Why Wartime and Peacetime Are One in the Same


Penelope Howes

When discussing wartime practices and the institutionalized and/or direct violence against the people living in militarized lands, we often contrast this with peacetime – as if, the violence and damaging effects do not live on past the “event” of war. This is what Chris J. Cuomo argues in his, War Is Not Just an Event: Reflections on the Significance of Everyday Violence. Cuomo emphasizes the importance of an “omnipresence of militarism” (31) by examining the long-term physical, psychological, emotional, and ecological effects that militarism has on the environment and its people; particularly women.

Cuomo argues that feminists should adopt the issues of “everyday effects of militarism on women, on people living in occupied territories, on members of military institutions, and on the environment” (31). This is where ecofeminism plays a very important role in the deconstruction of military violence against women. The on-going institutionalized violence that women in these occupied terror-tories endure on a daily basis, limits their ability to properly function in their society and provide for their families. Because women are largely responsible for cultivating the land and providing food for their family – and sometimes the larger community – the destruction of their surrounding environment can lead to the ultimate genocide of their people.

This on-going destruction of an ecology system provides proof against a long-standing theory of war, called “just-war theory”… “developed by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Hugo Grotius” (Cuomo 33) in which the assumption is that, “wars are isolated from everyday life and ethics” (Cuomo 33). Cuomo critiques this theory for its lack of acknowledgement of the continuous omnipresence of militarism. Cuomo argues that “Just-war theory assumes that war is a separate sphere of human activity having its own ethical constraints and criteria” (33). With the help of feminist perspectives, Cuomo believes that we will be able to break-down the “just-war theory” and provide much needed attention to the women who are suffering even in times of “peace”. Feminist theory values the experiences of the individual as an epistemological advantage in examining and understanding the greater scope of gendered violence. So, by adopting these values when analyzing various forms of violence through militarism, we will be able to create a more complete picture.

Cuomo goes on to explain the over-arching commonalities that bring together women and the environment by acknowledging that, “cultural constructions associate women with nature and help justify the mistreatment of both” (38). The author emphasizes the importance of dividing our attention when looking at “military ecological destruction” into both wartime and peacetime. The problem with only focusing on wartime destruction is that it takes away the ecological and social violence that takes place long after the “event” of war. To illustrate just how much militarism negatively impacts the environment, here are some facts compiled by Cuomo:

• “The military is the largest generator of hazardous waste in the United States, creating nearly a ton of toxic pollution every minute…” (41).

• “…nine percent of all the iron and steel used by humans is consumed by the global military” (41).

• “Virtually all of the world’s thirty-five nuclear bomb test sites, as well as most radioactive dumps and uranium mines, occupy Native lands” (41).

The disconnection that arises when evaluating militarism through strictly environmental effects creates an invisibility of the people who are dealing with this destruction daily. Cuomo offers that, “Military practices…are often a result of cost-benefit analyses that pretend to weigh all likely outcomes yet do not consider nonhuman entities except in terms of their use value for humans” (42).

What the author concludes in this article is that, “…war is a presence, a constant undertone, white noise in the background of social existence…” (Cuomo 42) and in order to understand this complex system, we must expand our analysis to focusing on the human injustice that is ultimately present in occupied territories. The author suggests that we should continue to keep militarism and “state-sponsored violence” separate in our attempts of deconstructing and understanding each of their complexities. It will only be in practicing this separation that we will be able to construct a more complete analysis of deeply-rooted violence that women endure over long periods of time due to militarism environmental damage.

Works Cited

Cuomo, Chris J. “War Is Not Just an Event: Reflections on the Significance of Everyday Violence.” Hypatia 11.4 (1996): 30-45.

Chris J. Cuomo Selected Bibliography:

Feminism and Ecological Communities : An Ethic of Flourishing

The Philosopher Queen : Feminist Essays on War, Love, and Knowledge