World Day to Protect the Environment in War – Nov. 6

collage on pink paper with orange pig standing on a pile of black torn paper with overlaid poem

On a foggy evening, a black-bristle
boar said to the old poet,
“In some forests, a rooting pig
will find metal shards,
more skulls than soil, or –
at the last – a thin rusted tube.”
The grandfather boar huffed, “Poof!
He is a crater in the woods.”
He eyed the path over Mal Paso Mountain.
“I told you this world is a terrible place.”

Today is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t roll off the tongue and neither does its U.N. abbreviation – IDPEEWAC – so some calendars call it World Day to Protect the Environment in War. Before looking at the historical events for November 6th, I’d never heard of this observance, but it is a topic that has long interested me. Quite by accident, about 20 years ago, I’d stumbled across and purchased Donovan Webster’s excellent book Aftermath: The Remnants of War at a remainder sale at a local bookstore. His book deals primarily with what war leaves behind: landmines, unexploded ordinance, and mass graves. These remnants leave vast swaths of land around the globe unusable and dangerous for generations – possibly forever, until they are cleared. This does not even touch on such things as intentional water contamination, arson, or deforestation that occur during wars.

My poem was inspired by Robinson Jeffers’ poem “The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean.” You can read his poem here at Poetry Magazine (scroll down halfway to find the start of the poem). Jeffers was deeply concerned about environmental destruction as well as a staunch opponent of the U.S. entering WWII. In the 1940’s these were extremely unpopular stances and Jeffers lost friends, public standing, and professional opportunities due to his opinions. Jeffers died in 1962, long before IDPEEWAC was declared in 2001, but I think he might have appreciated a day devoted to the considerable overlap between war and environmental destruction.


7 comments

  1. “I tell you this world is a terrible place” strikes me particularly after reading Robert Macfarlane’s *Underland*. There is a section about the atrocities roughly 1942-45 at a place called Basovizza/Basovica in Slovenian Italy — a landscape whose topography both Fascists and Communists used to dispose of the Other — that will haunt me forever. I think you would like this book, but I’m sure you won’t thank me for its claustrophobic afterimages!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I will check Macfarlane’s book out – it sounds haunting (and excellent). I’ll be sure to have some “light” reading lined up for afterwards…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. And it’s not only the places where war is fought, although they’re far more disaster-riddled in many ways. San Francisco has all kinds of contaminated land left over from being a military base during WWII, and the place where they “scrubbed” ships contaminated with radiation from A-bomb testing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s so true! I had a classmate that lived in former military housing on Treasure Island (unbelievable views!) and we’d go for walks around Treasure Island, ending at the chain link fence that said “Closed – Military Property – Dangerous – Unexploded Ordinance – Contamination.” It was shocking every time.

      Liked by 2 people

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