Analysis of Environmental Impact of War on the United States

Date: Dec 9, 2019
Category: Informative

Wars are known to have serious essential effects on natural and urban environments. As a result of military campaigns used, the majority of landscapes and cityscapes have been transformed and destructed, while oceans and air have been polluted. On the other hand, such environmental factors as the climate and resources availability have impacted various military strategies together with the overall war conduct. The environmental effect of war concentrates on the warfare modernization and its elevating impacts on the environment. The general progress of warfare from chemical to nuclear weapons resulted in a serious stress on ecosystems and the environment in general. This paper will analyze particular samples of the environmental impact of war on the United States on the basis of World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terrorism.


World War I

Rachel Carson states that wonder and humility are those things that can help remind people that they are, similarly to other living creatures, only a constituent of the vast ecosystems of the Earth, being a part of the whole stream of life. Nevertheless, people tend to forget this as well as forget that their actions can impact the environment, simultaneously influencing the whole humanity around the globe. The last 100 years demonstrate that neglecting environment in the name of power has not increased to the issue of disturbing magnitude, but it has changed in character. The most threatening of all human being’s attacks and coercions upon the environment regards “the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea” with hazardous and even deadly materials frequently utilized during wars. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable. Therefore, the current world faces solid universal environmental contamination, while chemicals are the ominous and minor-recognized affiliates of radiation in altering the genuine nature of the planet and the life on it. This contamination and neglect of the environment actually started from the First World War, which is currently known to be a vivid demonstration of warfare and new technologies. It was characterized by trench fighting, with utilization of biological weapons and solid gun fires. In regard to the environmental impact, the First World War is believed to be the most damaging due to major cases of landscape alterations provoked by trench warfare. In addition, trench digging provoked grassland trampling, plants and animals crashing together with the soil churning. Moreover, the forest logging caused erosion and solid alterations of soil structures. Abbey claims that if that war had never been fought, the probability would be very high that the landscape would have looked absolutely differently today. The facts reveal that the United States had not entered the First World War until 1917, but American logging firms began to react to the elevating lumber costs and voluminous governmental subsidies starting from 1910. Generally speaking, timber companies invested solidly in new technologies and implements in order to meet the European demand. In addition, power-driven labor accelerated extensive clear-cutting tentatives, which started in the 1880s. Forests appeared so expansive that logging firms demonstrated little concern in regard to the protection of forests while executing selective cutting. The facts demonstrate that greenwoods in the southeastern part of the United States suffered the most. This deforestation resulted in heavy erosion, which was increased by coastal sandy soil and interior red clay. The high hazards of trans-Atlantic shipping provoked the rise of the overall level of the U.S. export sales of timber by more than 60 percent during the First World War. Nevertheless, when the United States entered the war, equipping and housing supply required by the innovative American Expeditionary Force demanded approximately 600 million board feet of timber. High amounts of forests have been clear-cut in order to utilize timber for the construction of ships. Nevertheless, this usage of timber was useless due to the fact that very limited quantity of vessels sailed across the Atlantic before the end of the First World War. These facts vividly demonstrate that the war has changed the global logging industry while establishing high input models of industrial timber extraction, which actually outlined the whole 20th century. Despite the fact that the United States applied various reforestation programs, they merely lowered and damaged further the natural biodiversity level. The facts demonstrate that the U.S. forest ecosystems felt the effect of such evolvements well beyond 1918. The First World War seriously damaged the ecological situation in the U.S., making it highly unstable. Therefore, the U.S. industrial development exhausted the forests of the upper Midwest, New England, New York, and the South. It presupposed that the country’s forests reduced by at least “40 percent, from 300 million acres to 178 million acres, while merely 39 million acres” appeared as virgin woods.

McPhee states that rivers and forests should remain pristine. The author described a huge Douglas fir that was at least six feet in diameter and has crashed to earth in the recent past. McPhee revealed that some lumber company had never had a chance at it. This tree allows to display the decay stage of the natural cycle, meaning the way how the forest reclaims its own. If dead trees are not left to rot, the ecology of the wilderness is disturbed. Despite the fact that the U.S. did not take the actual part in the First World War before 1917, the outcomes of the war for the environmental setting of the country are horrible. The environmental impacts of forest clear-cutting are felt even today, resulting in hurricanes, tornadoes, and terrible outcomes of tsunamis as eroded coasts cannot stop it or reduce its effects.  

World War II

Before the Second World War, the United States experienced the solid economic boom. Generally speaking, new technologies initiated synthetic products and chemicals, including pesticides, which resulted in agriculture advancement. Consequently, the country saw the development of new factories, which actually emitted more pollution while producing higher amount of products at the same time, when greater quantity of cars discharged additional exhaust. McPhee states that pollution is the major price of the economical growth and development. Population pressure was irresistible, and author notes that the word ‘population’ is the word ‘pollution’ that is spelled inside out. Therefore, the connection between the rising population numbers and elevating level of pollution appears to be obvious. Generally speaking, the Second World War ushered in a period of intensive reshaping of the American economy and even higher level of environment neglect then during the previous war. The environmental impacts of this war are felt even today as every human being is currently subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death. The synthetic pesticides have been so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere. They have been recuperated from the major part of big river systems and even from groundwater streams. Moreover, the sediment of the chemicals remains in soil on the locations where they might have been utilized ten or twenty years ago. These chemicals have been discovered “in fish in remote mountain lakes, in earthworms burrowing in soil, in the eggs of birds, and in human beings as well”. These chemicals are currently stored in the bodies of the vast majority of human beings, regardless of age. The industry man-made or synthetic chemicals with insecticidal properties is the consequence of the Second World War. 

The facts demonstrate that the productivity of the United State’s agriculture elevated systematically before the Second World War due to the fact that the additional requirements for food resulted in solid alterations in regard to farming methods applied. This war economy promoted the alteration from animal to power-driven appliances, leading to the elevated output per worker. The utilization of fertilizers increased approximately by 50 times before 1944, leading to higher crop returns. The discovery of DDT together with other synthetic pesticides greatly expanded the country’s pest monitoring and controlling capacities and allowed to increase effectiveness and production via such operations as incessant cropping and dedication of huge locations of soil to a single crop. Generally speaking, DDT had been extensively used during the Second World War as it helped kill mosquitoes, even despite the fact that environmental effects of DDT would last for a long time. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring shows in the best way possible the effects of this chemical. DDT (short for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane) was first synthesized by a German chemist in 1874, but its properties as an insecticide were not discovered until 1939. Almost immediately, DDT was welcomed as a method of fighting with and eliminating insect-generated diseases and winning implement utilized in the farmers’ war against crop destroyers. The facts demonstrate that the United States Army encountered difficulties in regard to malaria control issues both within the U.S. and abroad during World War II. These issues induced the U.S. Army to develop new implements and strategies for utilization in various malaria-infected locations, where combats were conducted. As serious malaria issues appeared in the combat locations, there was a requirement to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. Therefore, the utilization of DDT helped control malaria both in the U.S. and overseas, allowing to apply a highly organized approach to the malaria issue and implement it in a highly efficient manner. In addition to fighting malaria, DDT was utilized to fight insects. Carson states that there is an old legend which claims that “a pound of DDT to the acre is harmless”. It presupposes that nothing will happen with soil and living creatures even when DDT spraying repeats. Nevertheless, soils used to grow potatoes demonstrate the containment of more than 15 pounds of DDT per acre. On the other hand, the soils used to grow corn reveal 19 pounds of the substance. In addition, a cranberry bog incorporates as much as 34.5 pounds. Nevertheless, only soils from apple orchards reveal the highest peak of contamination as the accumulated DDT quantity reaches almost the analogous level of the typical annual DDT application to these soils. 

Nevertheless, the DDT utilization, high level of soil exhaustion, and pollution are not the only environmental impacts of the Second World War. The utilization of uranium and strontium-90 has also had serious environmental impacts on the United States and the whole world in general. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, nuclear weapons were applied in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States utilized uranium and plutonium bombs which literary caused horrible environmental effects. The blasts provoked air pollution resulting from the decomposing of dust fractions and radioactive debris, and from the fires burning. The level of radioactive precipitation was immense, provoking health and environmental issues among human beings, animals, and plants. Nevertheless, this lesson did not show negative impacts to the U.S. as the country was further spurred by the exciting demands of the Cold War and the Atomic Energy Commission and began to promote an intensive search for uranium. Therefore, strategic bombings, invasions, and the first use of nuclear weapons in combat had severe impacts on both the human population and environment. Carson states that strontium-90, which is actually declutched via nuclear explosion into the air, affects the environment of the whole world as it comes to earth in the form of rains entering into the corn, wheat, grass, or other products and appears after some time in the bones of human beings, remaining there until their death. In addition, the attack demonstrated the U.S. neglect of the environment in the name of political and national revenge as the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki appeared as an answer to Pearl Harbor. 

The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War had essential environmental effects due to the utilization of chemical agents in order to demolish significant military vegetation. The facts demonstrate that the U.S. military applied herbicides in order to defoliate greenwoods and enemy crops. Despite the fact that these chemical agents provided the U.S. with an advantage in wartime, the environmental impacts were terrible. The facts demonstrate that the vegetation was incapable of regenerating itself and suffered from the impacts many years after the war. This also negatively affected the wildlife, and only 25 species of birds and 6 species of mammals were present in sprayed woods on the contrary to more than 170 bird species and 55 types of mammals in pristine woods. The facts demonstrate that the U.S. military sprayed more than 79 million liters of herbicides and defoliants over approximately one-seventh of the land area of southern Vietnam. The most widespread herbicide combination is known as Agent Orange. These actions of the U.S. resulted in the creation of such notion as ‘ecocide,’ which practically stands for the deliberate destruction of the environment in the form of a military strategy. 

Nuclear Tests in Marshall Islands

The United States detonated 67 atomic explosions on the location during twelve years (1946-1958). Despite the fact that the military/scientific experiments provided crucial data regarding innovatively evolved atomic bomb, these explosions had essential negative environmental affects on the Marshall Islands and the whole world. The most famous explosion, known as “Bravo” blasted 15 megaton hydrogen bomb, becoming the biggest explosion in history, being 1000 times more mighty comparing to the Hiroshima bomb. These explosions caused practically irreversible environmental contamination, leading to the detriment of human beings and animal livelihoods, who experienced undetermined displacement. The Marshallese people believe that these explosions will result in the fact that this location will suffer the most from the climate change, due to elevating sea levels threatening this nation and the global populace existence. This location is still regarded as unlivable due to solid nuclear contamination.

War on Terrorism

The current U.S. war on terrorism started on September 11, 2001. This event had solid environmental impacts on the U.S. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, more than 90,000 liters of jet fuel burned, resulting in an atmospheric plume which consisted of numerous toxic materials, including asbestos, furans, dioxins, metals, hydrochloric acid, etc. 

Nevertheless, the war on terrorism demonstrates even more hazardous environmental impacts. This war vividly demonstrates that environmental impacts resulting from military campaigns or wars have no borders and cannot be viewed through the perspective of a single country. This is the time when environmental effects present the major hazard for the whole world. The war on terrorism resulted in the increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions as, for example, two thirds of the U.S. Army’s fuel consumption was utilized in delivering fuel to the battlefield in Iraq in 2003. Secondly, it provokes the wildlife destruction and exploitation. Consequently, bombing in Afghanistan resulted in the 85 percent drop of migratory birds’ quantity. Due to the fact that countries are in the state of war, the illegal hunting and marketing of the endangered species is impoverished as, for example, in the case of snow leopard’s skin. The war on terrorism makes environmental concerns appear as trivial or even unpatriotic. However, it is highly important to understand that the environmental impacts of military operations can result in long-range dangers for the whole world. The U.S. response to terrorists’ actions and the whole war on terrorism has its price in the form of environmental degradation. The Afghanistan war demonstrated that more than 12 thousand villages together with their surrounding environments had been destroyed. This provoked the declination in the amounts of safe drinking water and its contamination as a result of water infrastructure destruction. In addition, the majority of rivers and groundwater sources appeared as contaminated by badly structured and built landfills. Moreover, despite the fact that Afghanistan used to have numerous rich forests, only 2 percent of the country is currently covered by wood. In fact, Taliban members used to illegally trade timber, while the U.S. bombings destroyed the remaining woods. It is actually obvious that wildlife could not survive in such circumstances. Such wars do not only have solid environmental effects on the countries conducting the fighting but on the whole world. In the majority of cases, it is important to understand that environmental problems do not have borders. The environmental hazards do not only affect foreign civilians or the U.S. military troops directly, but they will ultimately come to each and every country of the world in the form of polluted water and air and climate changes. The majority of the U.S. counter-attacks on terrorism have an ability to ravage fragile ecosystems. It is highly important to understand that ecosystem health is significant for the survival of future generations. 

Changes of National Priorities from Environmental to National Security Concerns

The facts demonstrate that in 1980s, the U.S. saw the development of the environmental justice movement which propagated that all people had a right to a safe and healthy environment. People were highly concerned with such issues as air and water pollution, severe pesticides utilization, municipal garbage, and hazardous wastes. Starting from the 1990s, the U.S. environmental movement came systematically to focus its attention on various global environmental problems, including acid rain, global warming, ozone depletion, deforestation, etc, which could merely be resolved with the help of international diplomacy. Due to the fact that the U.S. appeared as the greatest and biggest economy, simultaneously being the global biggest polluter, energy consumer, and waste generator, the U.S. acknowledged specific accountability in ensuring its participation in international agreements to protect the Earth. The United States has six per cent of the world’s population and uses sixty percent of the world’s resources, and one per cent of Americans use sixty per cent of that. Nevertheless, this concern with environmental issues retreats to the background each time when the national interests are assaulted. It became obvious after attack on twin towers, when the U.S. greatly changed its concerns from environmental to national security ones. The facts reveal that Bush administration's environmental incentive, incorporating the budget proposal of shifting a significant percentage of EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency) consolidation capability had been neglected in face of national security. The majority of environmental rulemaking regarding, for example, arsenic levels in drinking water appeared as insignificant. The concern for national security in a form of war on terrorism sharply contrasted to the U.S. one-sided resolution to discard the Kyoto Protocol, neglecting the control of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming as such. The major concern of the country regards everything, which can weaken the national power constituents; can contribute to state’s collapse; or lead to violent conflicts. Despite the fact that environmental issues can have negative affects on each domain, they are neglected in the name of national security. 

Environmental issues can have serious implications for the future generations of the whole world, and they will know no borders. Therefore, the current war on terrorism together with all of the other wars discussed in the paper can also be regarded as wars against environment. The U.S. war on terrorism vividly demonstrates that the country is not interested in or concerned with the environmental impacts arising from this war, which will ultimately affect it and the rest of the world later. The paper demonstrates that the U.S. is more interested in the national and patriotic concerns, forgetting about the fragility of the planet which is becoming progressively more complicated to repair with time.