Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
16 February 2012
Reviews by Richard Tucker, The University of Michigan
War and the Environment: An Omnibus Review
Descriptors: Volume 2012, 19th Century, 20th Century, World War I, World War II, Cold War, Environment Print Version
War and the Environment: Military Destruction in the Modern Age
Charles E. Closmann, ed.
College Station: Texas A&M Univ. Press, 2009. Pp. iii, 210. ISBN 978–1–60344–115–5.
Environmental Histories of the Cold War
J.R. McNeill and Corinna R. Unger, eds.
Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010. Pp. xi, 362. ISBN 978–0–521–76244–1.
Militarized Landscapes: From Gettysburg to Salisbury Plain
Chris Pearson, Peter Coates, and Tim Cole, eds.
New York: Continuum, 2010. Pp. xv, 301. ISBN 978-1-4411-1702-1

The environmental impact of warfare is a newly emerging sub-field in environmental history, intended to complement military historians' traditional alertness to the influence of climate and terrain on the conduct of war. It also extends the well developed field of warfare and society, since no discussion of the effects of mass violence on natural systems can ignore social processes (or economic, political, and strategic, for that matter). Three new volumes of conference proceedings give an excellent overview of the state of this nascent research network. They address a great diversity of ideas, institutions, and environmental impacts. In the introduction to War and the Environment, Charles Closmann points to the wide range of possible subject matter, defining "environment" as "climate, landscape, flora, fauna, soil, water, and built settlements." In this conceptually tolerant field, that opens vast horizons.

Although Militarized Landscapes focuses on the years since 1945, two papers consider the American Civil War and its legacies. Katherine Shively Meier's essay on one of the bloodiest theaters of that war discloses the soldiers' changing perceptions of the battered landscapes they moved through from year to year. While valuable on its own terms, this analysis is oblique to the question of ecological change in battle-scarred landscapes, which would require additional study of the post-bellum years. From a longer perspective, Brian Black considers recent landscape reconstruction against the background of natural succession at the Gettysburg battle site. Discussing management controversies over limiting the resurgence of vegetation and wildlife, he illustrates the conundrum of restoration ecologists everywhere: precisely which moment in a location's changing history should be restored and preserved?

Several chapters concern military management of landscapes in Britain since World War II, detailing the shifting relations between military priorities and civilian interests, including the complexities of the Ministry of Defence's publicity campaigns. Matthew Flintham considers the Shoeburyness complex; Tim Cole probes management and historical nostalgia at two sites, Tyneham and the Epynt; and Marianna Dudley discusses military operations on the Salisbury Plain. Sam Edwards describes restoration processes in East Anglia, after the construction of American air bases there during bombing offensives against Germany in 1942–45. In all these locations, civilian and military priorities coexist with varying degrees of tension over the priorities of land management in peacetime.

In the United States, the terrible weight of Cold War militarization is expressed in the vast landscape of the uranium industry and nuclear weapons testing in a wide swath of the arid West. Ryan Edgington describes the bizarre memorializing of the first nuclear bomb explosion, at the Trinity site in New Mexico. David Havlick perceptively surveys the history of the military's conservation campaigns, under pressure from national legislation and citizen protest movements, a theme closely paralleled in the papers by his British counterparts.

Although geographically the papers are mostly confined to Britain and the United States, three chapters look to other places and themes. In the most trenchant study of military secrecy in this collection, Rachel Woodward describes the work of landscape photographers in northern Norway. Julia Adeney Thomas's essay on Korea's Demilitarized Zone is an elegantly articulated report on the inadvertent but important wildlife refuge that the military stalemate created there after 1953. This paper and others emphasize that military control of lands often preserves them from civilian over-development. In one of the book's most wrenching chapters, Shelley Egoz and Tim Williams investigate the fragmentation of civilian life and geographical continuity caused by Israel's erection of security barriers on the Palestinian landscape.

Edmund Russell's concluding observations offer two vital reminders. First, there is a continuum from locations entirely civilian in their historical uses to others entirely dominated by military priorities. All militarized landscapes fall somewhere and shiftingly along that continuum. Second, military impacts not only affect specific, restricted locales, but reverberate throughout ecosystems like river basins, and beyond to the world's oceans and atmosphere. Asserting that "battlefronts mark the thin edge of the wedge of military impact on the environment" (236), Russell likens the encroachment of militarization on lands and resources to a food chain pyramid, concluding that "militarization grows ever more pervasive as it becomes ever less visible" (237). Plainly, much more work remains, if we are to trace the worldwide repercussions of military action and consumption.

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