SOURCE: Unsplash 

At the height of the Vietnam war, Ernie Regher authored a story for Alternatives Journal about the harmful effects war and militarism. In Regher’s words, militarism is “the extension of military influence over national and international affairs.” He explained a country will often divert resources which would have otherwise gone to social needs, towards the military.

During periods of war, Regher highlighted some of the negative consequences on the physical environment, as well as social wellbeing of the communities. Nuclear warfare for example, has shown to have detrimental psychological effects on communities that last for generations. After Hiroshima, “communities disintegrated. Social services collapsed. Thousands of children became orphans.” Regher also talked about ecological warfare, modifying the weather and climate as a tactical weapon. This kind of warfare can cripple agricultural production and local economies.

Half a century later, and today things are not much different- in fact, in my opinion, they are worse. Technological advancement gave birth to modernised, chemical weapons which have widespread impacts on ecological webs, and communities around the world continue to suffer from political unrest. Social norms break down, people and animals are displaced, and lives are lost.

In Syria, the environmental toll of a decade long war is just beginning to materialize. Abandoned oil refineries scatter the landscape, exposing communities to chemical residues which leak into their drinking water. In Iraq, multiple studies suggest increased cancer rates in civilians was a direct result of the US and UK bombings during the Gulf War. The stories go on.

While warfare as a way of solving international conflicts may never change, why do we choose to accept the environmental and social degradation that seems to always come with it?

Have we become desensitized to these kinds of stories from years of horrific images of war infiltrating our news and social media feeds? Or do we just not care because it isn’t happening here? While groups exist to try and help solve these problems through community support or cleanup, they act as band aid solutions to a problem we choose to accept.

Marie Jacobsson, a special rapporteur to the UN’s International Law Commission, says that while most states have environmental regulations which govern the rules of war engagement and cleanup, “A far greater (and possibly achievable) impact would be to reduce the vast standing armies the world maintains in a time of relative global tranquility.”

Something to think about. Actually, let’s do something about it now.



Alexandra completed her Masters degree in Environment and Sustainability at Western University. She also holds a Bachelor's of Science from the University of Windsor with Honours in Environmental Studies, where she concentrated in Resource Management and was actively involved in undergraduate research. Outside of academia, she enjoys hiking, camping, and spending her summers on the beach in Prince Edward Island.

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