tv World War I the Environment CSPAN December 21, 2020 2:48pm-3:42pm EST
franklin roosevelt. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. tait keller, co-editor of world war i, talks about the diverse ecological impacts the first world war had across the globe. he explains how these went to european battlefields and included shifts in agricultural production. the national world war i museum memorial host this had event and provided the video. and now it is my pleasure to introduce dr. tait keller. dr. keller is an associate professor of history at rhodes college in memphis, tennessee, whose research focuses on relationship among individuals,
states and the environment, particularly in times of crisis and conflict. he has received fellowships, and the national endowment for the humanities to only name a few, and has given lectures in africa, india, turkey, across europe, and soon, kansas city. not a bad line up. he is author of "apostle of the alps" and recently finished "environmental histories of the first world war" and it will be available after our program. as a first for a museum in memorial speaker, he is a national certified instructor, so when you ask those questions, make sure they do have a question mark at the end of them.
now without further adieu, please help me in welcoming dr. tait keller. [ applause ] >> good evening, everyone. i'm so thrilled to be here and happy that you could i'm going to talk about my current research which is the global environmental history of the first world war and i'm else specially interested in energy geopolitics that link the battlelines with the home fronts with industry in ways that shaped the 20th century. so i'll talk a little bit today about the main battlefields which many of us are probably familiar with, and then i'm going to hop, skip and jump around the globe to point out other areas where we may not necessarily think of the war that had an incredibly profound environmental impact. now, few human endeavors have altered the natural world in a modern era as much as agriculture industry and warfare, and in 1914, these came
together in ways that were incredibly destructive. we might first think of battlefields when someone mentions an environmental history of the war, and of course, this, battlefields, and, of course, soldiers did change the environment on every battlefield front. military planners certainly took the environmental into account. here we see british soldiers dealing wit terrain and often talking about battling with the environment. on the western front you see british soldiers dealing with the belgium mud and also with that rainy climate. rats, if you read "all quiet on the western front" you know the battles with rats, lice, and disease. here is another group of british soldiers dealing with
the mess popotanan sun. that furnace like setting was a hot bed for disease. they called it the baghdad boils. i have no idea what they are, but it sounds awful. here again we see a group of english soldiers, and they're dealing in africa, mostly confronting disease, the jungle setting, also having to contend with wild animal attacks. lions and elephants. there was fighting in the alps. they had to deal with frostbite, hypothermia and not to mention, depression which is something probably most soldier hs to contend with. armies did alter ecosystems at every war front. i found in many ways, warfare
accelerated changes that had begun in the previous century. let me give you a few examples of that. the most pressing problem for soldiers in mesopotamia. it was water. what might surprise us troops complained not about the lack of water but an overabundance. the marshlands and dotted plains would melt during the spring snow melt. asia minor, swell rivers and burst banks and turn lower mesopotamia into a morass. and traditionally piled heaps of loose dirt along the banks but in a particularly bad flood those weren't very effective. so when soldiers arrived they further altered the land with trenches, protective dams, they
changed water flows and they redirected the course of rivers. the mobilization of armies on the alps intensified the heights massive expansion of roads, railways and electricity, like we see here. guerrilla warfare in africa likewise expanded infrastructure with roads and railways, but nowhere was the concentration of forces so great as on the western front where the stalemate ensewered ecological upheaval. there they are struggling across no-man's-land. scenes like this of utter devastation ruined landscapes that were pitted and cracked with craters and trenches. quickly became a metaphor for the great war's waste.
opposing forces on the western front fired over a billion shells at each other and now these relics formed soil that are in fact slowly making their way back to the surface. it's pretty typical for farmers to unearth these relics. many of which are still dangerous. still explosive. that they'll do, collect them, set by the side of the road and then people in the government would come by ak pick them up. i had a chance to meet with belgium and french deminers in the summer. it's incredible. they get this and first have to identify what sort of shell it is. is it chemical, gas, is it still
alive? we'll come back to that. don't look. okay. so -- these hidden harminants still haunt the land. farmers call it the harvest, occasionally coms caught in tractor plows explode claiming still more victims of the war. the shells so saturate the ground some regions authorities deg designated these lands as the red zone. too dangerous for human habitation even though today they look pretty benign. we see traces of this war when we scam aerial photographs in which crops grow. the different soils the united states would say recovered led to these it different growing patterns. you can can see. you can still trace out where old trenches were, or old shell holes were. a few images.
taken from the flanders' field museum. that's pretty incredible. destruction on the western front dominates scholarship on the war as we all probably know, and also shaped our view of the conflict's ecological impact, but if we extend our gaze beyond the front lines we find that while the battlegrounds certainly suffer from those storms of steel, major damage to nature there on those battlefields was relatively short lived. so if we look here, a picture of the mennen road, a very famous path that went from france into belgium. paul nash, one of the war artists, had memorialized that with this painting, but if we were to travel the lands today as i did this summer and took that picture, this is what we'd see. what i found is that greater environmental change occurred behind the lines, away from the
killing fields. contrary to popular memory, the lands that suffered the most stood pretty far from the fighting. armies in the first world war at social entities. we could call it ecological as energy. energy destruction and supply. to maintain welfare of soldiers keep engines of war in action, states commandeers natural resources throughout the biosphere expanding the war's environmental footprint. here i'll give examples of this. okay. so coal. coal a principle source of energy in 1914 and the great fear was there would be coal shortages. this was especially a concern in germany and france and in great britain. so to offset potential major shortages, governments rationed coal, or otherwise encouraged
citizens to conserve it. so this is a british pamphlet instructing citizens on the best amount of coal that they can burn. many places said, especially here in the united states, but also in great britain, don't burn coal. burn wood instead. so there's a massive expansion of tinder extraction going on. so the need for timber taxed forest reserves around the world. and as a result, deforestation accelerated, but it did so in an uneven fashion. great britain faced an acute timber crisis and cut down nearly half of its productive forests. around 450,000 acres. the opening of the panama canal in 1914 lowered the cost of imports from vancouver and soon british columbia as well as washington state became leading timber exporters.
here's an image from british columbia. we find that french and german timber stands actually fared pretty well. both of those countries had long institutionized forestry practices and most of the manpower that would have been chopping down the trees had been diverted to the army, and the germans simply took trees from other countries. so there we see as we think about these devastated landscapes and how similar it looks to a -- these war-torn regions. all kinds of propaganda as well. encouraging this sort of extraction. since man power had largely been diverted what was an arch-typal male profession. right? the lumberjack, now had a bit of a gender ditty switch. here this san image from the woman's land army in great britain where women were sent out with axes to chop down trees.
the u.s. established forest think corps as part of its 29th engineering corps, which did most of the high cutting in france. timber was crucial for the conflict. you needed it for everything from -- building -- holding up trenches. in the coal pits billions of top-grade boar feet were needed. this was accelerating this deforestation happening. jenning in when, returning from the western front in places like the southeastern united states, or in the northwest and saw these kind of clear-cut patches, it reminded them a great deal of the western front. there was then a discussion that took place after the war about the need for some sort of
forestry policy. so we find in 1919, in the united states, but also in great britain, there is a creation of forestry policy in order to create sustainable forestry practices in the name of national security. the progression of the war, however, accentuated the importance of petroleum and at that time it was the united states and mexico who supplied more than 80% of the world's petroleum. most of that coming out of california, but a fair amount is coming out along the veracruz coast in new mexico. that's the spot i'll focus on. to drill for crude there
over four years. with that british blockade and poor domestic harvested that followed german agriculture production plummeted. so there is this massive attempt to mobilize food. here we see this is a german placard, and what it says is "hold out"s a potato with a strange human face as i see it. what it says, though we are threatened by our enemies, though we are surrounded and threatened with hunger, we germans will hold out. we will mobilize the last potato. desperate to increase agricultural production, germans plowed up churchyards, they plowed up school grounds. they plowed up forest glades. they even plowed up soccer fields. which was telling. german soccer clubs went crazy about that. no, no. not the soccer field!
-- there were worker councils that complained that the parks and so-called luxury gardens in the more affluent neighborhoods weren't being used for cultivation. the response they got, those were too shady to use to grow anything. the german government attempted to arbitrate inequalities with ration cards and price controls. did it work? created a vibrant black market. regulations, though, did control every phase of agricultural production. but often it was bureaucratic clumsiness or short-sighted policies that resulted in food shortages. here's an example for you. state officials having determined that gluttonous pigs were competing with humans for grain. the government decreed the great pig massacre which claimed over
9 million victims. what this did was produce a momentary glut of pork. sausages every night. but did nothing to alleviate the grain shortage. more detrimental still was the death of all of those little pigs, and what it did to the delicate ecology that balanced the womconsumer and the world. departure from fields had dire consequences. regulations proved ineffective in the face of disaster. are in 1915 a locust plague of biblical proportions. exacerbated a famine in greater syria. here we see a picture of all of those dots you see are locusts. yeah. the voracious insects stripped vineyards, croplands and orchards. food markets were bare. we know how dire this situation was, because jerusalem lacked
enough olive oil to light the temples. here's a before and after picture for us. here's the nice olive tree. the next day after the locusts -- -- actually worked. a 15% reduction in domestic food consumption. the government would issue all kinds of pamphlets encouraging people in ways to save food. one of them was encouraging people to dry food in respect
would be pamphlets sent for free to homeowners. here's the best way to dry vegetables and several recipes for turning something delightful, like dried carrots, into something delicious. the brochures conceded that some flavor might be lost in the drying, but so much remained. the constant bombardment of literature suggests that most people were not being fooled by this. they weren't keen on dry dishes, but they did practice other forms of self-restraint. hoover called on patriot americans to participate in meat-less mondays. or wheatless wednesdays's they liked the literation and it works. all kinds of pamphlets like this. the way to save. u.s. preserves and back there,
wasted fruit, rotting fruit. not patriotic. a lot of this you'll see is directed towards housewives, towards producers. saving that food. or different ways on how to prepare your meals. fats are fuel for fighters. there was the creation, creation of a number of agencies during this war, too. all of them to regulate or somehow direct these resources, and one of them was the national war guarding commission. and it encouraged, like we saw in germany and we see these sorts of commissions in most belligerent countries. company lands. school grounds. by 1917, the commission reported the cultivation of nearly 3 million gardens.
and also war gardens. here we see school children during recess. put those kids to work. there we go. planting peas. it does matter whether you're in the city or a country, you, too, can find a way to grow food, just as the germans were plowing up soccer fields you know the war has come home when they start plowing up the little league fields. the propaganda for this is fantastic. you can't make this up. here we have pumpkins potatoes onions, beets, carrots charging over the top, the farmer has become a soldier, not a rifle, though, but a hoe. will you have a part in victory? every garden a munition plant. i point this out, because even
as the war massively expanded patterns of exploitation, it also set standards for conservation. but the incentives for for mass production were large. right? you had to feed these massive industrialized armies. to help do that in the united states, the government guaranteed wheat prices of over $2 a bushel for the duration of the war. that was really high. and what we find is that adequate rainfall, these soaring wheat prices, bountiful harvest created bonanza farms on the american and canadian prairies. optimistic farmers borrowed heavily usually by taking out second mortgages on their farm, to break sod on what were usually marginal lands in order to reap those profits. most of this done across the prairies, pretty well suited for gas-driven tractors and plows and combines. so this industrialized farming now taking hold.
wheat farming was so lucrative that financial profits far outweighed the environmental costs, but what we find after the war is that the environmental and economic consequences of that distorted agriculture production were severe. those fields that we saw devastated on the western front, which were predominantly farming lands, and we now know they recovered relatively quickly. it was within a few years after the armistice they approached pre-war years in europe. that meant european demand for american produce evaporated. on top of the drought that hits the region in the 1920s, what we find is that grain prices plummeted by over 50% between 1920 and 1921, which created pretty serious liquidity problems for those indebted farmers. it left hundreds of thousands destitute and we find foreclosure rates hit record
numbers. the like of which we haven't seen since. okay. i'll take you somewhere else now. the situation was even worse in africa. we find in africa that energy deficits and massive population displacement created famine conditions. most of the fighting in africa took place here in germany, east africa today, predominantly tans glooe and british east, africa, and a little down, mozambique. there was fighting elsewhere in namibia and cameroon but usually done by 1915. here it lasted the entire time, and it was mostly guerrilla fighting. now, since pack animals there in that region fell prey by the thousands, tsetse fly, the vector that transferred the parasite that causes sleeping sickness, it meant that european
forces relied on energy bodies as energy reserves. both sides carried out their campaigns on the backs of africans. millions of africans were mobilized for this. the british recruited over a million porters for their east african campaign and these people were drawn from populations all across sub sahara africa. pursuing the germans who acquired at least two or three african carriers for every british soldiers. and european officers often viewed their african recruits or c constrips as a tactical advanta advantage. what we find with a closer look there was pretty high death rate among african rue kruts decruis the war. much higher than british or german soldiers. food shortages is one explanation for this disparity. by 1917, most african labors received less than 1,000 calories a day.
food shortages plagued most of the african continue nent dent e war. thousands of guerrilla combat, soaring food prices compounded civilian struggles to obtain limited provisions and create add number of negative feedback loops. for example 9 the troops would seize cattle and doing this allowed for tsetse expansion. cattle grazing in pastureland pushed the flies back into the bush. lowered incidences of sleeping sickness but with the cattle down, bush expanded and had the opposite effect. the reduction of livestock we found also correlated to an increase in animal attacks on humans. cows were easy prey for old, lazy lionses and we find with raw draw those cows, the lions were looking for people instead. people then desert villages for safer places and, again,
allowing the bush to recover, and those tsetse fly numbers to swell. poor weather and blight, 1916 to 1917, ruined harvested and to make matters worse, there were laws restricting sale of firearms and munitions to africans which meant few around to prevent wild animals from ravaging rice plantations with impunity's that massive population displacement taking place in africa also meant ecological dislocation. here we find another image. this is along, this is further into belgium congo. again, african porters. i'm going to skip across the atlantic now and take us over to latin america. hardly anyone thinks about latin america during this war, but it plays a pretty pivotal role. south american neutrals often neglected scholarship. nourished and fueled european
armies throughout the duration of the war. like mexico, for example, that i talked about, or argentina, or chile. for them the war in nitrate. a monopoly over the nitrate of soda trade and nigtrogen for fertilizer and major constituent of explosives so thus served two of any belligerent countries most vital needs bep find with the war, however it accelerated the frauprocesses eventually ext chile's deposits and revealed the country of fiscal weaknesses and tense relation between labor and capital. chile's main trading partner before the war was germany. losing germany as a trade partner plummeted them into severe depression. the nitrate districts,
highlighted, little to do other than mine nitrate in the desert. unem ploip the nitrate workers sent down south to the agriculture lands. but they're arrival there exacerbated already dire conditions. only with economic recovery in 1915 and the continued reliance on chilean nitrates prevented total social mayhem. but sat the same time this is happening, sncientists in germany, chile's main former trading partner developed a process of nitrogen fixation from nitro feerick gases which doomed chile's nitrate industry. go to nitrate mining. across the way in t pampas.
the war has changes taking place on the fertile lands. early 20th century imports supplied more than 40% of meat consumption and 80% coming out of argentina. south america's relationship with great britain was often seen or viewed in a negative light. they were labeled as part of great britain's so-called informal empire. that is to say the south american economies were wholly dependent on european wins, but if we switch that a little bit and view arg teen fentina and a thing happening it's a different view. meat and wheat gave argentina a strategic add manning and even though it needed cheap imported coal for its industry economy, most getting from great britain it found it could get coal elsewhere. great britain relied on
argentina for meat and wheat during the war, argentina simply decided to get coal from the united states instead of great britain. so from an energy perspective, great britain was as dependent on argentina for food as argentina was reliant on great britain for coal. these transatlantic energy exchanges, because of the war, created these mutually dependent networks the war directed reinforced or at times balanced. okay. the last place i'll take you today is cuba. cuba was part of the war effort. it was a heavy importer of food stuff. even a really fertile island it grew cache crops instead. mostly sugar and tobacco. may stays of the cuban economy. and as part of the war effort, the cuban government sought to enlist support of the owners of those great sugar plantation. called sugar centrals.
who then could use some of their land to allow their tenant farmers to plant food crops. but the thing of it is, is that the falling european sugar beet production during the war raised shoaler prices, which drove plantation expansion, often at the expense of food crops. the cuban government is issuing all of these proclamations to people, try to eat beans and bananas instead. not so much wheat. but sugarcane plantations meant wealth. for many cubans, though, they also signified foreign control over sugar production. so like we see here. one of the big sugar centrals. this was hersheys. of the some 130 sugar plantations on the island, americans owned well over half of those. so impoverish eed pe eed peasan
resented attacking large sugar centrals. in response the united states deployed the marines, to calm the cuban countryside. it was on the face of it to say, oh, these cuban peasants, maybe it's german infiltrators and spies but really they were sent there to protect the plantations in what's now known as the sugar intervention. all of this thinking of looking at these different places what was happening in latin america, what was happening on the north american plains, there in africa, made me think while these close comparisons to what's happening, for example, on the western front. the question is, what exactly then is a war landscape? i'll introduce you to curt lavin. curt lavin was a german psychologist. he was also an artillery officer during the war. and while he was recuperating from combat, he wrote this pamphlet that was called "war
landscapes" and talked about the perception of battlefields and after talking with a number of soldiers and being a soldier himself he came to the conclusion there are war landscapes and there are peace landscapes and peace landscapes in our minds appeared round and boundless. extenting as far out as the eye can see. war landscapes on the other hand were directed, contained. they're bordered by violence and destruction. and from what we know today of shell shock, known at ptsd. probably makes sense. from an environmental perspective, though,t 1200
p pristine landscape. i should look what happened to environmental legacies of the conflict. i saw not much written. a little-- that let me to it. in aptñ fortuitous moments you as a researcher, i started the project and had no idea how i would do it and first did research in the archives which have still intact military records from the war. and i met this wonderful archivist as excited about the project as i was. so is i was describing it to him. that's great. so exciting and i said, i know! he said how are you going to do this? environment could be anything? where do you draw the line? sheep and leather for soldiers, wool for the uniforms? where do you draw the line and i said, i don't know. and then as we talked about it we decided, like to narrow it
down a little bit and that's when, you know, a little bit -- looking at agriculturing the industry as energy to keep people moves and fighting. i thought this is one way to approach it and that's how i came to it. yeah. >> all right. so with all of this -- obviously destruction but new stuff happening in areas torn up did it produce different crops and, like, things in that area that weren't normal for said area? >> hmm. what we find happening is there are some ecological changes that are taking place. like in the war-torn area. take the western front. soldiers are noting this. they're noting what had once been a beautiful pastureland or a beautiful forest is torn up being taken over by weeds. and talking about this, in a
book "storm of steel," which is really interesting that if you were a french agriculture economist, you saw what was happening there in a little bit of a godaccepted because it was destroying these old prop lines obliterating ownership records and finally when-of-in the mind of these french agriculture economists france can get out of its medieval farming and finally get into the modern hope. that was the hope. a push on the part of local towns, of course there was, on the part of state governments to return things as fast as they could to exactly how they were before the war. which is a whole other story about french agriculture but that's what we see happening there. what had been planted before the war, they're going to be damned that that's not going to be planted after the war. thanks.
>> i have a couple of questions. >> ooh, good. okay. >> related. the first is, you talked about the british blockade of germany and problems that that caused. >> yeah. >> on the flip side, of course, you had german warfare. submarine warfare going on in the atlantic and interesting you talked about all of these different resource sites. >> yeah. >> south america, africa, et cetera. curious if you researched kind of -- articulated kind of a perception of what that cost was for the merchant, from the merchant marine -- >> ooh, yeah. >> the destruction and what losses came of some of those resources? you know, say food. some food's gone down to the ocean floor. >> yeah, yeah, yeah. >> one question. >> yep. >> and then the other question is, you mentioned that in parts of the western front, to even today they're called red zones. >> yeah. >> where they're--
cultivated or used for a productive purpose. the scale or where those areas might be? >> take the red zones first. ah -- they are all located with what had been, you my think about ten miles or so within that, that strip of what was once the former western front. thhas been a great deal of work to clear those lands. so they're not -- i won't call them extensive but they're noticeable. the thing about them, what's the kind of irony here is, you think what make as great nature reserve? well, you kind of fence off the preserve, you have aboutation, weapons that once wrecked the land are now protecting it from human intervention. so these nature reserves now, these little spots in what are otherwise really highly developed places of massive farming and agricultural inbut. that'sm&o
about red zones. i want to call them extensive and they're still there and will be in our lifetimes for sure. with the merchant marine, that's really great. plans to say, well if we don't get enough wheat turn to the oceans maybe and increase fishing stock. most merchant marine ship hs been conscripted by various navys. so merchant marine if you were a merchant marine during the war it wasn't all that profitable for you. in fact, you were usually operating as a loss, which did allow some fish stocks to actually recover during the war, but what we find is when the navies had taken those ships they then totally retrofitted them, improved them. with the merchant marines got back end of the year were much better, like, high-powered ships in order to do their fishing. so prices skyrocketed afterwards, we find. a really interesting point as well. thank you. >> our next question is from the audience.
>> you mentioned it just briefly. >> oh. there we are. yeah. i see you. okay. >> what about the time of real estate? i suppose no taxes were paid on that during the war and then when the war was over got all of this land that you can't do anything with. how did that restore the title to that? and was there a government program to help restore the lands? >> there was. there were a couple government programs to help do that. in part it was clearing old ard nan ordnance in part helping farmer recover property, purchase product, and part was a host of researchers, both on the local level to investigate old property claims. some of it went by word of mouth and a matter of honor these were the property lines we've had since time and memorial sort of thing.
it became a really touchy subject and we find a number of lawsuits after the war about who's land is whose and where exactly the lines are. economists in the mix, we should just get read of these property lines and get rid of these family farms anyways. we find that happening with real estate. a little touch and go, but a lot of it is taking place on the local level with deliberate efforts being supported by federal-state. >> take our next question from the right. >> in terms of energy proprorgs knitly have you seen similarities between world war i is and world war ii? >> oh, okay. yeah. so world war ii is a whole different level of magnitude and in fact the reason why i'm not doing it. i gave a talk -- oh, yeah.
forget it. so i gave a talk once. it was british war college, talking about this stuff they're like, you could spend, your next book could be on world war ii. do a whole series. i was like, no, no, no. massive, massive orders of magnitude greater. the first world war was, it was, to some of these states, it's the first time that they're kind of really inserting themselves into the marketplace to do control prices, to create these hybrid organizations that are part government, part private, and really they fumbled and bumbled and stumbled they're way through it. in order to try to get it to work. so the first world war was this learning curve for a lot of them, but what it did is, it provided them that information and knowledge from when the second world war came around, that level of ability to extract and exploit was done with such greater precision and effort. that it's -- it's a whole
different ball game. >> yep? >> first world war was in some ways, it was that -- that first performance where you get all of your jitters out and then the second world war, they kind of figured it out. >> our last question. >> thinking about the aerial photos where you can see the outlines of the tremplgs. >> trenches. they appeared nor green than the rest of the area. assuming possibly the nitrates from explosives. what else would cause her to areas to be more green? >> yes. very little degree from nitrate explosives. you're right on that. what it's also doing, those explosives in particular, the difference between first world war and second world war. first world war explosives were generally designed to explode on impact. second world war usually exploded over. explode on impact most energy goes down into the earth. explode before it's -- spreading out and actually taking out the
troops you wanted to take out. so these explosives in the first world war are penetrating bedrock, getting down into levels of stratum. that hadn't otherwise been touched so it's up yetting said were rock and also changing water levels. we find even though the soil is somewhat reconstituted, it has changed the bedrock levels and water levels such that the plants growing in those areas are just able to get to that water source easier. than plants that aren't otherwise. even though they're kind of right next to each other. it makes enough of a difference we can visually see it, is largely what it is. >> thank you. >> thank you, everyone for your questions and joining us here this morning. on bam of the national world war i museum memorial we hope you come back soon and another thank you to dr. tait keller. thank you all very much. thank you very much. you're watching american
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