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The U.S. Military's War on the Earth

Bob Feldman, Dollars and Sense
March 13, 2003

In this era of "permanent war," the U.S. war machine bombards
civilians in places like Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. It also makes
"war on the Earth," both at home and abroad. The U.S. Department of
Defense is, in fact, the world's largest polluter, producing more
hazardous waste per year than the five largest U.S.chemical companies
combined. Washington's Fairchild Air Force Base, the number one
producer of hazardous waste among domestic military bases, generated
over 13 million pounds of waste in 1997 (more than the weight of the
Eiffel Tower's iron structure). Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base, the
top toxic waste emitter, released over 600,000 pounds in the same
year (the same amount of water would cover an entire football field
about two inches deep).

Just about every U.S. military base and nuclear arms facility emits
toxics into the environment. At many U.S. military target ranges,
petroleum products and heavy metals used in bombs and bullets
contaminate the soil and groundwater. And since the Pentagon operates
its bases as "federal reservations," they are usually beyond the
reach of local and state environmental regulations. Local and state
authorities often do not find out the extent of the toxic
contamination until after a base is closed down.

Active and abandoned military bases have released toxic pollution
from Cape Cod to San Diego, Alaska to Hawaii. In June 2001, the
Military Toxics Project and the Environmental Health Coalition
released the report "Defend Our Health: A People's Report to
Congress," detailing the Pentagon's war on the Earth in the United
States and Puerto Rico. (See maps at .) The contaminants emitted from
military bases include pesticides, solvents, petroleum, lead,
mercury, and uranium. The health effects for the surrounding
communities are devastating: miscarriages, low birth weights, birth
defects, kidney disease, and cancer.

Even the Defense Department itself now acknowledges some of the
environmental destruction wrought by the U.S. military world-wide.
The Pentagon's own Inspector General documented, in a 1999 report,
pollution at U.S.bases in Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Greenland,
Iceland, Italy, Panama, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain, and
Turkey. Again, since even U.S. military bases abroad are treated as
U.S.territory, the installations typically remain exempt from the
environmental authority of the host country.

Activists worldwide have called attention to the scourge of toxic
pollution, target-range bombardment, noise pollution, abandoned
munitions, and radioactive waste unleashed by U.S. bases. The
International Grassroots Summit on Military Bases Cleanup in 1999
brought together 70 representatives of citizen groups affected by
U.S. military contamination. The gathering adopted an "Environmental
Bill of Rights for Persons, Indigenous Peoples, Communities and
Nations Hosting Foreign and Colonial Military Bases," declaring that
past and present military bases "threaten health, welfare, and the
environment, [as well as] future generations." The document
emphasizes that the burden of environmental destruction has fallen
disproportionately on "economically disadvantaged communities, women,
children, people of color and indigenous people." And it demands that
the "foreign and colonial" armed forces responsible for the
contamination bear the costs the cleanup."

Yet until the era of "permanent war" and global U.S. militarism gives
way to an era of world peace, the U.S. military machine will likely
remain above the law. And the Pentagon will continue its war on the
Earth unabated.

Bob Feldman is a Dollars & Sense collective member. This article
appears in the current issue of Dollars & Sense, the Magazine of
Economic Justice.
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 2003 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.