Saturday, July 30, 2011

War and the True Tragedy of the Commons

I thought this an excellent essay.

War and the True Tragedy of the Commons
28 July 2011
by H. Patricia Hynes,

"A world that wants to make peace with the environment cannot continue to fight wars or to sacrifice human health and the earth's ecosystems preparing for them."

-Michael Renner, "War and Public Health"

The "Tragedy of the Commons," Garrett Hardin's 1968 controversial essay published in Science, essentially targeted overpopulation (read: poor women) as the prime threat to sustainable life on our finite earth. Hardin, and many who consumed this thesis, failed to single out the very small, but politically powerful, population responsible for a mammoth environmental impact - the military. Per capita, the military complex (read: powerful men) is the most polluting human population.

A well-glued solidarity between the military, national security advisors, civilian defense contractors, and elites of government has cloaked the extraordinary debt of pollution, destruction of land, and use of finite resources in the paternalistic mantle of national security.

Since the origins of recorded history, war chroniclers have told of tactical environmental destruction: destroying crops, forest, and infrastructure; polluting water supply and breaching dikes to flood enemy troops and fields; salting enemies' fields; catapulting infected blankets into enemy garrisons, and so on. During the American Civil War, a handful of Confederates attempted to burn down New York City and plotted both to poison the city's drinking water supply reservoir and to spread yellow fever throughout Washington, DC.[1] The Chinese government committed perhaps the single most destructive wartime act in history during Japan's 1937-1945 war against China. To deter the Japanese advance, the Chinese dynamited a dike near Chengchow, releasing impounded Yellow River water. Not only did the floodwaters drown the several thousand advancing Japanese soldiers, they also destroyed 4,000 villages, 11 cities, and several million hectares of farmland and killed several hundred thousand Chinese civilians.[2]

War breeds environmental destruction, and just as war victims and war tactics have changed in recent times, so also has the scale of environmental destruction from war. The casualties of war in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have shifted from combatant soldiers to innocent civilians, with an estimated nine civilian deaths for every soldier death. The locus of war has moved from battlefields to urban and rural population centers, causing massive numbers of residents to flee and imminent health crises of contaminated water, poor sanitation, inadequate health care, malnourishment, overcrowding, and sexual predation in refugee camps. Nearly half of the world's refugees - 4.73 million Afghanis and Iraqis - are fleeing US-led wars and ensuing civil conflicts in their countries.

Widespread conflict in populated rural areas jeopardizes vital public health campaigns. The North-South Sudanese conflict threatened the village-based public health campaign to eliminate the human parasite guinea worm because "war and neglect have made south Sudan the worm's last stronghold." All the villages where people caught guinea worm in 2010 were suffering armed conflicts; public health campaign staff and residents fled the fighting. With the conflict ending, the government hopes to eradicate guinea worm - "the peace dividend we can give the world," says the health minister responsible for the eradication program. more

Related: Pentagon's Role in Global Catastrophe: Add Climate Havoc to War Crimes

1 comment:

Lee said...

There is a reason they say "War is Hell". Actually, the flooding done by the Chinese to stop the advance of the Japanese probably saved many millions more Chinese lives than it cost. The Japanese were torturing and slaughtering the Chinese by the hundreds of thousands. I've seen photos taken by the Japanese where they beheaded and piled the heads in piles over six feet in height.