AS SOMEONE WHO REPORTED the Vietnam War, including the famous Battle of Long Tan, I can relate to arguments that military activities are the main contributor to destructive global warming.
Officially, I was “on the team” supporting military efforts to prevent South Vietnam from going Communist – my masters wouldn’t have allowed anything else – yet privately appalled at the destruction of the social fabric of both parts of Vietnam and the ecology. American use of defoliants, such as Agent Orange, plus napalm and high explosive bombs raining down on a battered landscape left a horrible long-term legacy.
Of course, that’s only one example. Think of war-ravaged Iraq, transformed from a breadbasket of the Middle East to a basket case heavily dependent on food imports for survival. Branagan goes further, repeatedly punching home the message that militarism far exceeds other causes – industrial revolution, ravages of capitalism, consumerism – as a threat to the survival of Planet Earth.
Although Russia shares some of the blame, the Pentagon – a powerful symbol of the military-industrial complex – is accused, together with its allies, such as NATO, of contributing possibly 75 per cent of the ecological vandalism we see today, encouraged by profit-focused big business eager to supply the military with endless new toys.
It’s not just wars but also military exercises, movement of ground vehicles, aircraft and ships around the world, the daily military routine and the endless need for energy, which mean defence consumes more than half the world’s oil, as well as creating a need to dispose of obsolete – often lethal – equipment.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Branagan points to numerous ships and submarines sunk in two world wars, plus vast amounts of unwanted armaments being dumped (for example, by the Nazis in WW2) and ditched nuclear bombs, all corroding on the seabed and releasing deadly chemicals that destroy fishing grounds and get into the food chain.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, we now have trigger-happy madmen like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un threatening to finish the job of wiping out civilisation as we know it.
If only the vast amounts spent on defence could, instead, be channelled into environmental protection, there’d be some hope of reversing the global warming trend — but is it possible?
Enter Branagan, who declares:
'... don’t despair, mountains can be moved through nonviolent means — people power.'
First, he seeks to correct general misconceptions. For instance, it’s not just about flower people joining hands and singing We shall not be moved, before being forcibly moved on by unpleasant people armed with tear gas, water cannons, truncheons or guns.
Branagan dismisses the idea that nonviolence doesn’t really work when faced with despotic governments. He cites the example of South America, where, between 1931 and 1961, nine dictatorships were toppled by civic strikes. In Kosovo, it was not the 73-day NATO bombing that brought down Milosevic but an 'unstoppable popular uprising', he argues. Then, there was the anti-Vietnam War movement in the U.S., that helped persuade Johnson not to seek re-election and Nixon to withdraw the troops — admittedly after virtually destroying Cambodia and letting in the vicious Khmer Rouge regime.
So in reality, what can we do? Branagan spends much of the book looking at Australian examples, especially involving eco-activism, showing how various campaigns were developed and analysing reasons for their success or failure. Then, using these experiences to provide a primer on 'how to organise campaigns to trigger desired political and economic change'.
One problem he identifies is breaking through the pro-militarist attitude of the mass media, addicted to conflict in the belief It sells better than peace. I admit I was as guilty as anyone of this. However, they can now be circumvented by proliferating alternative channels (such as IA) to spread the message, raising public awareness about the weapons of boycotts, blockades, non-cooperation, lobbying and publicising wrongdoing.
This book is not always an easy read. As an academic, Branagan draws on numerous sources to bolster his arguments. However, to change things we have to go beyond gut reactions and arm ourselves intellectually with solid facts to counter the official view. That’s where this study is valuable. Admittedly, it was first published in 2013 but it couldn’t be more relevant in 2017.
Geoffrey Murray is a former international journalist, academic and author of 16 books and now works as a freelance book editor for various Chinese State entities.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
Read between the lines. Subscribe to IA.