The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

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Social Justice

Environmental Justice

War and the Tragedy of the Commons

In this seven-part Truthout series of articles on each environmental impact of US militarism, Traprock Board Chair, scientist and author Patricia Hynes provides an overview of modern, military pollution and the use of natural resources with a central focus on the US military superpower, a power without precedent or competitor. From Superfund and former nuclear weapons sites in the US to Vieques, Agent Orange, depleted uranium – particularly in Iraq – biowarfare research and the use of fossil fuels in routine military training and wars, Hynes examines the war machine as the true tragedy of the commons.  In this radio interview Pat talks about the series.

Militarism and the Environment

  • War and Warming: Can We Save the Planet without Taking on the Pentagon
  • The Legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam
  • Hynes/My Turn: Agent Orange’s deadly legacy

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    Vietnam veterans fought an uphill battle to win “presumed exposure” to Agent Orange and not until 1991 did they gain disability, medical and survivor benefits that the Veterans Administration had denied them for 20 years.

    Recently, another set of veterans — the Air Force pilots and crew who flew Agent Orange-contaminated cargo planes on domestic missions after the war — have been systematically denied disability claims by the same agency.

    Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts is one of three bases where the C-123 planes were flown from 1972-1982. Prominent health scientists within government and universities support the plausibility of their claims; the Air Force does not, although it ultimately cordoned off and disposed of the planes as hazardous waste.

    Agent Orange, an herbicide mixture contaminated with a potent dioxin compound, is arguably the most hazardous and long-lasting of weapons used in the Vietnam War. Its history is riddled with government deceit, a tale worth re-telling on behalf of the latest and yet-to-be-compensated victims of Agent Orange.

    The U.S. government adamantly denied that it employed chemical or biological warfare in spraying Agent Orange and other herbicidal defoliants on Vietnamese forests, mangroves, food crops and populated villages. U.S. court rulings in class action suits brought separately by American and Vietnamese Agent Orange victims have upheld the government position. Yet, when the war began, the U.S. military’s definition of biological warfare included crop destruction by chemical plant growth regulators (such as Agent Orange) for the purpose of killing or injuring humans, animals or plants.

    Agent Orange was flown to U.S. Air Force bases in Vietnam in 55-gallon drums, where they were stored for filling aerial spray containers for C-123 cargo planes and helicopters and for backpack applicators used to kill vegetation on the base perimeters. The orange-banded drums carried no safety precautions. Nor were health advisories given to military personnel who handled Agent Orange, as was required by federal law. When the Army’s environmental agency recommended that safety information be provided to GIs and Air Force pilots handling the herbicides — that is, what to do if they accidentally inhaled or swallowed it or spilled it on their skin — it was rejected by the military command.

    Uninformed about hazards, GIs routinely cleaned empty drums by rinsing them and disposing the rinsate water, contaminated with Agent Orange residue, on base. GIs used empty barrels to store gasoline, for shower stalls and barbecues, and as cisterns for collecting water and food storage bins.

    Two years after the Agent Orange program was launched in 1961, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) contracted with Bionetics Research Laboratories to screen 130 pesticides and industrial chemicals, among them the two herbicides combined in Agent Orange, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (D and T), for their potential to cause cancer, mutations and birth defects. By late 1966, Bionetics presented their preliminary findings to NCI, among them that T caused extreme rates of birth defects in lab animals, higher than any other compound tested. Their studies also showed that D, while less potent than T, caused birth defects. The government erected a firewall around these findings.

    The finalized study was suppressed until 1969. Agent Orange manufacturers, most notably Dow Chemical, successfully pressured the Food and Drug Administration not to disclose the research results. In turn, the federal government successfully pressured Bionetics to withdraw a planned presentation on the study findings from a Society of Toxicology meeting in March 1969.

    Dr. James R. Clary, a former senior scientist at the U.S. Air Force Chemical Weapons Branch who had designed the tanks for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam, wrote in response to a 1988 congressional investigation into Agent Orange:

    “When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the military formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the civilian version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”

    Clary’s conscience-stricken admission was anomalous, given the selective amnesia among other government scientists who testified that they had no memory and no records of human toxicity from Agent Orange.

    The American war in Vietnam, riddled with deceit, lives on in the bodies of Vietnam veterans and their children; in the estimated 3 million uncompensated Vietnamese poisoned by Agent Orange, including third generation victims; and in the veterans who flew aboard post-war contaminated C-123 planes without any forewarnings from the Air Force.

    Pat Hynes directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts. She recently conducted an investigation of third generation Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. http://traprock.org/agent-orange/

  • The “Invisible Casualty of War”: The Environmental Destruction of U.S. Militarism

Women in the Battlefield and Barracks

A Six-Part Series on Two War Fronts for Women Soldiers
H Patricia Hynes originally published Truthout

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

The first decade of the 21st century was a record one for women serving in the US military: Women constituted 14 percent of all active duty military (over 200,000), with one in ten serving in the Middle East and 17 percent in the National Guard. Women soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, though barred from ground combat, have worked in as dangerous situations as men. These same women have found themselves, concurrently, the target of sexual assault by “brothers in arms” at nearly twice the rate of US society. Military sexual trauma is so severe that it is more likely to cause post-traumatic stress disorder in women than combat trauma and civilian sexual trauma – because of military culture.

In this series, “The Battlefield and the Barracks: Two War Fronts for Women Soldiers,” we will probe the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment of women in the military. What is it about military culture that results in such extreme sexual crime? Why is sexual assault so traumatizing for women soldiers? What are the responses of the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to the epidemic of sexual crime in their midst, with its multiple health consequences? And what are the radical changes necessary to reform a recalcitrant military?

Women in the Battlefield and the Barracks: A Six-Part Series on Two War Fronts for Women Soldiers

Listening to Soldiers and Vets

In this series published by Truthout, author Patricia Hynes features the voices of soldiers and veterans from armed conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries, voices whose moral fiber and clarity were forged in the crucible of war. Many are heroic in their opposition to the wars in which they fought and in their personal war reparations.

Nuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons And Energy Policy

Energy Policy

        • Hynes/My Turn: The choice is ours
          Hynes/My Turn: The choice is ours
          By H. Patricia Hynes
          Monday, November 10, 2014
          (Published in print: Tuesday, November 11, 2014)A revolution in energy is underway in Massachusetts, with western Massachusetts at the heart of it.Recently, a community gathering celebrated nearly 40 years of local (and global) opposition to nuclear power, from the toppling of the Northeast Utility monitoring tower on the Montague Plains in 1974 to the closure of Entergy’s Vermont Yankee on Dec. 31, 2014.No sooner had Entergy announced closing Vermont Yankee than Kinder Morgan began peddling a gas pipeline through rural western Massachusetts. The proposed fracked gas pipeline, which will defile multi-generation farms, conservation land, citizens’ homes and backyards west to east in Massachusetts, raises the question of whether we need this additional energy source.If so, let’s upgrade energy efficiency in existing buildings, repair existing gas line leaks and augment the pace of new renewable energy to meet the need, rather than committing long-term to a natural gas pipeline.In the foreground of energy politics are two oppositional directions. The first takes the “something of everything approach” — some fossil fuels, some nuclear, some renewable energy, some energy efficiency. The other, the “road less traveled,” forges forward with renewable energy technologies of sun, wind and water, built on the bedrock of energy efficiency. This is the crossroads where we stand as a world, a country, a state and a region.Massachusetts has repeatedly surpassed its own renewable energy targets as installation of photovoltaic (PV) panels by homeowners, businesses and municipalities has outpaced all expectations. Today we rank sixth in the nation in total installed solar capacity, with potential for 15 times more, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.Unlike fracked gas and other fossil fuels, solar energy does not emit global warming pollution and other air pollutants that contribute to asthma and heart disease. Nor does it leave oil-soaked marine ecosystems, contaminated groundwater, mountaintops beheaded for coal or toxic waste ash from fossil fuel incinerators.Fracked gas is less regulated than nuclear, coal and oil; thus, fracking companies pollute with impunity. To reach remote pockets of gas (and oil), fracking companies pour trade-secret chemicals with water and sand into rock fractures, from which these chemicals and, sometimes, the unlocked gas, have migrated to drinking water wells. Immense amounts of water used in the process become contaminated, some with naturally occurring radioactivity, and threaten ground water. When recovered by the company, the polluted water can overwhelm local wastewater treatment plants. Methane, a primary component of natural gas and a potent global warming gas, leaks to the atmosphere during fracking operations and pipeline transmission, and when natural gas is incompletely burned.Recently the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said: “Solar is growing so fast it is going to take over everything.” Whether or not he welcomes the revolution, it is crystal clear that the CONG industries — coal, oil, nuclear and gas — don’t. They are lobbying Washington to have nuclear and gas declared “clean” technologies; and they continue, with the Koch Brother barons, to draft state level regulation to roll back renewable energy standards and punish owners of solar systems with extra charges.There is a lot of griping among the old energy industries about state and federal subsidies for renewable energy. Yet these octogenarians still enjoy subsidies from the federal government, subsidies that exceed those for renewables. Let’s call it for what it is — welfare for the industries responsible for rising temperatures, forest fires, mega-storms, sea level rise, droughts, the decline of wildlife and a Pandora’s box of other ills.But time and trends are on the side of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has immense potential — with estimates from 20 to 40 percent — in energy use reduction. The energy consultant and 2012 Solarize Montague coach Sally Pick has cut her 1850s’ home heating fuel use by roughly 50 percent with extensive insulating and sealing of air leaks and has brought her electric bill to zero with a modest solar PV array. The costs of solar PV are dropping so rapidly that they are quickly becoming more cost-effective than any other source of non-renewable electricity throughout the country.Land-based wind is already there with an energy payback of one to two years, according to Dr. James Manwell, director of the UMass Wind Energy Center. Further, he states that 50 percent of energy supply from wind is “doable”; and 100 percent, from solar and wind.Renewable energy and efficiency are labor-dense: they create more jobs per dollar invested and per unit of energy generated than fossil fuels and nuclear. Moreover, the needed technology breakthroughs are emerging, among them greater efficiency in converting sun and wind to electricity and energy storage for when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing.We have come to a crossroads; the choice is ours as a country, a state and a region. In the words of poet Robert Frost, let us take “the road less traveled by”; it will make “all the difference.”Pat Hynes is a retired environmental engineer and professor of environmental health. She directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and lives in Montague.

Mina Hamilton: energy research on franking and more

Health Effects of War on Women

According to recent studies on life expectancy among unarmed civilians caught in armed conflict, women are the primary adult victims of war. A unique harm of war for women is the trauma inflicted in military brothels, rape camps, the growing sex trafficking for prostitution, and increased domestic violence. Widows of war, women victims of landmines, and women refugees of war are particularly vulnerable to poverty, prostitution, and higher illness and death in the post-conflict period.

More information

Action and Policy Organizations

        • Africa: Akina Mama wa Afrika, Kampala, Uganda

          See the interview with the Regional Programme Director on violence against women in armed conflict.

        • CODEPINK

          CODEPINK is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities.

        • Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)

          The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) is a non-governmental organization that promotes women’s human rights. It works internationally to combat sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially prostitution and trafficking in women and children, in particular girls.

        • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

WILPF is the oldest women’s peace organization in the world, founded in 1915 to protest the killing fields of World War I. During its lifetime WILPF has organized dialogue among women in conflict areas and worked closely with the UN to enact change for peace and security.