We can’t work together and kill each other at the same time.
“War is the worst thing in the world. It’s the most insane, most destructive, least sustainable thing humans do.” Caitlin Johnstone
21st Century political / economic systems seem to have left humanity with two choices. We can die all at once in a nuclear war or more slowly through killing the natural world that sustains us. It doesn’t sound like much of a choice, but fortunately, we can prevent both catastrophes with the same solution: peace.
We need peace both because wars are the single biggest destroyers of environment, people, and climate, and because violence at global and personal scales contaminates every aspect of life.
We need inner peace and world peace, and the two go together. We won’t have one without the other. Here’s why.
What people do in war
The definition of war is a hostile situation between nations, in which all is fair, including killing large numbers of people we don’t know and rendering their land uninhabitable. As you read this incomplete list of war’s results, remember recent news showing how warlike behaviors towards “enemies” carry over into our behaviors towards other living beings, including our fellow citizens, and the natural world.
Throughout history, armies have deliberately devastated land in war. After tearing the city of Carthage to rubble, Roman legions are said to have spread salt over the soil so nothing would grow. Retreating armies have long employed “scorched Earth” policies, which Merriam Webster defines as destroying anything which might be useful to the advancing enemy, including food stores and agricultural areas, water sources, and even the local people.
Scorched Earth strategies have been used by both invaders and defenders, leading to unimaginable suffering for people and animals. According to history.com, generations of American war leaders have used total war scorched Earth tactics in the Indian wars, imperial wars in Latin America and the Philippines, in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
Now scorched Earth has been updated. Most of the scorching is done through air power. They use chemicals like white phosphorus and kill plants with herbicides, but the goals and effects are similar to Rome’s in Carthage. As with the Israeli army’s spraying plant-killers on farms in Gaza; the purpose is to render land unlivable so the inhabitants can’t fight back.
War on the Earth has gone nuclear. The US leads several other countries in use of ‘depleted uranium’ (DU) artillery shells and bombs. DU is “depleted” in the sense that it’s no longer strong enough to make a nuclear bomb, but it is still highly radioactive. When these shells go off, they spread uranium dust for miles, especially in dry countries like Iraq where sand is blowing around.
Right now DU dust is all over Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Serbia and Kosovo, among other places. Governments all over the world are making their own DU or importing it. Some studies say DU is causing high rates of cancer and birth defects in countries such as Iraq, although US government sources deny it.
They say DU radiation is not strong enough to penetrate skin and clothes, which may be true, but it can be breathed in or ingested in food. We don’t know yet what it’s doing to plants and animals, but it couldn’t be good.
Then there is the uranium used in nuclear bombs. Remember that those bombs have been used twice, both times by the US. You may have read that Russian and American leaders are saying it might be necessary to use them again, against each other, over Ukraine. Similar threats float about China over Taiwan.
Nuclear explosions could render whole regions uninhabitable, as happened to Bikini Atoll and other islands where bombs were tested in the 1940s. and 50s. If a number of them were dropped on cities, scientists say resulting fires would darken the world for years. Plants wouldn’t grow and people and animals would freeze and starve in a “nuclear winter.”
Even when wars are not actually fought, the endless preparation for them poisons the world. According to the Department of Defense (DoD,) over 600 military sites are Superfund Sites, meaning they are so contaminated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prioritizes their cleanup. (This doesn’t mean they actually get cleaned up, of course.)
These sites include weapons testing areas, ammunition dumps and manufacturing sites, millions of gallons of contaminated water, and more. The DoD does not prioritize the environment, because fighting wars comes first.
The military has been the biggest user of the herbicides 2,4,D and 2,4,5,T, which in combination were called Agent Orange, which devastated the jungles and farms of Vietnam and sickened millions of Vietnamese and thousands of American servicemen. There are dozens of other chemical weapons for purposes of destroying crops and forest cover in wars. The chemicals don’t stop killing when the war is over. Neither do the explosive mines left strewn around war zones.
When it comes to fossil fuel use and attendant climate change, militaries are the worst. Tanks may get about 1 mile per gallon of fuel, depending on weight and terrain. According to the US Navy, fighter planes use about 15 gallons of fuel per minute, while bombers may use twice that.
The military also pollutes the ocean with sound, sometimes with sonar systems that detect approaching ships, and sometimes as weapons. The extremely loud sounds can deafen whales, who rely on sound to navigate. This noise pollution may be behind some of the mass beaching of whales and dolphins seen in recent decades.
Effects on people
Do you wonder why all the mass killings in the USA? Why, in one day in Texas, does one man shoot up an outlet mall killing eight strangers and another mows down a crowd of immigrants with his SUV? There may be many causes, but a big one is that their government does mass killing nearly every day in wars, and has done so for 225 of its 243 years’ existence.
Having learned how to treat enemies, by killing them, is it surprising when alienated Americans act as if they were in a war zone, and other people are their enemies? Their violence proves Malcolm X’s statement that, “The chickens are coming home to roost,” after the first Kennedy assassination.
We can’t save Earth or ourselves without making peace. How can people devote their lives to needed healing when their leaders’ norm is to destroy people and Nature? How can we work together on regeneration with people we class as enemies?
How can we maintain hope and any kind of positive attitude when we’re told every day that war is unavoidable?
The answer is peace, but how? Spiritual teachers always say start with your own inner peace. Manifest it and let it spread. This may require some courageous speaking out against the war narratives in favor of love, compassion and connection.
As the Christian song says, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” Not end with you, though. We must keep putting peace out into the world. That will probably not be enough, but it’s a start.
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