I was down at the Cenotaph today, at Victory Square in downtown Vancouver, explaining to the 8-year old on my shoulders why we were watching at a sea of umbrellas in the cold November rain. As my mind grappled with imagining the sheer horror of the individuals involved in the dirty, brutish life of armed conflict, I wondered what effect such devastation had on a planetary environmental scale.
Google ‘environmental cost of war’ and it doesn’t take long to find out. A web page by UK’s Peace Pledge Union gave me more than enough for a whole series of blogs. For instance:
The Devil’s Garden, 1942 – Some 18 million landmines are buried in the sands of El Alamein, most of them laid by the British in their fight against Rommel; he gave the region its nickname. At first it was common for mines to wipe out whole herds of cattle and clans of camel-herders… sand shifts the mines, rains dislodge them, and rust in the detonators sparks off spontaneous explosions. Bedouin men hold up their mutilated hands ironically to show to British visitors. There are people who will die from the mines who are not yet born.
Killing a Culture, 1962-71 – US military carried out a massive herbicidal programme in Vietnam for almost a decade. With 72 million litres of chemical spray, they defoliated the forests which provided cover for guerillas. ‘All our coconut trees died,’ recalled a woman ten years later, in hospital with a third miscarriage, and also having chemotherapy… ‘Some of our animals died, and those that lived had deformed offspring. The seeds of the rice became very small, and we couldn’t use them for replanting.’
One very well-annotated article I downloaded from the Green Party of Massachusetts  showed that the problem is not confined to conflict zones. The production and storage of munitions has created a wave of eco-disasters right here on home soil that are just beginning to come to light:
The Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR), which includes Otis Air Force Base and Camp Edwards, and is situated directly above a “sole source” aquifer, the only source of drinking water for 200,000 permanent and 500,000 seasonal residents on Cape Cod … has been contaminated by military fuel spills and hazardous munitions waste that have leached into the soil and groundwater.
By 2001, there were 28,538 known waste sites on current or former U.S. military bases
in the U.S., with the military being, in the words of the Baltimore Sun (1/19/03), “one of the nation’s biggest polluters”.
The cost of war is outrageous by any measure, whether it be the life of a single soldier given in the name of freedom, or the degradation of an ecosystem in the very land he fought to liberate. We cannot hope to protect the environment unless we are at peace.
Lest we forget.

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