Book Excerpt from The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism

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The Green Zone

AK Press -

Over the years, my family has bought three or four little books on how to lead the greenest life possible. We’ve all seen those well-intentioned pamphlets at the checkout counters of bookstores and grocery stores: Fifty Ways to Save the Planet; Going Totally Green; Making a Difference; and so on. While they may pale these days considering the enormity of the environmental crisis, we nonetheless still take the advice to heart, choosing low-energy light bulbs, installing low-flush toilets, turning down the thermostat, refusing to warm up the car’s engine for extended periods, and on and on. Every little bit helps, as the experts tell us, and, besides, we need to feel that we are doing something. But no list in any of those books addresses the largest single source of pollution in this country and in the world: the United States military—in particular, the military in its most ferocious and stepped-up mode—namely, the military at war.

In a nation like ours, where military might trumps diplomatic finesse, the supreme irony may be that the planet, and not human beings, will provide the most stringent corrective to political overreaching. The earth can no longer absorb the punishment of war, especially on a scale and with a ferocity that only the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world—no, in history—knows how to deliver. While the United States military directed its “Operation Iraqi Freedom” solely against the Iraqis, no one—not a single citizen in any part of the globe—has escaped its fallout. When we declare war on a foreign nation, we now also declare war on the Earth, on the soil and plants and animals, the water and wind and people, in the most far-reaching and deeply infecting ways. A bomb dropped on Iraq explodes around the world. We have no way of containing the fallout. Technology fails miserably here. War insinuates itself, like an aberrant gene and, left unchecked, has the capacity for destroying the Earth’s complex and sometimes fragile system.

So we can act like honorable and conscientious citizens, conserving all the energy we can. We can feel good about all those glossy magazine ads from Shell and Exxon Mobil telling us how their companies now treasure the environment, producing their fuels in the cleanest ways possible. We can fall for Detroit’s latest news, too, convincing us of a revolutionary breakthrough in fuel efficiency: 300 horsepower cars that get still 30 or 32 miles per gallon on the highway. But that’s just insanity wearing a green disguise. None of those advertised boasts and claims really matter. They still cling to fossil fuels and further our campaign to kill off everything on the planet with our addictive need. But, even if those claims did make a slight difference, even if we could slow down global warming, ultimately it would not matter. For, in the background, lurking and ever-present, a giant vampire silently sucks out of the Earth all the oil it possibly can, and no one stops it. And so here’s the awful truth: even if every person, every automobile, and every factory suddenly emitted zero emissions, the Earth would still be headed head first and at full speed toward total disaster for one major reason. The military—that voracious vampire—produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all its inhabitants large and small, in the most immanent danger of extinction.

As we contemplate America in the opening years of the twenty-first century, then, let us reconsider George Washington’s farewell warning that “overgrown military establishments…under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” Today, our own military has grown beyond an institution hostile to liberty and has wrapped its arms of death around life itself. And, from all the available evidence, it will not let go. Unlike most animals, the military has no surrender mechanism. Unless we all summon the strength to confront the military—no easy task—it will continue to work its evil.

I write as a citizen, not a politician; as a layman, not a scientist; as an outsider from the academy, not an insider from the Pentagon. Most of the information that I present here is deliberately withheld from the general public, made intentionally obscure, folded inside arcane reports, or hidden on hard-to-find governmental websites by the Department of Defense (DoD), or the Pentagon, or the General Accounting Office. Researching the military is like trying to uncover the truth in the former Soviet Union. Governments always conduct a good deal of their business in clandestine ways. The Bush administration, however, enjoyed the well-earned reputation as particularly deceptive, tight-lipped, secretive, and downright hostile to the most routine questions and probes—and especially over things that appeared so obviously illegal, like spying on citizens through wiretapping telephone calls and intercepting international e-mail messages, all without the legally required warrants. We will see how eager the Obama administration will be to reveal its inner workings. Transparency was one of the goals of Obama’s campaign, and he repeated that mantra over and over again….

But before we rejoice too soon in the new administration, recall that, directly before the election, Obama sounded very much like the old administration when he announced that he would probably need to send two more battalions into the foothills of Afghanistan. Bin Laden is still the prize; victory is still the illusion. War is still the way. The impulse toward war transcends parties: Republicans defend their war in Iraq; Democrats defend Kosovo. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and practiced genocide on the Kurds. Slobodan Milosovic is a tyrant and practiced genocide on the Albanians. The names change, the nations shift, but the war drums reverberate with their same incessant and insistent beat. And almost everyone listens—conservatives and liberals—and almost everyone responds.