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How War Impacts the Environment and People

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 9/20/2010

The impact of war in the environment & human health is vast and emerges in varying degrees. Wars were prevalent during prehistoric & ancient times; their atrocities were evident in the people. Modern wars are more destructive; their effects degrade both human lives and the environment tragically.

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    A Brief Overview About the Origins of War

    800px-Hällristning, Fossum, den 29 juni 2006, bild 2 

    In determining the impact of war in the environment and people, let us first find out what scholars believe about the origins of war. Anthropologists researching this particular subject have arrived at the presumption that war was never out of necessity, because it was something inherent in three mammalian species: wolves, chimps and man.

    There is one common factor that moved these three groups to acts of aggression: hunting, particularly when the costs were low and the benefits high. Nonetheless, there are factors that could serve as deterrents before any of these groups launched their attacks:

    (1) There is inter-group alliance, thus recognizing that the enemy has more power and resources to mobilize a defense.

    (2) There is a pact, treaty, or silent acknowledgment that there are some forms of mutual benefits they could derive from each other, which is essential to each group’s existence or survival.

    (3) The fear of punishment, which indicates acknowledgment of the possibility of defeat.

    What sets man apart from the chimps and the wolves is his consideration for these three factors. Most human groups prefer peace as a normal condition. However, the continuing relationship between prey and predator sparks an inner thrill with regard to wielding power. Hence, the development of techniques to make aggressors more powerful and defenders less vulnerable transpired.

    However, rather than dwell on the ways they became skillful in their war activities, we will shift our focus to the impacts of war on the environment and its effect on human conditions.

    The following information is based on inferences of researchers, made from artifacts gathered as archaeological findings; hence, their veracity could be disputed by future discoveries.

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    The Impact of Pre-Historic and Ancient Wars in the Environment and Human Conditions

    800px-Hällristning, Fossum, den 29 juni 2006, bild 3 

    Stories about acts of war and attrition have been prolific in all forms of writings, even in the earliest recordings. Battle scenes were found depicted on the cave walls of burial sites, or in the chronicles of biblical scribes, as well as in literary works of ancient Greek and Roman literati.

    The consistency by which acts of war have been committed by humans sparked the interests of anthropologists and archaeologists alike, who wanted to determine the origins and circumstances, and discover why man has never departed from it.

    Based on these researches, the description of the impacts of war appeared to be more devastating in human conditions than it was in the environment.

    • Basically, defeated civilizations were driven out or totally eradicated; anything related to the cultures of the vanquished people were wiped out and replaced by those of their conquerors.
    • The few who were able to escape and survive migrated to other regions where they could start anew, transforming and evolving into new tribes and races. They found land with vegetation and later transcended into farming activities as means of survival, since they were driven out of their hunting and fishing grounds.
    • Cannibalism was not ruled out, as human remains were found among the food wastes intended for animal food discards.
    • The use of humans as part of sacrificial rites or beliefs was also considered, as remains were likewise found in what seemed to be dumping areas within ancient temple grounds.
    • Slavery also came into the picture, particularly that of craftsmen and skilled workers, who were retained to build empirical civilizations.

    404px-NAMA Gynécée 1 

    These inferences could lead us to a conclusion that prehistoric wars developed as acts of invasions to gain access to areas where food was abundant. As migrants were able to find other means of subsistence, the more powerful gave value to human lives by creating a system of slavery. Skills, talents and strength were harnessed as a means of improving the conqueror’s living conditions. This system allowed minorities to thrive under the control of those who wielded more power.

    Thus, wars produced slavery as their impact on human conditions but allowed the exploration of other natural resources. This was how war was depicted up to the Middle Ages. They almost ended as the oppressed likewise waged their own wars in order to gain their freedom.

    We cannot overlook the fact that the occurrence of strife or desire for dominance still brought about acts of annihilations. However, this time, the impact on the environment and people was more devastating.

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    Wars are characteristically full of violence and strife; modern men invented the Cold War. The latter's impact on the environment and human health affected citizens within the war -inclined country's own domain. Know the reasons why from this article.
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    The Impacts of Modern Wars in the Environment and Human Health

    World Wars I & II

    World Wars I and II were carry-overs of ancient wars inasmuch as world domination among Europe’s great powers spurred the conflicts. Aggressor countries that considered themselves superior in terms of weaponry adopted the low cost-to-benefit principle as they launched attacks against countries at a time of the latter’s economic crises.

    761px-The charge of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek 7 August 1915 

    • This time, however, the environment began to experience the ravages of war as weapons became more sophisticated and damaging. Forests ended up with black stumps where trees used to be, while battlefields were left flat, empty and devoid of grasses.
    • Human races were imperiled, as acts of genocide were deliberately employed for purposes of racial eradication.
    • The weaponry of World War II was far more damaging to the environment and people as black smoke, which emanated from burning ships and gun powder, darkened the skies for days and weeks.

    487px-HMS Majestic sinking 27 May 1915 

    • Fuels leaked and spilled into the ocean, to be lost forever, as battle ships, submarines and war planes were defeated.
    • The intense battles of World War II had to end as millions of lives had already been lost but it also called for the unleashing of the most powerful weapon ever invented by man - atom bombs - which later came to be known as nuclear bombs. Ironically, this bomb was a German invention discovered by the Americans during World War I, which they successfully developed.

    Japan acknowledged defeat when these nuclear weapons were dropped on two of its cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The giant heat wave caused by nuclear fission set ablaze anything within half a mile of where the bomb exploded. Men, animals, structures and water lines were blasted away while fires continued to raze the cities for six weeks. Below is an accounting of the effects of the first nuclear attacks used against Japan:

    AtomicEffects-Hiroshima 

    • The air was filled with toxic pollution emanating from dust particles and radioactive fragments, polluting not only the air but surface water as well.
    • Agricultural production was impaired as soil and water became contaminated with radioactive materials.
    • The number of instantaneous deaths in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion was placed at 100,000, while 200,000 died as an aftermath of nuclear radiations.
    • In Nagasaki, 70,000 up to 150,000 people died from the aftermath, while an estimated 40,000 were killed instantaneously.
    • Subsequent deaths, and the resulting deformed offspring begotten by women who were within the one km radius, became living evidence of the effects of the radioactive power released by nuclear bombs.

    The ugly face of war became abhorred by many as innocent lives became pawns and victims of power-hungry leaders. Wars were temporarily halted as peace treaties were signed to avoid the senseless atrocities of war from taking place again.

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    The Cold War

    417px-AtomicWar0201 

    However, another form of war was created. This was called the Cold War, as countries became wary of the powerful weapon held by the USA.

    Although this was how the relationship between the US and Soviet Russia was described, each nation now embarked on the development of their own powerful weapons in order to counter any possible threats of domination.by another power-hungry leader.

    Thus, the development of nuclear weapons seemed like a necessity, as more countries demonstrated their capacities to retaliate against any form of nuclear attacks. However, the Cold War had another horrible facet to it, because the effects of this kind of war visited the environment and people in their respective domains.

    327px-Gelbe Tonne 

    • Nuclear manufacture alone produced wastes that were dumped in bodies of waters resulting in soil and groundwater contamination. Toxic chemicals spread out through the air impairing the growth and existence of plants and wildlife.
    • Workers and nearby communities exposed to chemicals in nuclear factories, military installations and testing sites, suffered from deformed fetuses, miscarriages and high mortality rates among newborns. Congenital ailments, leukemia, thyroid disorders, cancer, tumors and other debilitating disorders became widespread and prevalent.
    • Accidents in nuclear power plants destroyed lives, and livelihoods, while communities still suffered from diseases and disorders as the effects of radiation continued.

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    Perhaps these two kinds of wars are the most terrifying as they have the most tendencies to impact the environment and human health. Terrorism could take place swiftly and without warning, wherein human lives and the environment could be eradicated in the blink of an eye. Civil wars could be more devastating, since the population would be at the mercy of whoever emerges as the victor, and who could be unconcerned with their welfare.
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    The Effects of Biological Warfare and Terrorism

    There is another powerful armament, which was likewise of German origins, namely, biological weapons. This development was inspired by the poison gas developed by Germans during World War I and later modified into their own innovations by the French and British forces.

    402px-Anthraxreward 

    A new kind of enemy known as a “terrorist" has become a threat not only to a particular country but to every major world power.

    War in the 21st Century had a new name:" terrorism". The effects are more destructive and less discriminating. They threaten major world powers with their treacherous acts by sending out mail carrying deadly viruses or by placing poisonous gasses inside subway trains.

    Biological weapons, like Anthrax, are much more frightening than the nuclear bombs, because they could be launched against unsuspecting citizens. Bacteria were merely released containing deadly biotoxins that spread different kinds of diseases, often attacking the respiratory tract as well as the lymphatic system.

    September 11th WTC View From Jersey City 9-2001 

    The most infamous terrorist act was the September 11 attack at the World Trade Center in New York, and the simultaneous attacks that transpired but were thankfully thwarted from causing greater damages.

    The damage sustained by the Twin Towers added more of the toxic gasses already floating in the air, from asbestos, to dioxins, PCB and hydrochloric acid.

    The effects of these toxins are expected to be long-term, since their toxicities are known to manifest symptoms several years after.

    Terrorism, as an act of war, is designed to sow terror and destruction even when there are no actual wars being waged. It can affect the nation’s economy, since commercial trading comes to a halt and recessions impact the livelihood of its citizenry.

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    The Effects of Civil Unrests in African Wars

    436px-World migration 1 

    For a war to take place, it does not have to involve warring nations, but could emanate from within. Almost every nation has their incidence of civil unrest that stems from rebellions and seditions. The African continent, for example, has the highest number of civil wars. It produced refugees, not migrants, because land that was inhabitable was already occupied and controlled by domestic powers. Thus, most farmers tapped into the forest reserves and preyed upon animals under conservation to avoid starvation.

    As refugees flocked, the excessive use of remaining agricultural land to address starvation brought soil depletion and desertification. Other arable lands were not fit for crop use because they were peppered with landmines.

    As water sources became depleted, sanitation problems created more diseases. It also prodded fishermen to over fish without paying heed to international protocols. The over extraction of fish life resulted to disruptions in marine ecology.

    Not only was the land ravaged, but women were too; hence, sexually transmitted diseases leading to HIV-AIDS became widespread and far reaching. The disease was undetected for quite some time and was already transmitted from a continent to a continent.

    What has been related are the different faces of war and their impacts in the environment and human health. As forms of weaponry developed from the most primitive of origins to the most sophisticated of technologies, we ask: "what has been war good for in all of these?" Definitely and absolutely: nothing.

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    Reference Materials and Image Credit Section

    Reference Materials:

    • http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/163/9/1157
    • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10699130
    • http://www.scienceclarified.com/Mu-Oi/Nuclear-Weapons.html#ixzz0za5VFhnQ
    • http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/040426/26war.htm
    • http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/09/08/where-does-war-come-from.html
    • http://www.lenntech.com/environmental-effects-war.htm#ixzz0zeKArN5R
    • http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=MexgV_gPAAYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=origins+of+war&source=bl&ots=tqyEsTaava&sig=92LLusuxOBExlfcENFdDQPFTnQk&hl=en&ei=_TGRTNXYKIO3cP6k8L8B&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Image Credit:

    • All Images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons