even someones life, but for the common good of the world these things need to happen. For example, Japan we dropped an Atomic Bomb on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Radiation linger for some time after the explosions and it killed many people. But as a result of the bombings, Japan surrendered and many lives were saved from an Allied Invasion that would’ve killed millions more on both sides. Some times using our most powerful weapons and paying for it later is what is required to win the day. On the other hand, as a result of war we come up with better ways of cleaning up the messes we make. Perfect example is mines, today there are 110 million unexploded landmines in the world. There is a device that is being used to destroy mines using intense flames. Its a easy inexpensive device for civilians to use. In the world, of course there are going to be misfires and duds in the world of warfare. But the least we can do is clean up. My main point is also that it was for a reason and we should be ashamed or question the reason, only embrace it.
Looking at the way warfare has developed over the last few decades, its reached a point were it has lasting impact on the environment. The proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world holds one of the greatest threats to the environmental ecosystem. The examples in the article prove that we need to find a way to analyze the effects of war and prevent harm to our-self’s.
I think that people tend to regard freedom
As a right not a privelege, and this “humanity itself being at war” aspect is why gave us all a drive to succeed, at both the war within ourselves and the war against other known as competition. While most of humanity is more and more finding itself untouched by war,
Man finds itself being led astray from the conflict driven can do attitude that characterized most of recorded history. Man is a conflict driven being. It Spurs the growth of commerce, industry, business etc. it unites men under one cause, it gives rise to heroes, etc. without such impetus man grows lazy and complacent, unaware of any such “war.” Which to the soldiers in the viewing audience, is a crying shame.