Difference between revisions of "ARMY GREEN"

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Latest revision as of 14:32, 29 July 2020

[sidebar]  BACKGROUND OF THIS PIECE

Trained as a biologist and an infantry lieutenant, I've seldom had a
chance to combine those two clarifying fields.  The idea for this
piece came up in conversation with a staffer at the Sierra Club who
was lauding recent efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers.  I worked
up the text last year originally for the Global Business Network,
which I co-founded with Peter Schwartz and others in 1988 (his recent
book The Art of the Long View summarizes what GBN is up to in terms of
long-term strategic planning).

 Schwartz suggested I send the piece to Time magazine.  The "Time
Essay" editor was intrigued and asked to hold on to the article for a
couple of months while he tried to slide it through the system.  He
offered a handsome kill fee if it wasn't used which didn't take me
long to agree to.  After a few months went by, the nice check from
Time arrived, and I showed the piece to an editor of the New York
Times op ed page.  He  liked it, suggested revisions, which I made,
and he showed it to the senior editors, who said no.  A similar
sequence happened with the Washington Post, even though it was one of
their random months when they like the military.

 So, what the hell, I showed the piece to Howard Rheingold.  He didn't
have to ask anybody's permission to run it.


--SB

[NB:  This article first appeared in the Whole Earth Review in issue #76,
edited by Howard Rheingold.
For more information send e-mail to:  [email protected]  ]
\
                       ARMY GREEN

                    by Stewart Brand
			[email protected]

 The arms race is running backwards.  NATO is without a mission.  The
few Communist governments that haven't crumbled have turned inward.
In the absence of a Soviet-scale threat, present or foreseeable, what
is the US Defense Department supposed to defend against in the coming
decades?  What are we supposed to do with the prodigious instrument
that won the Cold War and encored with a dazzling victory in the Gulf?
That is the deeper debate these days around the Pentagon, accompanying
the immediate issue of how to scale down severely and gracefully.

 Meanwhile a famous global problem, the deteriorating natural
environment, is gradually being re-understood in economic terms.
America is finally becoming alarmed about the decay of its engineered
infrastructure--highways, water systems, communications systems, and
even education system.  In the same way, the whole world is worried
about the natural infrastructure--soils, aquifers, fishable waters,
forests, biodiversity, and even the atmosphere.  The natural systems
are priceless in value and nearly impossible to replace, but they're
cheap to maintain.  All you have to do is defend them.

 The natural and engineered infrastructures together comprise the
world's economic infrastructure--the ecostructure.

 Suppose our military took on the long-term role of protecting the
global ecostructure.  From one point of view it did so in the Persian
Gulf, defending the world's access to the major source of inexpensive
energy when US direct interests in the region were relatively limited.
Could we build on that success?  When the global economic infrastruc-
ture is understood as including natural infrastructure, we might
defend rain forests and diverse ecosystems for the same reasons we
defend freedom of the seas and global communications.

 An example which has scarcely been reported: tropical hardwood such
as teak is a global renewable resource being criminally squandered.
Environmental groups are acutely aware of the issue and acutely
powerless to do anything about it in some places, such as Burma
("Miyanmar," but who expects the name to last?).  Would a threat of
UN-sanctioned military intervention keep the vandal government of
Burma from selling off its hardwood forests and its people's future
livelihood?  The idea seems unthinkable now.  A few years from now it
may seem unthinkable not to take action.

 But seldom does environmental protection need to be that militar-
istic.  Is there any reason to believe the military would be good at
the mostly gentle role of environmental steward?

 A rare federal hero of environmentalists these days is, of all
things, the Army Corps of Engineers.  In the last fifteen years the
Army Corps has reversed its behavior from destroying wetlands,
channelizing rivers, and marching roughshod over local conservation
interests toward increasingly creating wetlands, restoring rivers, and
responding to local conservation calls for help.  All this from an
agency that started with no environmental mandate at all.

 By contrast, the recent record of federal agencies directly charged
with solving serious environmental problems is more mixed.  The
Environmental Protection Agency's toxic cleanup Superfund is bogged
down in escalating legal costs of a scale to threaten the national
economy.  The National Park Service is facing its own infrastructure
breakdown, having deferred maintenance on basic facilities so long
that repair work often consists of "painting the rot."  In the Forest
Service, programs for actively preserving public lands are constantly
being proposed by staffers and just as constantly shot down in
Washington for interfering with commercial interests (cattle, timber,
mining) in the National Forest system.

 How can that happen?  It has to do with expectations.  People expect
positive and immediate results from agencies like the National Parks,
Forest Service, and EPA--happy vacationers, income, cleaned-up toxic
sites.  No one has positive or immediate expectations of the military,
only negative, long-term ones--keep war from our land at home and our
interests abroad.  Environmental problems are best addressed in
similarly negative, long-range terms--keep the natural systems from
crashing.  Such slow, preventative programs are evidently better run
by career officers, as in the Army Corps, than by political appoin-
tees, as in the EPA, National Parks, and Forest Service.

 An element in the military's favor for an active environmental role
is its experience in making radical programs work by sheer decree.
Way back in 1948 President Harry Truman declared that the US military
shall integrate the races in its ranks, starting now.  The Pentagon
took a deep breath, saluted, and complied, the first and most powerful
of American institutions to integrate.  A man of Colin Powell's
abilities as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a natural result.
The same occurred with giving the sexes equal opportunity in the
military, a fact overlooked by the public until the Gulf War but long
lauded by studious feminists such as Betty Friedan.

 If there is an example of socialism that works in the world, it is
the US military, capable of carrying out large, slow missions, funded
by the seething market economy it protects.  I saw it work during two
years of  active duty as an Army officer in the early '60s.  You have
job security, lifetime benefits, and a relatively money-free personal
economy.  You go where you're told and do what you're told, and you
feel surprising personal freedom from the gibbering options and
threats of American civilian life.  You can relax and do your job, and
often the job you do makes you proud.

 Following the Gulf War the US military is bursting with pride and a
sense of competence to undertake any task.  It prefers humanitarian
tasks, such as defending Kurds or aiding Bangladesh typhoon victims.
But America has a habit of forgetting its military between wars and
giving it no assignments besides laying low and being ready.  So the
talent and the money get spent on training (with a side-benefit of
public education) and on weapons systems (with a fractional side-
benefit of technology transfer).

 Occasionally a rogue program such as the old ARPA--Advanced Research
Projects Agency--puts a few million dollars into a long-term-benefit
program such as basic research in computer science in the early '60s.
That single project gave America a ten-to-twenty year lead on the
world in computer technology and led directly to the personal computer
revolution and its associated economic boom (and also a lower-casualty
victory with smart weapons in the Gulf).  The perhaps lamentable fact
is that the best funder of basic science in Washington is the Pent-
agon.  Environmental science needs money--long-term, reliable, large
scale money.  Where could it be better spent to protect the world from
war over the long run?

 Military people are public servants, dedicated to the point of
risking and sometimes losing their lives--it is called "the service."
A frustration I remember of military life is not being called upon to
actually serve the public very often; you feel a keen regret for all
that ability going to waste in variations on the exercise of digging
holes and filling them in.  My platoon could have made short work of
restoring a salmon stream, assisting a controlled forest burn, helping
protect African wildlife from poachers, or planting native shrubs at
the edge of a growing desert.  I wonder if they might get the oppor-
tunity.