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The Pollution of Peace: Underwater Munitions and the Environmental Legacy of Disarmament

Thu, March 15, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, MR 10


During World War II the Allies produced an astonishing amount of weapons and ammunition. By the end of 1945, American, British, and Canadian factories had produced, respectively, a whopping 41 billion, 11 billion, and 5 billion rounds of ammunition and shells. When the war ended, not all of this ordnance was expended, needed for postwar operations, or sold off to other Allied nations; while the bulk of captured German and Japanese munitions added considerably to the surpluses accumulating in ordnance depots across the world. Victory precipitated a serious disposal problem and logistical conundrum for the Allies: what would happen to the stockpiles of leftover munitions? How and where would disposal take place?

Drawing extensively from my ongoing research into the history of munitions disposal after the Second World War, my presentation will explore the subjects of disarmament, ammunition destruction, and the ocean dumping of conventional and chemical weapons from 1944 to 1948. The presentation will use the Canadian Navy’s ocean dumping program as a case study to demonstrate how the Allies dealt with unneeded munitions after the war. In doing so, it will discuss why policymakers chose to use the oceans for disarmament purposes, how the act of ocean dumping transpired in a practice, and highlight some of the toxic environmental legacies of ammunition destruction.