The economic costs of war can be quantified but statistics can never convey the human and environmental costs of war. To lose a loved one, or one’s whole family; to be driven from one’s home and return, if at all, to find it in ruins; to be a victim of rape; to be mutilated in body or mind – these are griefs that numbers can never convey. Many people who are alive today are still suffering from the losses and wounds of wars long past. The fear and scars of that war burn into the human psyche and can linger for generations. Perhaps the greatest evil of war is that it exposes the very worst of human nature: hatred, cruelty, savagery, bigotry, the lust to kill. Thus war degrades us all.
The environment has been a victim of war at least since the beginnings of recorded history. Five thousand years ago, warring Mesopotamian city-states breached dikes to flood the fields of their enemies. However widespread concern about the environmental effects of warfare began with the American war in Vietnam, during which the U.S. military sprayed 79 million litres of herbicides and defoliants over about one-seventh of the land area of southern Vietnam.