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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