Below are 8 short clips excerpted from Scarred Lands, Wounded Lives. They cover topics from the environmental impact of the military-industrial complex to the primacy of the environment to our collective security. We encourage you to watch and share these clips—to educate yourself, friends, family members, students, and others—about the devastating environmental legacy of war. Knowledge is power.
To access additional award-winning shorts produced by Alice and Lincoln Day to inspire a new ethic of interdependence with the natural world, please visit our archives.
A British News report, “Rendezvous with Death” sets the scene for the American explosion of a nuclear bomb off the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. An American military officer tells the islanders that the goal of this experiment is to turn this “great destructive power into something for the benefit of mankind.” An Australian physician critiques this aspiration in no uncertain terms, saying: “As long as any nation has a nuclear weapon, others will want one. As long as any nuclear weapons exist, one or more will be used one day. Any use of a nuclear weapon would be catastrophic.”
A professor of environmental history observes that states today feel the need to prepare for armed conflict. Building a military industrial complex to manufacture weapons of war generates a pollution intensive industry. The manufacture of nuclear weapons around the world since the 1940s provides a daunting example of the long-term consequences for the environment of preparations for war. Nuclear material poisons the area surrounding where it is used and creates large amounts of toxic waste, that no one anywhere has been able to manage.
An Australian physician provides figures on the American military’s consumption of fossil fuel. In a time of grave concern about climate change, she finds that the F16 fighter jet flying for just one hour uses twice as much oil as the average American citizen uses in their car every year. The narrator points out this is just one machine in one branch of the military. Altogether, the US department of defense uses 350,000 gallons of oil per day, making it the world’s largest single consumer.
Environmental pioneer Lester Brown, shaken by the 9-11 attacks, concedes that terrorism is indeed a threat to our future. But looking around the world he sees other trends that potentially have even more dire consequences for our future: climate change, population growth, water scarcity. Half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling, which means that we are using water now that belongs to future generations. Brown concludes, it’s time to get our concerns about the future into perspective.
A professor of energy and the environment makes a strong case that the environment itself has a “survivalist element” to it. Our natural resources—from fertile land to clean water—are crucial to our wellbeing and basic features of our national security. If threatened by war, people are tempted to set aside the environment in favor of weapons of mass destruction, but our natural resources deserve protection, and are essential to our national security.
Lester Brown, environmental advocate, against a background of “bomblets” falling from the sky, proclaims, “What we are watching now is a threat to our global civilization, and saving our civilization is not a spectator sport.” He urges us to become politically active—locally, nationally, and internationally—to get people elected who share our values and to use the ballot box to put our principles into action, a message with even greater urgency today.
A Vietnam vet describes a banana plantation that had been sprayed by the toxic chemical, Agent Orange. Everything was dead: “it looked like a ghost landscape.” A professor of epidemiology explains that 50% of the chemical is composed of 245T, which, if not carefully controlled by the manufacturer, becomes contaminated with dioxin, so lethal that it can destroy jungles, kill crops, and defoliate whole landscapes. The professor claims the research has not been clear, but the Vietnamese people hold the toxic spraying by American forces responsible for the disastrous outbreak of physical defects and deformities among infants and children. Law suits with the manufacturers attending damage to American services were settled out of court. No settlement has been made with the Vietnamese people.
Oil is essential to business in modern society, but oil in the oceans is toxic and lethal to all living things. There are over 4,000 World War II shipwrecks in the South Pacific. At least 300 of these are oil tankers. If no measures are taken, in 25 to 65 years, these ships will begin to disintegrate, spreading toxic oil throughout out the reefs, wetlands, and marine ecosystems. The highest concentration of wrecks can be found in Truk Lagoon, where the Japanese fleet, seeking safe harbor, was bombed by the US air force, sinking 600 ships and 200 planes. In this attack, so much oil was spilled that as far out as you could go on the water, it smelled like a gas station.