Earth Day and War


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“It was still dark on Earth Day, 1996, and we were out in the northern boreal forest of Wisconsin at a military facility, committing felonies. Indeed, by the end of the day we were charged with two felonies each, and facing 15 years in prison each. Sabotage (10 years) and Destruction of Property (5 years). All in a day’s work for peace and the Earth….”

Author: Tom H. Hastings is with the Portland State University Conflict Resolution Masters degree program
Published in: Oregon Herald in Portland, Oregon
Date: April 19, 2008

For the full article:
Earth Day and War
(564 words)
by Tom H. Hastings
It was still dark on Earth Day, 1996, and we were out in the northern boreal forest of Wisconsin at a military facility, committing felonies. Indeed, by the end of the day we were charged with two felonies each, and facing 15 years in prison each. Sabotage (10 years) and Destruction of Property (5 years). All in a day’s work for peace and the Earth.

What we did in the Chequamegon National Forest was to go to a section of the 28-mile antenna of the world’s largest radio station, the Extremely Low Frequency thermonuclear command facility that sent orders to all U.S. nuclear submarines, and we cut down the antenna.

This is a system that defiled democracy and caused cancer. We proved the anti-democracy aspect by our political activism in Wisconsin and Michigan—scarcely a politician from either state could be found who supported the two-state system. We proved the ecological and health problems by a successful 1984 federal lawsuit (State of Wisconsin and Marquette County, Michigan versus the U.S. Navy and “honorable” Casper Weinberger).

But the U.S. Navy did then what it continues to do today—when threatened with environmental laws it and all branches of the military claim national security and a cloak wraps their actions. No one knows where the polluted groundwater comes from, where the befouled air is from, or why there is so much asthma and cancer near military facilities. With some arm-twisting, the Navy got an appellate panel to lift the 69-page ruling with a two-sentence verbal statement. Poof. Who needs NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)?

One might ask, with national security like that, who needs insecurity? With unknown annual numbers of deaths of innocent civilians and uninformed military personnel alike due to massive military pollution, who are the terrorists?

Only rarely does this problem rise to visibility, such as the 31 March 2008 statement by New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo protesting the illegal attempt to shut down citizen access to information about the state of the 7,500-acre highly radioactive military nuclear waste storage mess near Porter, New York.

Or the Sebastian County, Arkansas, soil contamination from Fort Chaffee that shows extraordinarily high levels of asbestos directly from the military, delivered to neighbors when the wind blew. Too bad for them. A 27 March story in the Times Record of Fort Smith, Arkansas covered that instance of military environmental assault.

This is the ongoing effect of the military on the Earth. This is exactly why Donna Howard and I chose Earth Day 1996 to dismantle a portion of the nuclear facility and to then walk straight to the compound to tell them about our handiwork.

As it turned out, excellent legal counsel helped us get a somewhat fair trial, even with a hostile judge. A jury heard the evidence on the sabotage charge and found us not guilty. They were denied the evidence to the property damage charge and so had to find us guilty. We were sentenced to three years in prison.

And so, Happy Earth Day. The best way to honor and protect the Earth is to find other ways to manage conflict than to threaten annihilation and then to reconfigure the military so it’s accountable to the people. This ought to be the case in a democracy—a democracy we seem to be losing daily. Make every day Earth Day—work for peace.

Tom H. Hastings is author of Ecology of War and Peace: Counting Costs of Conflict, and several other books. He is core faculty in the Portland State University Conflict Resolution Masters degree program and may be reached at hastings@pdx.edu.