The Military’s Deadliest Soldier – Riley Chapman – Medium
When coming to terms with the problems of climate change, population stress, and the gradual death of the landscapes we live in, it is easy to loose hope. I for one don’t see the point in saving a 401k when the earth will be inhabitable by the time I reach my golden years. On top of this impending environmental disaster, there are many things that are systematically corrupt in our country in dire need of improvement. A widening wealth disparity, a tired education system, dwindling human rights, and our depleting natural resources are just to name a few. As a country we also have a history of aggressive foreign affairs and have gained a reputation as a violent state that polices the rest of the world, sometimes unnecessarily. The US Military is the world’s biggest industrial polluter. To effectively change our global climate we need to demilitarize as a nation, repair the communities disrupted by the pollution, and use those funds to fix domestic issues especially the environment.
The US military has been known to have polluting accidents over time, but has made more toxic waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined especially concentrated around bases. Most often this takes the form of depleted uranium, oil, jet fuel, pesticides, defoliants like Agent Orange and lead, among others. Not only locally, but internationally, bases are some of the most polluted places in the world largely because perchlorate and other ingredients of jet and rocket fuel contaminate sources of drinking water, aquifers, and soil. The EPA currently has over 130 US based military installations and sites listed as Superfund Priorities. Almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or locations that supported military needs, not counting the active bases themselves. “Almost every military site in this country is seriously contaminated,” (Newsweek) John D. Dingell, a retired Michigan congressman and war veteran said in 2014. The U.S. “has conducted more nuclear weapons tests than all other nations combined” (MPN News). These nuclear tests leave unprecedented amounts of radiation in the islands of the pacific ocean. The marshall islands and Guam are the most affected, continuing to experience high rates of cancer. Globally, people are still coping with the impact of the military’s negligence and it becomes more and more clear that to the government, people are a disposable ends to justify the means.
The environmental damage caused by these sites is often irreparable, but the health defects it causes and the way it disrupts communities is shocking. The military and the service members are stuck in a “toxic paradox” where “young men and women were poisoned while in the service of their nation, they swore to defend their land, and the land made them sick” (Newsweek). One of the biggest examples of a base ruining a community is Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Since the early 70’s, service members and their families have been reported having a wide variety of cancers especially leukemia and breast cancer specifically in men amongst many stillbirths, miscarriages, and childhood deaths. The breast cancer is especially alarming, considering it is rare already in the general male population. Soldiers soon realized there were too many cases in one location for it to be a correlation alone. Officials later attributed this plague of cancers to the pollutants in the drinking water. Many other of the issues were caused by hard chemical cleaning solvents mainly TCE and PCE, “chemical cleaning agents of the organochlorine group: TCE was a degreaser for machine parts; PCE was used in dry cleaning”(Newsweek). Although used for very different purposes, the carcinogens act the same. Many service people and their families had strange and violent reactions to the toxins while living there and expected that it would have long term consequences as soon as they started experiencing symptoms. The saddest part of the situation is the lack of reparations and aid to affected people. When the soldiers confronted the government with their problems they received abysmal help up until Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act in 2012. While this was a step in the right direction, many had perished at the hands of the pentagon long before and real aid and healthcare was provided.
Demilitarizing and using those funds to fund public programs could vastly change the quality of life for many americans especially by preventing climate change. It’s completely unreasonable to abolish the entire military, as wonderfully utopian as a U.S. without a military sounds, we still need a defense force and would be foolish not to have one in this day and age. In 2019, 61% of the national budget was placed aside for the military while environmental protection had 2%, education had 5%, and housing and community had 5% (An American Budget, OMB). The military has disproportionate funding compared to other categories. Keeping in mind there are other factors like tax exemptions for the wealthiest americans adding to a wealth disparity between the average american and the upper class, but changing the budget alone could drastically improve daily life for citizens. Even cutting the military budget in half and redistributing the 30.5% proportionally based on need to the other categories would be helpful. If the environmental department got more funding, we could work to lower carbon emissions, protect and conserve our water supply, and stop the use of plastics by making plastic alternatives. These changes could help prevent natural disasters and make the transition into a warmer climate more gentle for the average american. Boosting the education system could mean giving tomorrow’s leaders the education and foundation they deserve. Schools in the U.S. are critically underfunded right now struggling to feed their students, but them proper textbooks and materials, and school facilities are deteriorating. Lastly, giving more aid to housing and community programs could help fight systematic poverty on a communal level. Giving communities more funding to fight poverty and get proper care for every member of a community will make people closer. A small redistribution of the budget could mean drastic changes for american citizens.
Cutting back on the world’s biggest industrial polluter could make very tangible changes for the U.S. Limiting pollutants would immensely help decrease adverse health affects for service members and create less superfund sites for a cleaner environment. We need to reassess our values as an american people. There will be no fabled great american land to protect if we don’t prioritize climate change as a pressing issue. We are innately more empathetic than our actions show. It makes no sense to have people suffering domestically from poverty while we simultaneously inflict pain with our troops in other parts if the world. We are stuck in a cycle of violence perpetuated by wealth and greed. If we shift our mindset toward helping people and being the benevolent nation we claim to be, we can change our environment and grow stronger communities, leaving behind a legacy of responsibility and justice instead of carelessness and destruction.
Nazaryan, Alexander. “The US Department of Defense Is One of the World’s Biggest Polluters.” Newsweek, 23 Feb. 2016, www.newsweek.com/2014/07/25/us- department-defence-one-worlds-biggest-polluters-259456.html.
Webb, Whitney. “The U.S. Military Is the World’s Largest Polluter.” MintPress News, 22 Apr. 2019, www.mintpressnews.com/on-earth-day-remembering-the-us- militarys-toxic-legacy/227776/.