War: We’re Killing Each Other and the Planet

The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. And it is also one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels. If the U.S. Military was a nation, it would be #47 in the world for being an emitter. The DOD is also a mass consumer of resources; in the 2021 fiscal year, the U.S. Defense budget was a whopping $735 billion. A vast amount of taxpayer funding goes into maintaining the U.S. military might. We should have taken the words of President Eisenhower more serious:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” – President Eisenhower, 1961

The military-industrial complex has not only fueled our nation’s addiction to war and foreign intervention. It’s also a massive contributor to climate change. But we should be more honest; climate change is a phrase that doesn’t warrant the urgency needed to combat it. I’d call it an extinction-level event since the worse projected outcomes of the climate crisis indicate a planet that could be hostile to human life and countless other lifeforms on the planet. If human civilization collapses due to the climate crisis, the earth will rebound in millions of years, but it might be a much different story for humanity. As the late great comedian George Carlin once said, “the planet will be fine, the people are fucked!”

War has caused the displacement of countless peoples from their native homelands. Add the fact that the climate crisis has already caused a massive uptick in climate refugees. More conflict could be in our future, and not only will this conflict hurt the people impacted. It will have a devastating impact on natural resources and habitats. Migrating populations consume natural resources of the area they’re forced to occupy due to displacement by conflict. War and the climate crisis could create a feedback loop of permanent climate refugees and endless conflict where people fight over scarce resources like clean drinking water.

Nuclear test sites, abandoned military sites, and metals and chemicals like; Agent Orange used during Vietnam, depleted uranium or sarin used during the First Gulf War has had dire consequences. Especially for those people who come into contact with or live near these contaminated sites. For example, the people of the Marshall Islands have been plagued with radiation poisoning, birth defects, leukemia, thyroid, and other cancers after years of nuclear tests were conducted on nearby “abandoned” islands. 

Nations like Afghanistan that have been in conflict for generations have not only seen countless civilians killed, injured, or displaced. But the impact on the natural environment has been devastating thanks to continued warfare

 In Afghanistan too, wildlife and habitats have disappeared. The past 30 years of war has stripped the country of its trees, including precious native pistachio woodlands. The Costs of War Project says illegal logging by US-backed warlords and wood harvesting by refugees caused more than one-third of Afghanistan’s forests to vanish between 1990 and 2007. Drought, desertification and species loss have resulted. The number of migratory birds passing through Afghanistan has fallen by 85%.  – Karl Mathiesen, The Guardian 

During my time in the U.S. Navy, I can say that we treated the world’s oceans as our own personal watery dumping grounds. 

In 2017, the U.S. Naval Air Station Oceana in Norfolk, VA was found to have spilled 84,000 gallons of jet fuel into a waterway. Similarly, in 2019, statistics arose claiming that the Air Force contractor had been dumping industrial solvent Trichloroethylene (TCE) into the ground surrounding the Tucson International Airport for 29 years. It was found that over 1,350 residents suffered from cancer and other illnesses, due to these negligent actions. Filed claims were brought against the Air Force by many South Tucsonans, who claim to continue to suffer from the damage caused by drinking the polluted water to this day. 

U.S. foreign intervention has impacted not only the lives of countless peoples in their homelands. But many soldiers, sailors, and marines are never the same when they return home from the battlefield. Over 30,000 U.S. service members and veterans of the post-9/11 wars have died by suicide. Countless military veterans deal with moral injury, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, or mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. I’ve even shared my own story of my mental health challenges since my time in service. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syrian conflicts. Bombs and drones have reduced cities into rubble. War is indeed killing us and the planet

There is a way to turn things around, though. And I’m not talking about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Green New Military Plan either. We don’t need the same ol’ U.S. Imperialism with a lesser carbon footprint. No, we need to Defund the Pentagon; I’m not saying we should disband the Armed Forces entirely. But almost a trillion dollars per year for defense is quite wasteful, in my opinion. Especially when it’s to keep companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and many other weapon contractors profitable. The U.S. states have spent fourteen trillion dollars on war since 9/11, and a third of that taxpayer money has gone to defense contractors.

I, for one, would like my tax dollars used to build new schools, hospitals, libraries, and affordable housing for the less fortunate. Not going towards droning weddings in Yemen. We need to hold the military accountable. When human rights violations happen, or when dangerous chemicals are released into the environment and harm local populations. Then the military should be held responsible by civilian citizens impacted and our elected lawmakers. No the E-1, fresh out of boot camp should not be taking the fall. I’m talking about the top brass of the Armed Forces and the Joint Cheifs of Staff. 

We need to put an end to U.S. foreign intervention as well. The U.S. shouldn’t invade countries on behalf of multinational corporations or fossil fuel industries’ bottom lines. The real debate should be had before we decide to go to war, and it should be left to the will of the people, not the whims of a president influenced by powerful corporate donors. Diplomacy should be the first and most useful strategy in avoiding international conflict. 

I know some will read this and think I’m spouting treehugger hippie nonsense. But I am a man who served, and I have many friends who served as well. I can attest that a massive defense budget isn’t going to the bank accounts of everyday servicemembers. Some active-duty service members get paid so little they have to apply for public assistance. Almost forty thousand military veterans are without stable housing. This has only been made worse by the ongoing pandemic. War is hell, and it’s hell on the people impacted by it. And it’s also hell on the natural world. The great irony is war doesn’t keep us safe; it’s actually peace that does.  Peace is the only way we save ourselves and our ability to live comfortably on terra firma. a.k.a earth. Earth is the only home we have, and we should treat it and each other much better.

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