When you think about war, do you think about the environment? War wastes and destroys natural resources. Before the first bullet is fired, preparation for war requires the extracting and processing of metals, wood, and petroleum to build infrastructure, manufacture equipment, and develop advanced weaponry. Testing for chemical and nuclear weapons, for example, has left irreversible damage to the environment, along with causing extensive radioactive damage to people in communities near the mining, manufacturing, and test sites.
During war, increased production, infrastructure destruction, and accelerated fuel use are only a handful of the consequences. It is a fact that the U.S. Pentagon is the largest consumer of oil in the world. By one estimate, the U.S. military used 1.2 million barrels of oil in Iraq in just one month in 2008. This increased rate of fuel use compared to non-wartime has to do, in part, with the fact that fuel must be delivered to vehicles in the field by other vehicles, using even more fuel. During the Gulf War in 1991, in an effort to stop a landing of U.S Marines, the Iraqi military dumped roughly 1.5 million tons of oil into the Persian Gulf. By the time Saudi authorities and international contractors initiated clean-up efforts, much of the oil had sunk, evaporated or washed up on beaches and the oil slicks had catastrophic and lasting impact on wildlife.
After a war, the host country is left in disarray. While infrastructure isn’t part of the natural environment, its destruction has lasting impacts. Water systems and land are contaminated, villages are destroyed, people and animals are displaced or killed, and ecosystems are permanently damaged.
Historically, a “scorched earth” military strategy has been common practice in war, even before modern technological advances. This strategy involves destroying everything that could be useful for an enemy, while advancing through an area. The goal is to starve citizens, destroy cropland, and pressure the enemy into surrender. One common example of this strategy is the use of Agent Orange, when the U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam. Agent Orange has had long-lasting effects on Vietnam’s water supply and ecosystem. Although Agent Orange is now banned, many other chemical defoliants are still being used today. Depleted Uranium, the most controversial of recent chemical weapons, has also been found to have long-lasting impacts on human health and soil.
The list of destruction resulting from war goes on and on. From the preparation for war to war-fighting and the aftermath, the environment pays a toll. This Earth Day, members of Veterans For Peace are speaking out on environmental damages associated with endless war. As Veterans For Peace, we are committed to exposing the true costs of war and militarism, including the cost to the environment.