The U.S. Military's War on the
Bob Feldman, Dollars and Sense
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
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
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
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
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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