Ecology And Modern Warfare

With the Industrial Revolution, the causal connection between the modern war economy - notably the industrial arms race, culminating in the twentieth century - and progressive global ecocide becomes obvious. The industrialization of warfare emerged as one of the most ecologically and socially damaging institutional features of modernity, described by the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya as the "most evil and dangerous of human traditions."10 From the outset, mechanized warfare was put in the service of commercial interests. Capitalism involves, indeed is predicated upon, the separation of large sectors of the populations from control over the means of life. This disenfranchisement of the laboring population and primary producers from direct control over conditions of their life, in other words, becomes a critical causal variable and determinant in the increasing deadliness and brutality of modern industrial war.11

The ecological and social violence contained in modern warfare, further, is inseparable from the associated modern geopolitical constellation of nation states.12 Modern individuals make history not as individuals or classes but as unified wholes, as nations. Modern history, therefore, is made through the interaction of nations that compete for global dominance in the modern universe of perpetual warfare.13 Vast economic inequalities spawned by global capitalism combined with nationalist conflicts have rapidly assumed planetary proportions, threatening the survival of all sentient beings. As philosopher Walter Benjamin points out:

Instead of using technology to make the Earth inhabitable, imperialistic warfare uses it for destruction. Technology made it possible to enact this immense wooing of the cosmos on a planetary scale. But because the lust for profit of the ruling classes sought satisfaction through it, technology betrayed man and turned the bridal bed into a blood bath. Man's greed leads to a one-sided mastery of nature; instead of imbuing nature with the power to look at him in return, he turns it into an object ready for consumption. Mankind's self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.14

The history of modern industrial warfare is the history of a movement from limited to unlimited, or "total," war - a war without mercy. This holds true also for relations between society and nature. For most people today, the two world wars seem a long time ago. Still, these massive conflicts were the first international wars in which the ecological and social resources of nations were mobilized.15 The two world wars set ominous precedents for the remainder of the twentieth century. Among other developments, they reflected the brutal face of modernity in the tacit acceptance of biological and chemical warfare, not to speak of nuclear weapons.16 The Cold War represented the logical next step of a capitalist modernity that produced a military-industrial complex and an arms race of previously inconceivable proportions.17 According to a US army medical doctor who oversaw the physical examinations of the irradiated indigenous people of Rongelap Atoll, a nuclear test site in Micronesia: "Those Cold War days were strange times, for neutron bombs were regarded with almost spiritual reverence, at least in Washington where they had been ordained the device that would forever establish peace trumpets from heaven proclaiming this Truth. So I volunteered ... "18

The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a global assault on the environment of unprecedented magnitude. In ecological terms, with the post-world war era we enter a juggernaut world that is truly ecocidal.19 The first uneasy acknowledgment of the predicament appeared in the midst of the Cold War with the publication of the Club of Rome's The Limits of Growth.20 Since then, it has become even more difficult to ignore the fact that global political economic developments have pushed humanity into a socially and ecologically unsustainable direction, thus amplifying existing ecocidal tendencies.21 In addition to exacting an exorbitant toll on human lives, industrial warfare and the arms race of the twentieth century inflicted severe damage on the environment. The modern war system greatly accelerated the destruction of wildlife and pristine ecosystems worldwide. In the following section, I will discuss some concrete examples of modern ecocidal activities as a deliberate strategy of warfare.

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