ASEH and our annual breakfast is almost upon us! We wanted to highlight a few panels and events out of the full list of amazing programming set for the conference this year that look particularly interesting to those interested in Environment and Military.
Thursday, April 11
7:15 Environment & Military breakfast
10:30 Environmental Histories of the Cold War in Latin America
This panel introduces new research that reexamines the Latin American Cold War through environmental history. What do we gain by re-thinking a well-worn topic such as the Cold War in Latin America through environmental history? What might be lost as narratives are re-arranged in this process? This panel presents three papers that use environmental history to interrogate three well-known subjects: international development discourse, Amazonian nature, and violence in Colombia.
This panel focuses on three countries at the forefront of international development concerns and imaginaries in the early Cold War: Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. Eve Buckley introduces Brazilian nutritionist Josué de Castro and his strong critiques of overpopulation alarmists that sought to steer international development agencies’ approach to the so-called “Third World.” As a Brazilian intellectual with an international audience, de Castro became a critical figure of resistance to a prevailing Cold War discourse and, later, to the Brazilian military dictatorship. Adrián Lerner Patrón then offers an experimental paper that explores his notion of “Cold War Amazonia.” As Lerner describes, the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon became a widely-recognized symbol of sometimes competing imaginaries, including boundless wild nature, development possibilities, and the specter of guerrilla insurgency. The panel’s focus on the New World Tropics then migrates to Colombia, where Timothy Lorek examines the Colombian state’s regulation of natural resources in the tropical dry broadleaf forests of the Cauca Valley as a major impetus to that country’s long-running twentieth-century conflict. International observers of Colombia’s rural violence and political instability made the country a showcase for early Cold War developmentalist ambitions, including programs designed to alleviate hunger or reduce population growth. In short, Colombia’s conflict made it a critical space for putting into action the very discourses criticized in Buckley’s paper.
Friday, April 12
8:30 Military Natures: History, Ecology, and the Cultural Meaning of Former Military Sites
The panel brings together three papers on the afterlife of former military sites in different world regions: the Ho Chi Minh Trail(s), the German Iron Curtain, and the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production site, each of which has become subject to conservation efforts after the military use. Conservation at former military sites gains curiosity value from the paradox that military activities, commonly coded as “destructive,” co-exist with wildlife and even protect sensitive ecosystems by way of preventing civilian use and development. Debates on such military landscapes appear somewhat deadlocked between interpretations that military activity may be compatible with, even beneficial for landscape vs. positions that dismiss this kind of military environmentalism as “greenwashing” the destruction that military land use inevitably causes. This panel explores the complex, at times contradictory material environmental histories of these three sites and pays attention to the narratives that accompany conservation efforts there. The nexus between narration, conservation, and the management of nature reserves has occupied environmental scholars for a good while. The papers seek to place the history and memory of military land use in the same frame with natural histories and discuss how natural processes may well overwrite prior human influences, yet remain deeply shaped by them.
Papers by Astrid Eckert, Pamela McElwee, and David Havlick; Chair: Thomas Lekan
10:30 Military Natures: History, Ecology, and the Cultural Meaning of Former Military Sites
Since the early 2000s, authoritarianism has risen as an increasingly powerful global
phenomenon. This shift has not only social and political implications, but environmental:
authoritarian leaders seek to recast the relationship between society and the government in
every aspect of public life, including environmental policy. When historians of technology or the
environment have investigated the environmental consequences of authoritarian regimes, they
have frequently argued that authoritarian regimes have been unable to produce positive
environmental results or adjust successfully to global structural change, if they have shown any
concern for the environment at all. Put another way, the scholarly consensus holds that
authoritarian regimes on both the left and the right generally have demonstrated an anti-
environmentalist bias, and when opposed by environmentalist social movements, have
succeeded in silencing those voices.
This roundtable gathers selected authors of the edited volume “Environmentalism under
Authoritarian Regimes” published by Routledge to investigate the scholarly debate about the
social and political preconditions necessary for effective environmental protection by analyzing
those environmentalist initiatives (interpreted broadly) that authoritarian regimes pursued, and
by providing explanations for both the successes and failures that such regimes encountered.
Scholars present in this roundtable argue that in instances when environmentalist policies offer
the possibility of bolstering a country’s domestic (nationalist) appeal or its international prestige,
authoritarian regimes can endorse and have endorsed environmental protective measures.
Presentations by Viktor Pal, Stephen Brain, Christopher Reed, Tony Andersson, Leonardo Valenzuela Pérez; Chair: Richard Tucker
10:30 War in Peace: Military Environmental Change in Times of Peace
This panel investigates how states and militaries transform environments and land-use practices during times of peace, or shortly after the conclusion of conflicts. Our panel begins with Erin Mauldin’s paper, which examines how the United States Union Army, the Freedman’s Bureau, and the recently-formed U.S. Department of Agriculture transformed Southern land-use practices immediately after the Civil War. Our second panelist is Curt Foxley. His paper examines how the U.S. military and its contractors transformed Los Angeles during the Cold War, or what the historian John Lewis Gaddis calls “the long peace.” Foxley shows how Los Angeles’s booming aerospace, missile, and nuclear industries reconfigured the economic, cultural, and environmental landscape of Southern California. Our panel concludes with a paper by Lisa Brady on South Korea. Part of her longtime project, this paper will examine how the United States Agency for International Development reshaped South Korea’s landscape in the decades immediately following the Korean War.
Two additional scholars have agreed to join our panel as a commentator and as a chair, respectively. The Civil War and Reconstruction historian Jim Downs will provide commentary. The Cold War and environmental historian David Kinkela will chair the panel and provide a few remarks, as well.
We hope that our emphasis on peace-time military-induced environmental change will raise new questions for the growing enviro-military history field. We also believe that our panel speaks to the overarching theme of the conference, “Using Environmental History: Rewards and Risks.” Our panel prompts historians to rethink how militaries, incredibly large and powerful bureaucracies at their core, often reconfigure environments, economies, and cultures in contexts of peace. Our panel will help shine a light on this issue and help us reconsider what powers militaries have outside of the context of war.
Saturday, April 13
10:30 Militarized Landscapes in the United States, Germany and Britain between the World Wars
As the connections between the military and the environment are becoming clearer, this roundtable seeks to bridge the military-environmental history of the two world wars with a broad discussion of three themes in the environmental history of the interwar years: the environmental impacts of demobilization, the strategic planning of resources, and the environmental impacts of remobilization and war planning. Using environmental history to study militarized landscapes/environments this critical period will help to further the historiography of the interwar years that has been dominated by politics and economics.
Jim Harris will moderate the discussion and will speak on how military camps were prone to infectious diseases and how overcoming diseases shaped the early process of British demobilization after World War I. Gerard Fitzgerald will also speak on the environmental impacts of demobilization in an examination of the U.S. eastern seaboard, where military infrastructure became a major part of the peacetime landscape after World War I. Marc Landry will reflect how the fallout from the First World War was the driving force behind the transformation of southern German waterways, as border changes, demobilization, and strategic resource planning all combined to encourage hydroelectric development. Katherine Macica will explain how war industries in the 1930s perceived the potential of natural resources in Washington and Oregon and began planning how to put these resources to work during the “next war.” Jean Mansavage will provide insights on how Depression-era land-conservation efforts at military installations in the U.S. would ultimately play a critical role in military preparedness for World War II. Both of these presentations will highlight the strategic planning of resources and landscapes. Finally, Gary Willis will comment on the militarization of rural landscapes in Britain on the eve of the Second World War as landscapes and environments became an important part of war planning.