Yet, some human rights scholars have argued that the intent to commit genocide can be derived from the acts of explicitly depriving a population of food, water, shelter, and other key resources that willfully exposes a group of people to cold, heat, hunger, or insecurity.(Pg.9)
ENVIRONCIDE, SOCIETY, AND TOTAL WAR
MOST BOOKS about total war begin with the First World War in the fields and forests of Flanders. This book about the impact of total war on society and the environment ends with the First World War in the woodland savannas of Angola and Namibia. In fact, by 1914, total war had been central to the practice of war across the globe for at least four centuries. The scorched landscape in Flanders depicted on the cover is an iconic photo that to many captures the devastation caused by war much better than a thousand words. But, like similar images, the photo typically is taken to symbolize the impact of total war as an entirely new 20th-century Western phenomenon, a product of the dark side of modern industrial society, science, and technology. The First World War, however, was not the first conflict that transformed the idyllic fields and forests of Flanders into a muddy and charred chaos, nor was such an experience unique to Flanders. Rather, total war as the indiscriminate and simultaneous destruction of society and environment marked armed conflict throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, from the Spanish conquests of the Aztec and Inca Empires to the Iroquois Wars, the War of Flanders/Dutch Revolt, and the Thirty Years War. The Age of Reason with its credo of limited war offered no respite from the practice of total war. To the contrary, such conflagrations as the Wars of the Spanish, Austrian, and Javanese Successions; the French and Indian Wars; and the American Revolutionary War demonstrate a high degree of continuity in the ways of war across the globe. In many respects, 18th-century warfare actually constituted a bridge between 16th- and 17th-century so-called primitive or uncivilized war and 19th- and 20th-century modern war, including the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars; the colonial wars in Latin America, Asia, and Africa; and the First World War.
This book revisits select early modern and modern era conflicts by examining the impact of war on the environment-society nexus. Nuclear proliferation, a resurgence of the Cold War, and escalating conflicts in the Middle and Near East, Eastern Europe, and Africa raise troubling concerns about the consequences of total and genocidal war, while climate change, pollution, emergent diseases, and extinctions raise the specter of global ecocide. Scholars, however, have rarely studied total war, ecocide, and genocide in constellation. Studies of the war-environment nexus and the war-society nexus remain largely separate: war and environment and society as an interrelated trinity has been relatively neglected.
War affects environment and society simultaneously because humans are shaped by and in turn shape the environments they inhabit. The human-shaped environment constitutes environmental infrastructure because it is neither fully Nature (thence the anthropocentric infrastructure) nor entirely an artifact of Culture (thence the qualifier environmental). Rather, environmental infrastructure, which includes homes and stables, fields, fences, soils, crops and weeds, granaries and food stores, animals, orchards, wells, dams, canals, and sluices, is a coproduction of human ingenuity and labor on the one hand and nonhuman actors (animals, insects, microbes, and plants) and forces (physical, chemical) on the other. Moreover, maintaining, repairing, and (re)producing environmental infrastructure is a process that can perhaps more easily be imagined as a verb: environing.
Environing denotes that humans shaping their environment is a perennial project that is subject to and dependent on continuous investments of energy, capital, and knowledge in the face of ever changing conditions. It both grafts on and competes with biological, climatic, chemical, and geophysical dynamics. War interrupts environing, increasing societies’ vulnerability to human-made and natural disasters.
Environcide consists of intentionally or unintentionally damaging, destroying, or rendering inaccessible environmental infrastructure through violence that may be episodic and spectacular (e.g., genocide or mass killing) or continuous and cumulative (e.g., everyday war violence). The unholy alliance between war, famine, and disease has been noted from biblical times to the present: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse often ride together. Targeting an opponent’s environmental infrastructure, either directly by destroying homes, fields, orchards, food and seed stores, reservoirs, and dams or indirectly through population displacement, constitutes environcide because it undermines livelihoods and ways of life, increasing a society’s vulnerability to drought and disease, and triggering epidemics and famines.
The concept highlights the how and the why of the simultaneous and interactive impact of war on environment and society. Environcidal strategies and tactics aim to deny the use of environmental infrastructure to the opponent through scorched earth tactics, sieges, and strategic bombing; by living off the enemy’s land and making war pay through conquest and booty; and by weaponizing fire and water. Environcide typically manifests as total war because human societies and their environmental infrastructures are at once the object, the subject, and the instrument of war. Belligerents mobilize all available military and civilian resources for war through recruitment of soldiers and labor; war taxes and tribute; requisitions of food, animals, and shelter; and outright pillage and plunder. Premodern and modern heads of state, generals, and soldiers did not merely wage war about and in abstract and empty state territory. Rather, they fought wars about, with, and in what animates, fills, and enriches space: the environmental infrastructure that sustains populations, states, and armies. Combatants and noncombatants alike enacted and were affected by the deprivation of environmental infrastructure.
The four main arguments of this book are laid out in the sections that follow and are accompanied by an outline that explains how the various chapters contribute to the larger argument. The first section (War, Environmental Infrastructure, and Environcide) argues that the impact of war on the environment-society nexus is more comprehensively framed by highlighting how belligerents depend on, target, and weaponize environmental infrastructure. Armies and soldiers undermine and destroy rural livelihoods and ways of life, effectively waging environcidal war. The second section (Genocide, Ecocide, and Environcide) explains how environcide is both derived from and different from genocide and ecocide. Genocide and other crimes against humanity are categories of legal action, rather than merely descriptive or analytical concepts. Ecocide is considered a heinous act against nature with an ambiguous legal status in international law. Environcide highlights how mass violence simultaneously affects environment and society: environmental warfare is a crime against humanity and a crime against Nature. The third section (Perpetrators, Victims, and History) focuses on who is involved in and affected by mass violence and addresses the implications for historical agency. Typically, the literature on mass violence identifies discrete categories of active perpetrators and passive victims, attributing the former’s agency to a historically determined development of a specific way of waging (total) war, for example, a German Sonderweg or a Western way of war. But the practices of war discussed in this book suggest a much more dynamic positioning and repositioning of perpetrators and victims. The fourth section (Environcide, Total War, and Resource Wars) explains why environcide constitutes total war. Environcide treats a group’s environmental infrastructure as a subject, object, and instrument of war, increasing the entire population’s vulnerability to drought, flooding, hunger, thirst, predators, plagues, and pests, with the attendant risk of mass killing, ecocide, and genocide. Each chapter emphasizes different combinations of how environcide and other forms of mass violence were practiced and experienced in different eras and regions. (Pg.4)