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Confronting the Tertiary Cold War: Military Activity and Environmental Contamination in Canada and the Marshall Islands

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

Session Submission Type: Panel


This panel explores a new perspective on the Cold War by focusing on the environmental contamination caused by Canadian and American military activities. These modern militaries could not function without immense investments by the state in industry, science, and geography. During the Cold War, these investments generated profound environmental changes with lasting consequences for the nearby populations and communities.

The three proposed case-studies will examine these important environmental legacies. Despite spanning decades, regions, and societies the three papers weave together important insights and perspectives on the ecological consequences of war. Collectively they demonstrate how military science, technology, and logistical expediency polluted remote landscapes through the testing of weapons and the disposal of conventional and chemical munitions. Moreover, in striving to enhance combat effectiveness and strategic capabilities, the militaries altered ecologies and landscapes with chemicals, insecticides, and radiation. Conventional, chemical, and nuclear weapons left scars wherever they were disposed of, deployed, or tested during the Cold War.

Alex Souchen examines the environmental history of disarmament and the ocean dumping of conventional and chemical munitions following the Second World War. He explains how and why dumping took place and highlights some lingering dangers related to offshore economic development and public health in Canadian coastal waters. Matthew Wiseman follows the untold history of mosquito warfare in Northern Canada and the military’s efforts to create a bug-free environment for training and operational purposes. His work shows the ecological and human consequences of entomological testing and insecticide usage near Fort Churchill in Manitoba. Martha Smith-Norris examines the legacies of American nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. Although the Marshallese used a variety of tactics to gain concessions from the US government, she argues that Washington failed to provide adequate compensation to the islanders for the extensive health and environmental damages caused by the testing program.

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