Monday, August 19, 2013

Desert Storm, an environmental hell is left in its wake....says naturalist

"If hell had a national park, this would be it," mourned the Environmental Protection Agency's director William Reilly on the Today show just after his return from Kuwait on May 7, 1991, just two days after the Gulf War "cease-fire". The fires, of course, had not ceased. It would take months to extinguish all of them, and as each month passed with the fires still burning, the atmosphere absorbed as much as a million tons of sulfur dioxide, 100,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 25 million tons of oil soot--the latter amount being more than four times the monthly emissions from the entire United States. And throe gross estimates of contaminants do not include nerve gasses and other toxins to which soldiers and civilians alike were exposed. President (George H.W.) Bush puffed up whenever he spoke of Desert Storm's swift victory, and he has maintained until this day that the long-term damages were minimal. Unfortunately, his antiseptic war was never that at all; more than a 100,000 were dead within a month, with twice that many wounded, crippled, or contaminated with toxins. Many more people were deprived of potable water and food for months. It is now estimated that only one tenth of all deaths resulting from the conflict occurred during the "official" war. Environmental destruction proceeds on an unprecedented scale, and unsanitary remains will persist indefinitely....
Scars left by military vehicles will be seen in the vegetation patterns and soils for a hundred to a thousand years. In some places, observers found the desert biologically sterile following the war; elsewhere, the plants remaining were covered with a crust of soot oil and wind-drifted sand. Massive defense berms and countless bomb craters interrupted watercourses. Further, the U.S. Air Force admits that it left behind nearly 9,000 tons of undetectable explosive material in desert areas. The culpability is blurred. "Who knows who set what off?" asked Tony Burgess (desert ecologist, professor of Education at BioSphere2) during a telephone interview, Burgess is the desert ecologist who spent three weeks with Friends of the Earth in the Persian Gulf assessing environmental damage. "The country was so trashed. It literally was a vision of hell." (From Cultures of Habitat, by Gary Paul Nabhlan,, Counterpoint, Washington, D.C. 1998, p.129-130)
This scathing indictment of the environmental impact of Desert Storm, not to mention the loss of human lives, coming less than a decade after the "instant war", serves as a cogent reminder that the "west" is virtually continually kept in the dark about such matters, presumably in the hope that a decade later no one will care, if they happen to learn about it.
Information management, what used to be called the propaganda of war, was used to cover over the real and long-term wounds inflicted on a piece of the earth, for which the U.S. had no concern, given the threat posed, in their mind, by Saddam Hussein. Is it any wonder that the trust level in such government institutions as, in this case the Pentagon, and the Bush (#1) White House, let alone the Bush (#2) administration, is at such low ebb as to pose the legitimate question as to whether or not it can be recovered.
It was Colin Powell, then Secretary of State under Bush (#2) who calls his appearance and statement to the United Nations about the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) then held by that same Saddam Hussein, that was prompting the United States to enter the Iraq war, which conflict is still lingering in the headlines, with dozens of deaths on several days last week, through the work of suicide bombers.
How long will it be before the environmental impact of the Iraq War become available to the environmental scientists who monitor such developments? And just how damaging will it prove to have been to the land, water, and atmosphere, as well as to the thousands of casualties, to both death and permanent maiming?
There is a culture of powerlessness, even insouciance, within the United States, that, even under what is normally considered a moderate president, such devastation is inflicted on land too far away and to unimportant for the American conscience to entertain. And it is that culture that pays lip service to "collateral damage" from bombs, drone strikes, and even police firearms on the streets of too many American cities, while continuing to engage in the inflicting of desolation on both people and the environment, apparently willy nilly.
Nabhlan points to an anthropological analysis that says men have turned to violence following a seismic shift from hunting and the many rites of passage within that culture, to farming, when both men and women could perform the tasks of planting, and harvesting equally. Men have, since that time, searched for activities in which they could outperform women, according to the theory.
If the theory holds water, then it is high time men started looking for  a different avenue to release their pent-up energies, regardless of whether those energies are dubbed, in the vernacular, testosterone or simply masculinity.
War must not be used as a replacement for the hunting culture that is so far in the past, it will never return to prominence, unless and until the earth's capacity to produce sufficient food is so damaged that we have to fight for food in order to survive. And who would want to move into that kind of culture and society?

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