In a series of posts this week on HuffPost, author Barry Sanders discusses one of the least-explored but significant consequences of the Iraq war: the amount of pollution - including radioactive pollution -- produced by the U.S. military and its effect on global warming. Here is the first installment:
Over the years, my family has bought three or four little books on how to live the greenest life possible. We've all seen those well-intentioned pamphlets at the checkout counters of bookstores and grocery stores: Fifty Ways to Save the Planet; Go Totally Green; Making a Difference; and so on. While they may pale these days considering the enormity of the environmental crisis, we nonetheless still take the advice to heart, choosing low-energy light bulbs, installing low-flush toilets, turning down the thermostat, refusing to warm up the car's engine for extended periods, and on and on. Every little bit helps, as the experts tell us and, besides, we need to feel that we are doing something. But no list in any of those books addresses the largest source of global pollution: War.
In a nation like ours, where military might trumps diplomatic finesse, the supreme irony may be that the planet, and not human beings, will provide the most powerful corrective to political overreaching. The earth can no longer absorb the punishment of war, especially on a scale and with a ferocity that only the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world--no, in history--knows how to deliver. While the US military directed its "Operation Iraqi Freedom" solely against the Iraqis, no one--not a single citizen in any part of the globe--has escaped its fallout. When we declare war on a nation, we now also declare war on the earth, on the soil and plants and animals, the water and wind and people, in the most far-reaching and deeply-infecting ways. War insinuates itself, like an aberrant gene, and, left unchecked, will eventually destroy the earth's entire system.
As we contemplate America in the opening years of the twenty-first century, we might reconsider George Washington's farewell warning that "overgrown military establishments . . . under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty." Today, our own military has grown beyond a mere hostility to liberty and wrapped its arms of death around life itself. And it will not let go. Unless we all garner the strength to confront the military, it will continue to work its evil.
I write as a citizen, not a politician; as a layman, not a scientist; as an outsider from the academy, not an insider from the Pentagon. Most of the information that I present here the Department of Defense (DoD) withholds from the general public, makes intentionally obscure, folds inside arcane reports, and hides on hard-to-find governmental websites. Researching the military is like trying to uncover the truth in the former Soviet Union. I rely on my own digging--in military manuals, government and anti-government websites, in reference books, exposes, and an increasing supply of leaked memos. I also rely heavily on the work of a dedicated and dogged cadre of snoops, who have managed to mine important data from the most varied and, at times, the most unlikely of sources and have published their findings on blogs and webs and e-newsletters. The country owes a great deal of thanks to that motley band of Insurgents of the Internet. In many cases, they have put the major newspapers to shame.
To determine even something as straightforward as the exact number of GIs in Iraq turns out to be complicated. The "surge" confounds things even more, what with various stop-orders and early-rotation orders in place, shortened training-periods, National Guard call-ups, along with requests by field generals for thousands more Military Police and support battalions. To say nothing of civilian contractors, some of whom are well armed and armored.
When Bush announced his new strategy on January 10, 2007, he said he planned to supplement the approximately 130,000 troops in Iraq with an additional 21,500. That projected supplement now exceeds 35,000, with another 12,000 National Guard soldiers, deployed in June 2007, on top of that number. That totals roughly 177,000 GIs, but who really knows what the actual number is, or what it will eventually turn out to be? General David Patraeus, the top military-commander in Iraq, promised we would know the exact figure by the end of May. But he never revealed that number. Add to that 177,000 the troops in what the Pentagon refers to as the "War Theater"--Iraq and its neighboring countries--and that number increases by another 100,000, to a whopping 277,000.
In August 2006, while the President reported that the number of troops in Iraq hovered somewhere between 140,000 and 160,000, the Congressional Research Service, quoting the DoD's Contingency Tracking System, put the total deployment well past that figure--at 260,000. Chalmers Johnson, in his book Blowback, argues for a much higher total number of troops. Citing the DoD's Base Structure Report, which itemizes foreign and domestic military real estate, Johnson points out that, for the fiscal year ending 2003, the Pentagon owned or rented 702 bases in about 130 foreign countries. For fiscal 2005, I found that the figure had risen 22 percent, to 860 bases, in the same number of foreign countries. Johnson maintains that we must add in the more than 500,000 soldiers, dependents, technicians, and civilian contractors, along with their rolling and flying stock, that the US has stationed in those foreign countries. The actual number of personnel on active duty, including Afghanistan, thus comes closer to one million.
One question, and one question only, drives this piece: how much does the United States military add each year to worldwide pollution? To say it in a more pointed way: how much does the military contribute to that most dire and most imminent of problems, global warming? I am particularly interested in this question whenever the military ratchets up its presence, and that means now, for during times of war, the military's use of fossil fuel radically increases. (In 1940, for example, the armed forces accounted for one percent of the nation's total energy consumption. Five years later, as World War II got underway, that number increased to twenty nine percent.)
I have limited myself to the current invasion of Iraq. Adding Afghanistan onto what I have found, of course, increases the numbers. I also limit myself to the US military. I could have easily picked the Israeli military, but I live in this country. Its actions represent me; I aim at making change here first. And so, I want to determine just how much damage America has visited on the planet these past four years since that first evening of "Shock and Awe," March 20, 2003, when 1,700 aircraft--bombers, fighters, and other warships--flew 830 strike sorties on critical targets, and fired 504 cruise missiles, directly into the heart of Baghdad. (I will take up the subject of Afghanistan later in this essay.) In the space of two days, the US military delivered eight hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles--one every four minutes, day and night, for forty-eight hours. Eight hundred cruise missiles--each one weighing close to 3,000 pounds--a total of 2,400,000 pounds of explosives, or 1,200 tons.
How can we fathom that number--2,400,000 pounds of explosives? And what does that term actually mean that we use so easily and with such facility--an explosive? What actually explodes? What lives? Who dies? Certainly, no one really knows like Iraqi families, who carry out their lives, or try to, directly beneath bombs that fall on their homes, or IEDs that explode in their markets or mosques or schools. And for those who survive, what kinds of chemicals are they breathing? What sort of polluted water are they drinking? How much contaminated produce are they eating? To answer these questions, we must consider more than greenhouse gases and the atmosphere. We must concentrate on the earth itself, the grit and dirt that people walk on and in which they grow their fruits and vegetables, and so I look at the pollution of the land, the animals, the rivers, lakes, and the ocean, by the United States military. In Iraq, that means confronting more than the ordinary pollution. For a United Nations report, dated 2005, estimates that four million pounds of low-level but radioactive dust, the residue from spent munitions made with depleted uranium, has settled over the deserts and cities of Iraq. Which means that a good deal of the country is now radioactive. How could that have happened? How did we allow that to happen? Several questions of perhaps even more importance now: How can that horrific condition be corrected? Is it even possible?
I start the story with the combat vehicles, planes, and helicopters, and then only with a selection of them. The vital statistics for almost all armament--their type and number--remain highly classified. By my count, the US Armed Forces currently commands the deserts and the neighborhoods of Iraq with about 30,000 vehicles. (According to its own figures, the DoD inventory of non-tactical vehicles worldwide totals 187,493, thirteen per cent of which it keeps overseas.) These vehicles consist of hundreds of that most ubiquitous military mule, the Jeep, along with other familiar vehicles like Chevrolet Suburbans and Humvees. The sight of those SUVs might make you think you were in the States, until you noticed the thick armor plate. Armor often means the difference between living and dying, and so the Army relies on heavily armored machines like the HMMWV (M1114), the Guardian Armored Security Vehicle M1117, (popular with MPs), the Cougar HEV Armored Truck, the LAV (light armored vehicle), the ICV (infantry carrier vehicle), the Stryker troop carrier, the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle M1151, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the M-1 Abrams tank, and a behemoth called the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protective vehicle, a 30-ton armored bus for ferrying VIPs, and popularly known as the Rhino Runner. Military brass covet the Rhino Runner, for it holds the distinction as the most heavily armored, safest vehicle ever manufactured.
These are but a few of the vehicles in the Army's inventory. The military uses scores of other, more obscure tracked- and wheeled-vehicles as well. As you can imagine, such armored vehicles do not sit lightly on the ground. A United Nations environmental report about the first Gulf War points to the damage inflicted by seventy-ton tanks like the M-1 Abrams on the ecology of the desert: "Approximately fifty percent of Kuwait's land area has had its fragile soil surface destroyed as scores of tanks moved out of that country each day and headed for Iraq." Once the surface of the earth has broken apart, the report goes on, the wind has an easier job of eroding even more land mass.
The military--the Army, Navy, and Air Force--leads the world, of course, in its wide range of flying machines, like the fixed-wing A-10 Attack Jet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F/A-18 and F/A-18 E Super Hornet, the CASA 212, a short take-off and landing-transport aircraft, the B-52, B1B and B-2 bombers, the MQ-1 Predator, and rotary-wing helicopters like the Blackhawk, the CH 47 twin-rotor, the H-53E Sea Stallion, the CH-53D Super Stallion, the MH-53J Pave Low III, and the MH-53E Sea Dragon (the world's largest helicopter), along with dozens of other fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, including headline-grabbing monsters like the F-22, B-52, F-111 and the F-117 Stealth Bomber. In all, I count 43 different types of fighter planes, 11 attack planes, 13 bombers, 16 cargo planes, and 9 different kinds of helicopters--all told, ninety-two different kinds of aircraft.
Military brass also operates its own private airline, known as the Air Mobility Command or AMC. The Pentagon prefers to keep these planes, for the most part, off the record. The AMC consists of a fleet of long-range C-17 Globemasters, C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters, KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-10 Extenders, and C-9 Nightingales. As an additional perk, for generals and admirals, the military has on hand for their private use 71 Lear jets, 13 Gulfstream IIIs, and 17 Cessna Citation luxury jets.
These armored vehicles, planes, and luxury planes, consume close to two million reported gallons every day of oil, a commodity that some critics of the war say we are fighting to protect. But such a contradiction should not seem so strange, for the business of the military, in times both of peace and war, is oil itself. The US must have adequate supplies of oil to maintain its position as the most prosperous nation in the world. Of the Army's top ten gas-guzzlers, only the M-1 Abrams tank and the Apache helicopter are combat vehicles. As for the rest, ironically, the military needs most of these fuel-famished vehicles--along with a good number of its troops--for re-supplying its vast fleet of fuel-dependent combat vehicles and fighter planes.
These support vehicles consume over half the fuel in the battlefield. Fuel is the lifeblood of these vehicles, and they require it in astonishing amounts, consume it with astonishing speed, and demand it with astonishing rapidity. To complicate things even more, the military currently uses fourteen different kinds of fuel products, from gasoline and diesel to a range of highly-toxic jet fuels--either kerosene or naphtha-derived--including the latest development, JP-8, designed to burn at a very high temperature in very cold climates.
No wonder, then, that the DoD is the largest purchaser and consumer of fuel of any agency or country in the world. It is--no surprise--also the largest polluter. According to the US Defense Energy Support Center (the governmental agency charged with buying fuel for all branches of the military, located at Fort Belvoir, in Virginia) Fact Book, the military fuel consumption for fiscal 2004 hit 144 million barrels. That amounts to 395,000 barrels of oil per day, almost the as much as the daily energy consumption of Greece. Only three countries consume more oil per capita than the DoD: Gibraltar, Netherland Antilles, and Singapore. For just the first three weeks of combat in Iraq, the Army calculated that its branch alone would require more than 40 million gallons of fuel, an amount equivalent to the total gasoline used by all Allied Forces combined during the four years of World War I.
For that same fiscal year, 2004, the DESC, itself, spent its yearly budget of 3.5 billion dollars for 110 million barrels of petroleum products. That represents such a colossal amount of fuel I feel compelled to let the DESC boast about its own numbers: "That's enough fuel for 1,000 cars to drive around the world 4,620 times--or 115.5 trillion miles." In gas station numbers, that's 2,200,000,000 gallons of fuel. In fiscal 2005, the DESC purchased 128 million barrels of fuel at a cost of 8.5 billion dollars, or 2,560,000,000 gallons of gasoline! If the average passenger vehicle holds 20 gallons, one could fill up 128 million of them right to the brim.