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Militarism on a Sick Planet

Posted by Maureen McCue, MD, PhD on June 13, 2011

Over the weekend of May 14-15, Iowa PSR sponsored a workshop designed to begin a dialog highlighting the interconnections between militarism, climate and environmental degradation from a health and human rights perspective. Those involved in the workshop came from varied backgrounds including those working for human rights as lawyers and educators, others working for a sustainable world and/or nuclear abolition as educators and physicians, peace activists within the faith community, veterans for peace, and students. There was even the brief appearance of 3 foreign relations experts visiting from Brazil. An unfortunate airline glitch kept a US military representative from joining us, but he sent a set of slides which were discussed.

Within plenary panels and breakouts, participants engaged with the material beginning construction of the bridges, narratives and considerations to put health, justice, and human survival at the center of a new understanding of true security. There was consensus among workshop attendees that given the many health and human rights challenges unfolding due to the rapidly changing climate and degraded environment, the role of militarism cannot continue to be overlooked or exempted from consideration.

Within that relatively small group of thinkers and activists a number of interesting insights surfaced. First, it was pointed out that the specific risks associated with the development and stewardship of nuclear weapons in particular must be part of such discussions. The threat posed by the acquisition, development and accidental or intentional use of such weapons is at least as grave as those posed by other aspects of climate change and environmental degradation coupled with the impact of conventional military activities.

There were also a number of comments about the strengths and contributions of the military that could be re-purposed as positive social goods. Resources mentioned included: their training facilities and ability to rapidly and effectively train people in various skill areas like mechanics, electronics, logistics, communications; their contributions to and effective adoption of alternative clean energy resources; and their ability to rapidly and effectively respond with expertise to major catastrophic events anywhere, anytime.

Others problemitized the concept of security given its common association with something gained by the use of force. Discomfort was expressed with the idea of deeming climate change and environmental catastrophes as security threats given the potential for use of force either to address specific activities known to be associated with advancing global warming, and/or forceful action taken to protect a given resource from the impacts of a changing climate or degraded environment. It was asserted that means and ends require application of similar motives and ethical values.

Repeatedly heard in various sessions was the need for strengthened education and media outlets at all levels to address the complexities posed by climate and environmental threats. Educators themselves need better interactive, critical, interdisciplinary thinking, and socially responsible problem solving skills. Of course all this requires funding, motivation, and organization-therein lie many of the challenges for all of us!

Evaluations indicated everyone in attendance enjoyed an engaging and thoughtful workshop.

We plan to build on the many insights and shared energy at the beautiful Lied Conference Center on the Arbor Day grounds in Nebraska City over the weekend Sept 9-11.

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