War Scars the Earth: To Heal, We Must Cultivate Hope, Not Harm

From July 8-10, World BEYOND War is hosting #NoWar2022, a conference during which attendees will consider major and growing threats faced in today’s world. Emphasizing resistance and regeneration, the conference will feature practitioners of permaculture who work to heal scarred lands as well as advocate for abolishing all war.  

Listening to various friends speak of the environmental impacts of war, we recall testimony from survivors of Sachsenhausen, a Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany, where more than 200,000 prisoners were interned from 1936 to 1945.  

The decision to build bombs instead of affordable housing is a simple, cruel, and painful binary.

As a result of hunger, disease, forced labor, medical experiments, and systematic extermination, tens of thousands of internees died in Sachsenhausen.

Researchers there were tasked with developing sturdy shoes and boots for soldiers in combat to wear, year-round, while trudging through war zones. As part of a punishment duty, emaciated and weakened prisoners were forced to walk or run back and forth along “the shoe path” carrying heavy packs to demonstrate the wear and tear on the soles of the test shoes. The steady weight of tortured prisoners traversing the shoe path has rendered the ground, to this day, unusable for planting.  

This scarred, ruined ground exemplifies the colossal waste, murder, and futility of militarism.

Recently, Ali, a young Afghan friend of ours, wrote to ask how he could help comfort families who lost loved ones in the massacre in Uvalde, Texas. He struggles to console his own mother, whose eldest son was forced by poverty to enlist in the military and was killed during the war in Afghanistan. We thanked our friend for his kindness and reminded him of a project he had helped create in Kabul, some years ago, when a group of young, idealistic activists invited children to gather as many toy guns as they could possibly find. Next, they dug a large hole and buried the collected toy weapons. After heaping soil over the “grave of guns,” they planted a tree on top of it. Inspired by what they were doing, an onlooker hastened across the road. She came with her shovel, eager to help.  

Tragically, real weapons, in the form of mines, cluster bombs, and unexploded ordnance remain buried under the ground throughout Afghanistan. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, laments that many of Afghanistan’s 116,076 civilian victims of the war have been killed or injured by these explosive devices.

The Emergency Surgical Centers for Victims of War reports that, since September 2021, explosion victims continue to fill hospitals. Every day, nearly three patients during this period have been admitted to hospitals due to injuries caused by buried explosives.  

Yet the manufacture, sale, and transport of weapons continues worldwide.   

The New York Times recently reported about the role of Scott Air Force Base, near St. Louis, Missouri, where military logisticians are transporting billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Ukraine and other parts of the world. The money spent manufacturing, storing, selling, shipping, and using these weapons could alleviate poverty throughout the world. It would cost only $10 billion, annually, to eradicate homelessness in the United States through the expansion of existing housing programs, but this, perennially, is seen as prohibitively expensive.

How sadly twisted our national priorities are when investments in weapons are more acceptable than investments in futures. The decision to build bombs instead of affordable housing is a simple, cruel, and painful binary.  

On the last day of the World BEYOND War conference, Eunice Neves and Rosemary Morrow, two renowned permaculture practitioners, will describe the recent efforts of Afghan refugees to help regenerate arid agricultural land in the small Portuguese city of Mértola, where residents have welcomed young Afghans, forced to flee their homeland, to help cultivate gardens in a region that is quite vulnerable to desertification and climate change.

Aiming to break “the vicious circle of resource degradation and depopulation,” the Terra Sintrópica Association fosters resilience and creativity. Through daily healing work in the greenhouse and garden, young Afghans displaced by war steadily decide to restore hope rather than seek harm. They tell us, in their words and actions, that healing our scarred Earth and the people it sustains is both urgent and achieved only through careful effort.   

The persistence of militarism is promoted by so-called “realists.” Nuclear-armed opponents who push the world closer and closer to annihilation. Sooner or later, these weapons are bound to be used. Antiwar and permaculture activists are often depicted as delusional idealists. Yet cooperation is the only way forward. The “realist” option can only lead to collective suicide.

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