About the Film Scarred Lands & Wounded Lives

Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives is a compelling documentary exploring the under-reported environmental impacts of war and preparations for war. The film confronts the immensely broad ecological and human ramifications of everything from technological development and natural resource exhaustion to weapons testing and modern warfare itself.

Ecosystems around the world are in distress from forces of humanity’s own making: increasing population, unsustainable demands on natural resources, habitat and species loss, and climate change. One of the most destructive of human behaviors – war – is not commonly included as a contributor to the growing global environmental crisis.

Yet, in all its stages, from the production of weapons through combat, military operations pollute land, air, and water, destroy entire ecosystems, and drain limited natural resources.

Using archival material from the Civil War through more recent wars, along with expert testimony and eyewitness accounts, the film clearly presents the environmental and human cost of combat, and argues for public scrutiny of the ecological and human impact of war as essential to a more sustainable – and secure – world.

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Why the Film Was Made

What prompted this film is recognition of our deep dependence on the natural world and the significant, but little-known threat to that world posed by war and preparations for war.

The scale of environmental damage over the last half century is unprecedented. Falling water tables, shrinking forest cover, declining species diversity – all presage ecosystems in distress.

These trends are now widely acknowledged as emanating from forces of humanity’s own making: massive population increases, unsustainable demands on natural resources, species loss, ruinous environmental practices. Ironically however, war, that most destructive of human behaviors, is commonly bypassed.

From the production of weapons through combat to cleanup and restoration, war entails actions that pollute land, air, and water; destroy biodiversity; and exhaust natural resources. Yet the environmental damage occasioned by war and preparation for war is routinely underestimated, underreported, even ignored. The environment remains war’s “silent casualty.”

Activities that do such damage cry out for far-reaching public scrutiny. The very sustainability of our planet is at stake. We can no longer maintain silence about the environmental impact of war on the grounds that such scrutiny is “inconvenient” or “callous” at a time when human life is so endangered.

If we cannot eliminate war, we can at least require a fuller accounting of war’s costs and consequences, and demand that destructive forces used in our name leave a lighter footprint on this highly vulnerable planet. It is to this change in values and actions that this documentary film is directed.



Steve Michelson Executive Producer Scarred Lands & Wounded Lives Executive Director, The Fund For Sustainable Tomorrows Steve Michelson is the Executive Producer for Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives. He has been involved with award winning documentary films as a producer and editor for over 35 years and is based in San Francisco. Since 2005 Steve has focused his efforts on the distribution of cause-related films through Specialty Studios and its educational distribution arm, The Video Project. For more information about the Video Project: videoproject.com


Sandy Cannon-Brown Founder and President, VideoTakes, Inc. Adjunct Professor, School of Communication American University Sandy Cannon-Brown, founder and president of VideoTakes, is an award-winning writer, producer and director with a strong background in print and broadcast journalism. She has received several Special Achievement Awards from the International Television Association for Script Writing and Directing, as well as the prestigious Woman of Vision award from Women in Film & Video.

Most recently, Sandy has led crews to Ecuador to produce two TV documentaries on rainforests, to Montana to produce a DVD about the restoration of the Northern Great Plains, and to Sedona, Arizona to produce a public service announcement on climate change. Upcoming projects include a biopic on Henry A. Wallace, former American Vice President, and a feature documentary on the effort to save genetically pure bison in the Great Plains. Sandy also teaches environmental filmmaking at American University.

For more information about Sandy and VideoTakes, Inc: videotakes.com


Dan Gallagher Writer, Director, and Producer VideoTakes, Inc. Dan Gallagher worked on the promotional trailer for “Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives” as a writer and editor, and continued to write, produce, and edit for the feature-length film. In 2007 Dan was awarded a Master of Arts degree in Film and Video from American University. For his graduate thesis, Dan adapted a cult story by Raymond Chandler, “The Bronze Door,” into a twenty-minute film noir photographed at period locations in Maryland and in the District of Columbia. Before moving to Washington, DC to pursue his studies, Dan edited the morning news at WLWT-TV in Cincinnati, OH.

For more information about Dan and VideoTakes, Inc: videotakes.com

Film Participants

Saleem H. Ali Associate Professor of Environmental Studies University of Vermont Rubenstein School of Natural Resources Given my experience with environmental peace-building initiatives whether it’s through trans-boundary conservation zones, peace parks, environmental treaties between countries that otherwise have tremendous antipathy and hatred towards each other… it leads me to believe that environmental issues are indeed a very promising avenue for building better ties between countries, and resolving many of the most contentious and challenging conflicts of our times.

Lester Brown President
Earth Policy Institute
Terrorism is a threat, no question about it, but on my list of threats to our future, there are many more serious threats, climate change being an obvious one, population growth being another…The challenge is not to fashion a high tech, military response to terrorism, that won’t work. The challenge is to build an environmentally sustainable equitable society that will do more to undermine terrorism than any possible high-tech military weapon systems that we can devise.

Michael Barrett Grantee
National Geographic Society
The American attack on Truk Lagoon was very similar to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There were a number of ships in a very small area that had limited means to escape, and the American aircraft just came in and bombed them. Nearly sixty ships were sunk in this very shallow lagoon…. If you think of Truk Lagoon, it’s essentially two things: it’s sky and water, and those are your horizons, and there are tiny islands scattered about. And it’s just this vast expanse, and as far out and remote as you are the entire area just smelled like a gas station, there was just so much oil coming off of these ships.

Lt. General Robert Gard, Jr. (USA, Ret.) Senior Military Fellow Veterans for America General Gard cites NATO’s 1999 campaign against Slobodan Milosevic: We bombed oil refineries, resulting in mile long oil slicks that extended down the Danube through Romania into the Black Sea. We bombed petrochemical plants and fertilizer factories…and there were carpets of dead fish in the river as a result of that. In fact, Serbia itself is seething at this point with carcinogens in the landscape, cratered fields – it will take the ecosystems decades to recover.

James Janko Novelist, “Buffalo Boy and Geronimo,” Instructor
City College of San Francisco
Vietnam Veteran
I grew up in a small town in Illinois, a town surrounded by cornfields and bean fields, a very beautiful town along the Illinois River. And when I saw from high in the sky the destruction to the land, I couldn’t help wondering, ‘What if that had happened to our cornfields, our bean fields? How would we feel if that happened?’ And I went to that war knowing nothing at all, but when I saw that level of destruction I could not believe that this was going to lead to democracy, that this was a line in the sand that was going to be for the cause of freedom.

David Jensen United Nations Environment Programme
Division of Environmental Policy Implementation
Post Conflict Branch
The deforestation we see in Afghanistan is a product of three forces. First of all you have the Mujahideen that were using the forests for tree cover…The Soviets destroyed some of the forest to prevent that. Second of all, you have the Afghans themselves harvested the forests and stockpiled the wood because they feared that they would be taken away during the collectivization process. And third you had landmines that were put into agricultural areas. By putting the landmines into agricultural areas it forced people to find other areas to grow food and the most obvious were the forests and woodlands of the country. So those three factors have led to virtual 100% deforestation in some areas.

Thomas E. Lovejoy President, The Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment
Founder, PBS Series “Nature”
Whether it is sonic booms affecting marine mammals, or it is the burning of oil fields in Iraq, or it is destroyed coral reefs in the Pacific for landing purposes, the list just goes on and on. There is absolutely no question that war and the preparations for it have an impact on biological diversity.

Michael MacCracken Chief Scientist for Climate Change
Climate Institute
The amount we are spending on climate change, which is the long-term threat, is about ten percent as much as we’re spending on terrorism and about one percent as much as we’re spending on defense…Sea level is also rising, and in Louisiana we have been losing about thirty square miles of land per year. If the United States were losing that to some foreign power, we’d have the military out there defending it.

John McNeill Professor of History, Director of Graduate Studies
former Cinco Hermanos Chair in Environmental and International Affairs
Georgetown University
I think it’s generally the case that the greater and more durable impacts come from preparation for war rather than combat itself. [The Soviet Union] built about 45,000 warheads, tested over 700 of them and left a mind-boggling nuclear waste behind, which the successor countries, whether it is Kazakhstan or Russia, can’t possibly afford to clean up. In truth, it is never going to be cleaned up, and some of the radioactive waste will remain potentially lethal for 24,000 years.

Marie Rietmann Public Policy Director
Women’s Action for New Directions
I grew up near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which is in Washington State. When the nuclear bombs were developed there in WWII, little thought was given about what to do [with] the waste that would result afterwards. Indeed, now the Department of Energy calls Hanford the ‘World’s Largest Environmental Cleanup Project.

Jeanne Mager Stellman rofessor and Director of Environmental Health Sciences
Agent Orange was an important tool that could be used to save the lives of thousands of soldiers who could fight in the jungle more clearly. But at the same time it introduced serious toxic chemicals into the environment and one could also say caused huge ecological disaster by this massive deforestation of a jungle area.

Paul F. Walker Program Director, LEGACY Program
Global Green USA
The United States will spend somewhere over forty billion dollars just to destroy the existing, known, declared chemical weapon stockpile of 31,000 tons. The Russians, with 40,000 tons, will spend probably ten to fifteen billion dollars with a lot of Western help.

Sue Wareham President, Medical Association for the Prevention of War
In relation to nuclear weapons we know several things. We know that as long as any nation retains nuclear weapons, other nations will want them. We know that as long as nuclear weapons exist, one or more will be used again one day. That’s not a possibility that’s a certainty: nuclear weapons will be used again unless they are abolished. And we also know that any use of nuclear weapon would be absolutely catastrophic. There’s only one solution here. We need the abolition of nuclear weapons and that’s an urgent and pressing need.

Awards & Festivals

CINE Golden Eagle Award Best Documentary California Independent Film Festival

Planet Earth AwardCinema Verde Film Festival

Special Jury REMI AwardWorldFest, Houston International Film Festival

Best Environmental DocumentaryChagrin Documentary Film Festival

Best Environmental Feature Columbia Gorge Film Festival

Official Selection

Opening Night FilmEnvironmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C.

Opening Night FilmOne World Film Festival, Ottowa, Canada

Wildscreen International Wildlife and Environmental Film FestivalBristol, England

Cine Eco Environmental Film and Video FestivalPortugal

United Nations Association Film FestivalStanford University

Ekotopfilm 2008 Festival, BratislavaSlovak Republic

Amazonas Film FestivalManaus, Brazil

Wild and Scenic Environmental Film FestivalNevada City, CA

Bellingham Human Rights Film FestivalBellingham, WA

San Francisco Green Film FestivalSan Francisco, CA

Golden Film FestivalGolden, CO

Maruyland Internaitonal Film FestivalHagerstown, MD

Flagler Film FestivalPalm Coast, FL

Full Reviews

Seeing Green on the Silver Screen

By Erik Stokstad. Laura M. Zahn, Guy Riddihough, Barbara Jasny JASNY25  |  APR 2008: 450-451 Science Magazine website

A New Breed of Environmental Film

By Randy Malamud APR 2008: B19 – B21 Chronicle of Higher Education website

Environment Is War’s Silent Casualty

By Rosanne Skirble November 01, 2009 9:36 AM Update November 01, 2009 9:37 AM VOA website