War, the archeologists tell us, is a recent invention, having existed for less than 5,000 years. Even the military historians can claim, for the 5,000 years before that time, only some five excavation sites containing multiple skeletons with evidence of violence. But, the timeline for our species goes back 200,000 years. That’s 5 or 10,000 years of war, versus 190,000 years of cooperation and getting along peacefully. The geneticists remind us that our genetic nature was defined in that first 190,000 years and hasn’t changed much since. We are not violent by our nature, but by culture.
Our senior citizens who remember WW II, however, say there has always been war in their lifetime. Even little kids who never knew the days before the 21st century, play at Star Wars, building battle cruisers with laser canons and atomic torpedoes.
Since WW II, war has become an integral part of American culture. The aero-arms industry never closed up shop after 1945. They convinced Congress and successive presidents that we had to have the most modern ships and planes to be stronger than anyone else.
Not five years after WW II was over, the US troops were fighting in Korea. Then, we made war on North Vietnam and the Viet Cong (in South Vietnam), and took a few detours for a little horticulture in the jungles of Laos and Cambodia. We also sent the Marines to the Caribbean island of Grenada and into Panama, lest anyone else in the western hemisphere get any subversive ideas. Next, we bombed Serbia; invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iraq again; and we intervened over Libya. In every war, every bomb or missile that goes Boom! creates a large cloud of CO2 and other pollutants, not to mention the fuel that is burned to fly the plane that carries the bomb or missile.
In addition, the US maintains 670 military bases in 130 countries around the world. A lucky few countries get more than one. Of course, the soldiers, sailors, and pilots have to practice their skills at: so many (or few) miles per gallon for Humvees, so many gallons per mile for F16s, and gallons every few seconds for aircraft carriers.
The Navy must also keep shipping lanes for supertankers, and maintain freedom of the seas for cargo ships from China, South Korea, and Bangladesh where they make the stuff to be sold at the big box stores to US consumers. But, that’s not war, except that we have to send our frigates and flagships from one ocean to another around the world. How else to get the big guns and cruise missiles to where potential pirates and anarchists must be taught to mind their manners? Presently, we have naval bases in Cuba, Spain, Italy (4), Bahrain, Diego Garcia, Singapore, Japan (3 or 4), and South Korea. Of course, we have to have an assortment of naval bases in the US, too, even in two states without a sea coast and two more states whose only coastline is on Lake Michigan.
We must not neglect other forms of pollution for our War On the World. Back in 1945, we tried to establish a precedent for uranium and plutonium pollution at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombings were successful, but the public was aghast and never forgot. We tried again in Iraq with “depleted” uranium (DU). Better publicity — the depleted uranium shells were for penetrating (non-existent) enemy tanks, and there were no tell-tale mushroom clouds. Yet the DU explosions spread radioactivity in the sands and the air that was breathed by the people. The cancers, infant mortality, and birth defects, caused by the radioactivity is much the same as what followed the atomization of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Wouldn’t you think we would have advanced a little since 1945?
Actually we did advance from the days of WW II when nylon was the only plastic and DDT was the only chemical. Now we have hundreds of thousands of different man-made chemicals. We started with useful herbicides that could kill crabgrass and dandelions on our lawns. Then, in the Vietnam-American War, we needed to open up the jungles of Southeast Asia — dispensing herbicides by plane was just the ticket. The chemical companies offered up Agent Orange. Those jungles must have been pretty thick, because over 20 million gallons were needed. We soon knew it was War On the World without guns.
Most recently, reports of pollution from “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan have come out from the dark recesses of the press. When the Pentagon sends thousands of troops out half way around the world, they require not only military equipment, but also the materials of daily living. So, there gathers lots of garbage. The Army doesn’t do much recycling or composting. Nor do they have land fill stations. Incinerators? Even New York City closed its last waste incinerator in 1999. So, for all the hard & soft plastics, unexploded ordinance, outdated electronics, styrofoam, paint, varnish, solvents, transmission fluids, tires — it’s open burn pits. The smoke, fumes, and chemicals are released into the air and loosed upon the land and rivers. Naturally, much of the pollution is toxic and carcinogenic. The Department of Veteran Affairs, when confronted by vets suffering respiratory illness, muscle fatigue, and skin & eye inflammation after exposure to burn pit smoke, denies the cause & effect linkage. “There’s no proof.” they say. But just to show concern, the DOD has issued a few hazmat face masks to soldiers working at and around the burn pits.
All told, war is not only dangerous for the contestants and bystanders, modern war is a War On the World, Mother Earth, herself. Isn’t it time to change from a war culture to one of cooperation and peace?