The war against our planet began so long ago that it’s hard to imagine a time when military merchandise hasn’t been used to wreak havoc; not just on the battlefield but against the very ecosystems necessary for our survival.
The application of technology to the battlefield began in earnest with World War II with atomic bombs, rockets, and poisonous gas. The machinery developed in wartime has been grinding ever since –to the extent that we don’t know what a planet at peace looks like.
The exact start of the war against the planet may be debatable. Rebecca Solnit suggests: “Nineteen forty-five is sometimes designated Year Zero.”
The devastation of World War II was a precursor of what was to follow. Sixty million were killed in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific — 2.6 per cent of the earth’s population. The Soviet Union lost 1,700 towns and 70,000 villages and 24 million citizens. What the bombs missed, homelessness, displacement, poverty, and disease claimed. Many died in combat but millions more starved to death.
London lost one million homes and 30,000 were killed in one year alone. The bombing of Germany created firestorms and leveled cities. One survivor of the attacks on Dresden recalled the horror of seeing charred bodies and melted glass: “We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burned to death, burning people running to and fro.”
The destruction of historic sites and cities exceeded anything that the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS could muster combined. As bad as things were, they were about to get worse.
“From one perspective, what we call the world had never been more devastated. From another, however, the world was in magnificent, Edenic shape. No great garbage patch swirled around the Pacific, and albatrosses, sea turtles, and dolphins in remote reaches were not strangling on plastic they mistook for edible matter; we had not yet discarded the billion tons of plastic that will litter the earth for the foreseeable future, because plastic was a relatively new material just entering mass production,” says Solnit in Harper’s magazine.
Elephants and rhinos thrived in intact ecosystems. The Bengal tiger and the snow leopard were fine. The Atlantic cod fishery off the coast of Canada seemed inexhaustible.
War economies accelerated. The technology of war spun off seemingly benign products: plastics, fuels, fuel-guzzling vehicles. Ever more energy use accelerated the tonnes of garbage we throw into the air, water and land.
Anyone who is not delusional, amnesiac, or distracted can see what militarization has wrought. Those who are blind to the obvious pretend that: “pumping billions of tons of carbon into the upper atmosphere has no consequences, that the extraction processes — from mountaintop coal removal to fracking to pulling petroleum out of remote fragile places such as the ocean floor — are harmless.”
The war will end one way or another. The earth will prevail regardless of which side we are on.