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III. The Military and the Land The Mother Earth provides us with food, provides us with air, provides us with water.We, the people, are going to have to put our thoughts together, to save our planet here.We’ve only got one water, one air, one Mother Earth. Let’s take care of her and she will take care of us – Corbin Harney,Western Shoshone spiritual leader and peace activist. The US military is the largest polluter in the world. If one begins to consider the whole of the impact of the US military on the planet, historically and in the present, it is, in fact, damning. From the more than a thousand nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific and the Nevada desert that started in the 1940s, obliterating atolls and spreading radioactive contamination throughout the ocean and across large areas in the American West, to the Vietnam War-era use of napalm and Agent Orange to defoliate and poison vast swaths of Vietnam, to the widespread use of depleted uranium and chemical weaponry since that time, the role of the US military in contaminating the planet cannot be overstated. Winona LaDuke 32 F-100D dropping a napalm bomb in South Vietnam. Photograph courtesy of the National Museum of the US Air Force. WHAT FALLS UPON MOTHER EARTH, FALLS UPON HER CHILDREN The United States military nearly drowned much of Southeast Asia with poisons sprayed from the air during its war with Vietnam. Under a program called Operation Ranch Hand, the US military sprayed some 20 million gallons of chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, much of that contaminated with dioxin, a known human carcinogen. The chemicals were sprayed indiscriminately , whether people were in the vicinity or not, over crops and food supplies, even over US troops in the field. Agent Orange is the most commonly used and widely remembered of the several deadly toxic compounds that the military used during the course of the war. Others were code-named Agent Pink, Agent Blue, Agent White, Agent Green, and Agent Purple. About 10 percent of the trees sprayed died from a single spray run. Multiple spraying resulted in increased mortality for the trees and undergrowth, as did following the herbicide missions with napalm or bombing strikes.59 During the ten years of spraying, over 5 million acres (20,000 km2 ) of forest and 500,000 acres (2,000 km2 ) of crops were heavily damaged or destroyed. Around 20 percent of the forests of South Vietnam were sprayed at least once.60 While the US military thought perhaps that the chemical weaponry would be a good strategy for waging war against the Vietnamese, the poisons remain in Vietnam to this day, affecting countless thousands of Vietnamese civilians. The legacy of these poisons also came home to America with the soldiers. The Militarization of Indian Country 33 REMEMBERING OGICHIDAA BILLY WALKABOUT “War is not hell,” Walkabout said. “It’s worse.” Billy Walkabout (1949–2007) was one of the most-decorated soldiers of the Vietnam War era, having received the Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, ten Bronze Stars and six Purple Hearts. A Cherokee of the Blue Holley Clan, he was an 18-year-old Army Ranger sergeant when he and 12 other soldiers were sent on a mission behind enemy lines where they came under fire for hours, during which he was seriously wounded. Several of the squad were killed at the scene, while the rest later died of their injuries. His Distinguished Service Cross commendation stated that Billy Walkabout simultaneously returned fire, helped his comrades and boarded other injured soldiers onto evacuation helicopters. “Although stunned and wounded by the blast, Sgt. Walkabout rushed from man to man administering first aid, bandaging one soldier’s severe chest wound and reviving another soldier by heart massage. Only when the casualties had been evacuated and friendly reinforcements had arrived, did he allow himself to be evacuated.”61 He retired as a second lieutenant. In a 1986 interview with the Associated Press, Walkabout said his 23 months in Vietnam left him with disabling injuries and memories that refused to fade. From Billy Walkabout’s journal, soul-words in his own voice: I shipped out to Vietnam. I wanted to serve my nation and protect my people. I found myself in the jungles of Vietnam, ten thousand miles from home. Under monsoon rains, under a Photo courtesy of the family of Billy Walkabout Winona LaDuke 34 painted sky...


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