By David Swanson
Remarks at #NoWar2017 conference on September 22, 2017.
Welcome to No War 2017: War and the Environment. Thank you all for being here. I’m David Swanson. I’m going to speak briefly and introduce Tim DeChristopher and Jill Stein to also speak briefly. We hope to also have time for some questions as we hope to have in every part of this conference.
Thank you to everyone who has volunteered to help World Beyond War with this event, including Pat Elder who’s organizing volunteers.
Thank you to World Beyond War volunteers throughout the year, including our all-volunteer coordinating committee and especially the chair Leah Bolger, and also especially those in distant parts of the globe who couldn’t be here in person, some of whom are watching on video.
Thank you to our organizer Mary Dean and our education coordinator Tony Jenkins.
Thank you to Peter Kuznick for arranging this venue.
Thank you to the sponsors of this conference, including Code Pink, Veterans For Peace, RootsAction.org, End War Forever, Irthlingz, Just World Books, Center for Citizen Initiatives, Arkansas Peace Week, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Environmentalists Against War, Women Against Military Madness, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom — and the Portland Branch thereof, Rick Minnich, Steve Shafarman, Op-Ed News, the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, and Dr. Art Milholland and Dr. Luann Mostello of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Some of these groups have tables outside this hall, and you should support them.
Thank you also to many groups and individuals who spread the word about this event, including Nonviolence International, OnEarthPeace, WarIsACrime.org, DC 350.org, Peace Action Montgomery, and United for Peace and Justice.
Thank you to all of the incredible speakers we will hear from. Thank you especially to the speakers from environmental organizations and backgrounds who are joining with those from peace organizations here.
Thank you to Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence for again partnering with us on this event.
Thank you to this venue which prefers to remain unnamed and to the general public for generally maintaining sanity despite various heroes demonized by the corporate media being scheduled to speak at this event. One of them, as you may have heard, Chelsea Manning, has canceled. Unlike the disgraceful Harvard Kennedy School, we did not cancel on her.
Thank you to the Backbone Campaign and everyone who took part in the kayak flotilla to the Pentagon last weekend.
Thank you to Patrick Hiller and everyone who helped with the new edition of the book that’s in your packets if you’re here and which can be found in bookstores if you’re not: A Global Security System: An Alternative to War. Tony Jenkins has produced an online video study guide that he’ll tell you all about tomorrow and which is on the World Beyond War website.
During WWI the U.S. Army used land that is now part of the campus here at American University to create and test out chemical weapons. Then it buried what Karl Rove might have called vast stockpiles underground, left, and forgot about them, until a construction crew uncovered them in 1993. The cleanup is ongoing with no end in sight. One place the Army used tear gas was on its own veterans when they came back to DC to demand bonuses. Then, during the second world war, the U.S. military dumped huge quantities of chemical weapons into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1943 German bombs sank a U.S. ship at Bari, Italy, that was secretly carrying a million pounds of mustard gas. Many of the U.S. sailors died from the poison, which the United States said it was using as a deterrent, though I don’t think it ever explained how something deters while kept secret. That ship is expected to keep leaking the gas into the sea for centuries. Meanwhile the United States and Japan left over 1,000 ships on the floor of the Pacific, including fuel tankers.
I mention the military poisons in the immediate environment not as something exceptional, but more as the norm. There are six Superfund sites poisoning the Potomac River, as Pat Elder has noted, with everything from Acetone, Alkaline, Arsenic, and Anthrax to Vinyl Chloride, Xlene, and Zinc. All six sites are U.S. military bases. In fact, 69 percent of Superfund environmental disaster sites around the United States are U.S. military. And this is the country for which it is supposedly performing some sort of “service.” What the U.S. military and other militaries do to the earth as a whole is unfathomable or at least unfathomed.
The U.S. military is the top consumer of petroleum around, burning more than most entire countries. I’m probably going to skip the U.S. Army’s upcoming 10-miler in DC at which people will be “Running for Clean Water” — water in Uganda supposedly. For a fraction of just what Congress just increased U.S. military spending by, we could end the lack of clean water everywhere on earth. And any race in DC had better stay away from the rivers if it doesn’t want to come into contact with what the U.S. Army really does to water.
What war and war preparations do to the earth has always been a hard topic to get at. Why would those who care about the earth want to take on the beloved and inspiring institution that brought us Vietnam, Iraq, the famine in Yemen, torture at Guantanamo, and 16 years of gruesome slaughter in Afghanistan — not to mention the gleaming eloquence of President Donald J. Trump? And why would those opposed to the mass murder of human beings want to change the subject to deforestation and poisoned streams and what nuclear weapons do to the planet?
But the fact is that if war were moral, legal, defensive, beneficial to the spread of freedom, and inexpensive, we would be obliged to make abolishing it our top priority solely because of the destruction that war and preparations for war do as the leading polluters of our natural environment.
While converting to sustainable practices could pay for itself in healthcare savings, the funds with which to do it are there, many times over, in the U.S. military budget. One airplane program, the F-35, could be canceled and the funds used to convert every home in the United States to clean energy.
We’re not going to save our earth’s climate as individuals. We need organized global efforts. The only place where the resources can be found is in the military. The wealth of the billionaires does not even begin to rival it. And taking it away from the military, even without doing anything else with it, is the single best thing that we could do for the earth.
The madness of war culture has got some people imagining a limited nuclear war, while scientists say a single nuke could push climate change beyond all hope, and a handful could starve us out of existence. A peace and sustainability culture is the answer.
Pre-presidential campaign Donald Trump signed a letter published on December 6, 2009, on page 8 of the New York Times, a letter to President Obama that called climate change an immediate challenge. “Please don’t postpone the earth,” it said. “If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”
Among societies that accept or promote war making, those consequences of environmental destruction will likely include yet more war making. It is of course false and self-defeating to suggest that climate change simply causes war in the absence of any human agency. There is no correlation between resource scarcity and war, or environmental destruction and war. There is, however, a correlation between cultural acceptance of war and war. And this world, and especially certain parts of it, including the United States, is very accepting of war — as reflected in the belief in its inevitability.
Wars generating environmental destruction and mass-migration, generating more wars, generating further destruction is a vicious cycle we have to break out of by protecting the environment and abolishing war.