IV. Environment and Conflict in History The database of conflict and environment cases shows a broad variety if issues but at a high level of inspection

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The warming climate of the planet since the last Ice Age brought humans into conflict with Neanderthals. Around 1000 AD, a shorter period of warming offered both opportunity and cost. The Vikings moved into North America when new lands opened and fought Native Americans. The Mayans declined over time, in part, due to internecine conflict. North of the Mayans, the Anasazi in the American Southwest experienced similar problems due to drying conditions that were not millennial in nature but rather changes in precipitation patterns that occurred in shorter periods, perhaps over the course of a hundred years.

The Anasazi perfected a specialized system of sustenance that allowed them a life along the narrow ribbons of water in the American Southwest. The rivers provided shelter, safety, and housing. The Anasazi disappearance is still a matter of debate. Some elements of their story resemble the story of the Mayans, but others elements resemble the Viking’s experience. The deserts of the American Southwest were as desolate of life as the tundra and icepacks of Greenland.

The roots of Anasazi society dates to 10,000 years ago as nomadic hunter-gatherers on the plains of North America expanded.  About 2,000 years ago, there seemed to be a small shift in subsistence strategy as corn was introduced into the diet of the ancient Pueblos. They started to become a more sedimentary people and they began to focus their lives in the area around the area of Colorado.  Archaeologists call this stage of their society, from about year 0 until 550 CE, “the Basketmakers,” primarily because of their extensive ability to weave and create baskets.  These baskets enabled the people of the region to gather food more effectively:

Food was a constant, primary concern for the Basket Makers. Like the earlier hunting cultures of the Colorado Plateau, these people were masters at collecting seed, nuts, and other fruits and berries. With corn available to cultivate, the people began to stay longer in the area. They found that some species of gourds grew well in gardens, thus providing another food. They were competent hunters. Tools were fashioned from the bones of animals.165

The Anasazi were from an original group that migrated to the Four Corners area around 100 BC (this is the point where four U.S. states come together: Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah). The Anasazi evolved in five periods. They moved to the area around the year 100 AD and evolved from hunter-gatherers to agriculturists, becoming sedentary around 500 AD.166 They may have been pushed into this inhospitable climate by other expanding peoples. A time of advancement called or “Modified Basket maker” period followed (see Table IV-3).

Table IV-3

Anasazi Periods of Growth and Decline

Period Name Time Era

1. Basket Makers 1-450 AD

2. Modified Basket Maker 450-750 AD

3. Developmental Pueblo 750-1100 AD

4. Pueblo 1100-1300 AD

5. Decline 1300-1600 AD

These simple technological advances were built on over time and slowly the rural lifestyle became urban. This led to the “Developmental Pueblo” period, but this was in fact a long process of evolution. “The Anasazi were dry farmers who relied on capturing unpredictable rainfall for the growth of crops. After 1000 AD, their culture reached its maximum population and geographic distribution, due to more efficient farming methods. They established trails and roads and created points from which signals could be relayed. They engaged in a thriving trade, especially of their distinctive black-on-white pottery and turquoise.”167

One source notes this gradual process led to steps forward but also steps back. ”With their more settled lifestyle came the need for more permanent housing for the slowly increasing population. Although the change was not immediately evident, these cultural adaptations gradually changed the relationship between the Anasazi and their land. The ultimate impact of disturbing the delicate balance between the use and abuse of the land took several hundred years to manifest it fully. Michael Allen and Robert Stevens compare the fate of the Anasazi with modern problem that result from upsetting the “delicate balance between human needs and available environmental resources.” 168

One change was the development of new weaponry for hunting game and fighting with other people. Over this period, the Anasazi replaced the atlatl with more advanced tools. The atlatl is essentially a wooden device for propelling a spear and an evolutionary adaptation from the earlier and larger Clovis point weapons used to hunt mega-fauna by the Anasazi’s ancestors, the mammoth hunters. The development of bow and arrow technology proved to be a much more useful weapon in the group’s arsenal and permitted the hunting of a larger population of game. This led to food surpluses, but the limited supply of game was quickly exhausted. The culmination of the “Pueblo” period was urbanization but the hunters needed to travel further and further from the city for game. This centralization strategy ultimately failed and a period of “Decline” ensued.

Archaeologist Stephen Lekson “found evidence of a swift migration by entire villages of Anasazi around the year 1300” following a long drought that began about 1150 AD.169 There is a debate on why. Was it simply migration or a search for more water? Was there conflict between the groups in competition for the limited resources?

Similar to their Anasazi cousins, the Hohokam and the Mogollon declined after 1300. The drought problem was thus widespread. By 1600, the Anasazi vanished. “Various theories attribute diminished resources, population increases, lowered water tables, breakdown of social structure or raiding by enemies as the cause of their demise.”170

As the Anasazi decline became more intense, internecine conflict focused on limited resources became an intense problem. Some believe the Anasazi turned to a new food source: each other. “Human remains found at a twelfth-century A.D. site near Cowboy Wash in southwestern Colorado provide further evidence of cannibalism among the Anasazi.171 The remains of 12 people were discovered at the site, but only five were from burials.

“The other seven appear to have been systematically dismembered, defleshed, their bones battered, and in some cases burned or stewed, leaving them in the same condition as bones of animals used for food. Cut marks, fractures, and other stone-tool scars were present on the bones, and the light color of some suggests stewing. Patterns of burning indicate that many were exposed to flame while still covered with flesh, which is what would be expected after cooking over a fire.”172

Citing cannibalism as a source of conflict does not answer the question of why it occurred. “Human remains from other sites in the area were similarly treated, and three explanations have been proposed: hunger-induced cannibalism, ritual cannibalism adopted from Mesoamerica, or something else altogether. They note a sharp increase in evidence of cannibalism between 1130 and 1150, followed in each case by the abandonment of the site, then a decrease in the early 1200s as the climate improved.” 173

There are parallel means for confirming these climate changes. “Careful scrutiny of tree-ring records seemed to establish that in the late 1200's a prolonged dry spell called the Great Drought drove these people, the ancestors of today's pueblo Indians, to abandon their magnificent stone villages at Mesa Verde and elsewhere on the Colorado Plateau, never to return again.”174

Archeological evidence shows that in this period, perhaps as a reaction to drier weather, people in the Mesa Verde area began building dams and canals to trap and divert water to terraced fields. They were "investing in landscapes" and presumably began to feel territorial pressures. "The land was filling up with claims and rights".175 How do we link the record to the theory? Correlating these tree data (dendrochronology) with information on productivity of various soil types, modern crop yields, and detailed geography, Adler concludes that enough corn could have been grown during the drought to support the population.” 176 Archeologists believed the Anasazi suffered from malnutrition, shorter life spans and increased infant mortality, but there is less evidence of catastrophe in the short-term.

Some climatological evidence, based on tree-ring and pollen studies, suggests that Anasazi farmers may have been kept from moving to higher, moister grounds by a worldwide cooling trend known as the Little Age Ice. This same phenomenon ended the Viking colonization of Greenland and North America. The Anasazi were squeezed from two directions: lower elevations too dry for farming and higher ones too cold.177

Historical records from 900 to 1300 A.D. in Europe indicate that this was a time of changes in atmospheric circulation known as the Medieval Warm Period. In high-latitude regions this was largely beneficial: grapes were grown in England and the Norse founded colonies first in Iceland and then in southern Greenland. But in arid regions a warmer climate, especially when accompanied by drought, can cause significant difficulties for farmers. A fifty-year drought occurred between 1130 and 1180 A.D. It was during this period that soil and water conservation features such as grid borders, terraces and check dams began to be built in the Four Corners area.178

Yet the Anasazi were capable of continuing in their lands in that situation.  They built a number of reservoirs.  Their dams were retained water, but also silt.  “Intermittent water running down the small drainage courses deposited silt behind the dams. The silt, which was often several feet deep, would retain moisture for a considerable period of time. The Pueblo farmers used those areas as small farming plots.” 179   They built an irrigation ditch more than four miles long.180  The Anasazi were able to successfully grow enough corn, squash, beans, and cotton to satisfy subsistence needs and create a surplus. 

When this cycle of drought began, Anasazi civilization was at its height. Communities were densely populated. Even with good rains, the Anasazi were using their land to its limits. Without rain, it was impossible to grow enough food to support the population. Widespread famine occurred. People left the area in large numbers to join other pueblo peoples to the south and east, abandoning the Chaco Canyon pueblos and, later, the smaller communities that surrounded them. Anasazi civilization began a long period of migration and decline after these years of drought and famine. By the 1300s, it had all but died out in Chaco Canyon.181

The Anasazi houses were built in large alcoves with overhanging ledges; making it difficult to drop anything on them as part of an attack. Only a direct assault could be attempted. The steep slope would make it difficult for an enemy to attack. Defenders in the houses could carefully aim their arrows at attackers trying to run uphill with poor footwear over rough terrain. If an attack lasted more than a day, the enemy would have to withdraw to obtain water and food. Water and food stored in the cliff houses would provide the defenders at any time.182

The result of expanding populations and declining resources was conflict and warfare. Jonathon Haas believes that “if you don't have enough food to feed your children, you go raiding. And once I raid you, then you have justification to raid back -- the revenge motive. And so warfare becomes endemic in the 13th century."183 Was the decline of the Anasazi pushed over the edge by conflict? “Groundbreaking climatological studies have convinced many archeologists that the "so-called Great Drought…simply was not bad enough to be the deciding factor in the sudden evacuation, in which tens of thousands of Anasazi …moved to the Hopi mesas in northeastern Arizona, to the Zuni lands in western New Mexico and to dozens of adobe villages in the watershed of the Rio Grande.”184 Even more telling is evidence that the Anasazi had weathered many severe droughts in the past. Why did the one in the late 13th century cause an entire population to abandon the settlements they had worked so hard to build?185

The drought clearly provides a powerful tool push factor that favors migration. "The peculiar character of the abandonment is its completeness, its rapidity. This suggests that some kind of 'pull' was operating as well -- or an ideology favoring migration." Analyzing the spread of religious symbols found on rocks or pottery and the distribution of ceremonial structures, some archeologists argue that the Anasazi may have been pulled from their homeland by a new religion emerging among neighbors to the south.

Recent climate studies suggest a disruption in rainfall patterns in a way that may have made the Anasazi disillusioned with their old religion. Suddenly, the customary pattern of heavy snows in the winter followed by summer monsoons had become unpredictable. Even if there was not a great drought, moisture may have been coming at the wrong times. The summer rains, so necessary to keep the spring crops from dying, were no longer reliable. The rain dances were not working anymore.
c. The Jordan River and Conflict in the Middle East




Environmental Breadth


Specific Resources



Conflict over water resources was an indirect issue with respect to the Anasazi and direct issue with respect to the ancient Egyptians. Water among the Anasazi was so scarce that disaster was an inevitable outcome. Conflict arose over the disposition of the dwindling resources. The case of the Nile was an early harbinger of the coming stress that growing populations would exert on supplies and the conflict situations that would result. The scarcity of water and how it invites conflict is naturally an issue in areas where water is generally scarce. On a global regional scale, this means the Middle East ought to have a higher number of conflicts because it is the driest portion of the planet. It is also in the Tension Belt. One would expect these cases to focus on the few major waterways in the Mideast, such as the Jordan River.

The combination of the limited water resources and the Middle East’s role as a crossroads for human and Neanderthal populations has produced a rich and conflict-filled history. Its geographic space makes it inviting to people, but its actual ability to support human populations is rather low (at least today). This modern problem has roots in a problem that dates back to the ancient water cases related to the Nile River case and others.

The state of Israel emerged in 1948 and led to an immediate war with its Arab neighbors. Control of water resources was an essential part of the conflict. Controlling water was a direct continuation of the conflict even after hostilities ceased. In 1951, Jordan began an irrigation project that tapped into the Yarmuk River, some say to deprive Israelis of downstream water in the Jordan River. Israel then closed the gates on a dam south of the Sea of Galilee and began draining the Huleh swamps.186 The swamps lay within the demilitarized zone and led to border skirmishes between Syria and Israel.187 (This has some similarity with the later Korean DMZ case.)

In the early 1950’s, Israel created a National Water Carrier to transport water from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee to the Negev desert. These new waterways permitted cultivation of desert land. In 1955 Syrian artillery units opened fire on the Israeli construction team. In an attempt to settle the water dispute, American President Eisenhower appointed Eric Johnston as mediator.188 This was the first recognition of the key role of water in negotiation.

In 1953, Israel began construction of the National Water Carrier at the intake point north of the Sea of Galilee. The intake point was within the demilitarized zone, established in the aftermath of the 1948 war. Syria threatened a military response, and after international disapproval, Israel moved the construction to Eshed Kinrot.

Diversion of the Jordan River was one of causes of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In 1964, Israel opened the National Water Carrier and began diverting water from the Jordan. This project was in competition with a similar plan for water withdrawal in Jordan, as part of the East Ghor Project.

The First Arab Summit of 1964 began with plans to divert the Jordan headwaters to Arab states. In 1965, Arab States started construction on the Headwater Diversion Plan; diverting the Hasbani into the Litani in Lebanon, and the Banias into the Yarmuk and caught at a dam at Mukheiba in Jordan and Syria. This diversion would have accounted for a loss of 35 per cent of Israel’s total water diversions and would cause the salinity rate to increase in Lake Kinneret. Israel vowed to fight for the water.189 On four occasions between 1965 and 1967, the Israeli army attacked the diversion construction in Syria, and these border skirmishes led to two air battles.

During the 1967 war, Israel destroyed the Arab diversion construction and in six days captured the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. The latter two were returned as part of a peace agreement with Egypt. Water was an issue with respect to the Golan Heights, where Israel now controlled the Jordan Rivers headwaters and had access to the waters of the Yarmuk River. Israel also gained access to the length of the Jordan River and controlled its three major aquifers.

In 1969, Israel attacked Jordan’s East Ghor Canal. Earlier that year, Israeli Water Authorities measured the Yarmuk River, found its level below average, and accused Jordan of diverting the waters through the canal. Following terrorist attacks in 1969, Israel twice destroyed the new East Ghor Canal. All of this eventually became more political than factual. After U.S. mediation, a fact-finding enquiry convinced Israel that the drop in water flow was the result of natural forces.

Rivers are not the only areas of contention. After the 1967 war, Israel controlled the recharge zone of the Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer, which currently supplies about 1/3 of Israel s water supply. Israel’s 1967 nationalization of all the West Bank water resources further increased tensions. The nationalization limited Palestinian water use and there were further limits on the amount of water withdrawn by wells, and has curtailed Palestinian drilling for wells. Palestinians also complain that during water shortages their water is shut off before that of the Israeli settlement areas.190

The Jordan River originates on the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Three springs converge to create the headwaters: the Hasbani River (originating in south Lebanon), the Dan River (originating in Israel), and the Banais River (originating in the Golan Heights and converge six kilometers within Israel and flow into the Sea of Galilee. Ten kilometers past the sea, the river joins with the Yarmuk River (originating in Syria and Jordan). The Jordan River reaches the Dead Sea at 400 meters below sea level.191

Figure IV-9: The Jordan River
he Jordan River travels through two very different regions: a Mediterranean climate in the north and desert in the south. The rainfall pattern varies over time, but generally decreasing from north to south and west to east (see Figure IV-9). About 75 per cent of the rainfall comes in the four winter months, with substantial annual variations (25-40 per cent).

An aquifer’s utility is measured by the amount that can be pumped out without depleting the water left in storage. The "safe yield" is usually equal to the recharge rate.192 The three main aquifers in the area are west of the Jordan, and are central to the water supply of Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip: a western, or Yarkon-Taninim or Mountain, aquifer, a northeastern aquifer, which discharges into northern Israel, and the eastern aquifer that flows to the Jordan Valley.

Israel’s renewable annual water supply has 60 per cent coming from groundwater and 40 per cent from surface waters. Almost all water comes from the Jordan River Basin. About a third comes from the Sea of Galilee, while the western aquifer supplies another third. Water supplies also receive more per year from wastewater reclamation and non- renewable groundwater. The total is divided as follows: 73 per cent to agriculture, 22 per cent to domestic use, and 5 per cent to industrial use. This water irrigates 66 per cent of Israel’s cropland (see Table IV-4).

Table IV-4

Water Use in the Idle East

Water Sources

Water Uses

Volume (mcm/year)

% Surface

% Aquifer

% Agric

% Domestic

% Industry








West Bank




















* Israel captures 200mcm/year in wastewater reclamation.

Source: Aaron T. Wolf, Hydropolitics Along the Jordan River, pp. 10-12
One approach to increasing water availability is to promote desalinization but this remains an expensive proposition. Another is to bring seawater to places inland where salinity rates are already high. The Dead Canal is the grandest of these ideas and perhaps the most appealing.

A million years ago, a major earthquake created the Syrian-African Rift, the Dead Sea, and the Jordan River Valley.193 The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 400 feet below sea level. Dead Sea water evaporates and creates salts that have both therapeutic and chemical application. The Dead Sea's salt concentration is about 33 percent, compared to 3 percent in the Mediterranean Sea.

In the 1930s, the inflow of freshwater into the Dead Sea was roughly equal to the rate of evaporation, with the Jordan River emptying some 1,300 cubic millimeters/year (two thirds of the total inflow) into the Dead Sea. Today, that inflow is only 400 cubic millimeters per year due to national water projects on both sides of the Jordan that have diverted upstream water. As the rate of inflow from the Jordan has decreased, so has the level of the Dead Sea.194

The idea of connecting the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean goes back to the 19th century, when some engineers suggested the possibility of using the natural elevation difference between the two seas to produce hydroelectric energy. According to this scheme, turbines would convert water into mechanical energy that could be used to produce electricity. The electricity could then be used for desalinization and the creation of fresh water.

Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, formalized the idea of a hydropower canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea in his 1902 novel Altneuland. He wrote that it would be possible to take advantage of the 400-meter drop to generate hydroelectric power. In the 1950s, the American conservationist Walter C. Lowdermilk, conducted research on a canal stretching from the Mediterranean, across the Negev Desert, to the Dead Sea. He concluded that the 400-meter drop would generate 100 megawatts of electric power. Scientists have revisited the idea of a hydroelectric scheme that would produce water without flooding tourist and industrial sites along the shores.

In 1977, an Israeli planning group considered four possible routes for a canal: one from the Gulf of Aqaba in the south and three from the Mediterranean (the northernmost being the one envisioned by Lowdermilk). The group favored the southern-most Mediterranean route, which would avoid the country's major aquifers and could promote development in the northern Negev. The project would refill the lake to the level of the 1930s over a period of 10 to 20 years.

The Jordanians proposed a similar canal, with the source of water originating from the Red Sea instead of the Mediterranean. According to the plan, water would be pumped from the Red Sea at Jordan's southernmost town of Aqaba to an elevation of 220 meters. From there, it would flow via tunnel through the Jordan Rift Valley before dropping into the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is part of ancient culture. Aristotle (304-322 B.C.) was the first to tell the world about the salty body of water where no fish live and people float. Pliny the Elder (23-79 BC) reported the therapeutic qualities of the water. King Solomon and Cleopatra used Dead Sea compounds to cure common ailments. There has been export of the chemical products for several thousand years.

One study estimates that construction of the canal would take 10 years with a rough cost of $5 billion. The estimated cost of water diverted by a canal would range from $1.30 to $1.55 per cubic meter. These costs are roughly in line with the cost of desalinated seawater.

What are the solutions? Desalinization seems one of a few ways to increase the amount of water available. Although infrastructure is expensive, the price of desalinated water has decreased. In the early 1980s, the unit cost was $1.2 per cubic meter. By 1994, the cost dropped to between $0.6 and $0.7. Price decreases are expected to continue as the desalination industry continues to grow.

The Dead Sea is not in danger of drying up any time soon. Water evaporates slowly because the water’s dissolved salts lower the vapor pressure over the surface. According to the current rate of evaporation, it would take hundreds of years for the lake to dry up because the northern basin is so deep.

The Jordan River supplies Israel and Jordan with the vast majority of their water. Many hydrologists believe that people need 1000 cubic meters per person per year as a minimum water requirement for an efficient moderately industrialized nation. Inside Israel's border, the availability of water per-capita in 1990 was 470 cubic meters. It is estimated that by the year 2025 this availability will be reduced to 310 cubic meters.195 As such, over 50 percent of Israel's water sources rely on rain that falls outside of the Israeli border. Israel depends on water supply that comes from rivers either that originates outside the border, or from disputed lands.

d. Comparing and Reflecting on the Water Cases
Two points of comparison are relevant. First, there existed extensive relations between these ancient empires that relied on wood and water for survival. No doubt these exchanges also included transfers of technology, including military technology. Trade became another means for ameliorating the difference between the push and pull factors. Second, the need for water today, due to an extreme imbalance between push and pull factors, creates extreme frontiers of dispute.

The cases on the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, and Indus Rivers are three of the great homes of ancient river civilizations. No doubt trade led to some synchronicity in their approaches to environment and conflict situations. These relations are nonetheless undeniable.

“Archaeologists from UCLA and the University of Delaware have unearthed the most extensive remains to date from sea trade between India and Egypt during the Roman Empire, adding to mounting evidence that spices and other exotic cargo traveled into Europe over sea as well as land.”196

The relations became so extensive that systems of competing transportation modes that traveled over land and by water grew. The desire for interaction was stronger than the impediments of connection imposed by countries that lie between them. "When cost and political conflict prevented overland transport, ancient mariners took to the Red Sea, and the route between India and Egypt appears to have been even more productive than we ever thought." 197

The importance of sea trade became a key means to meet the wood deficit. It was also an early example of the idea of recycling.

“Among the buried ruins of buildings that date back to Roman rule, the team discovered vast quantities of teak, a wood indigenous to India and today's Myanmar, but not capable of growing in Egypt, Africa or Europe. Researchers believe the teak, which dates to the first century, came to the desert port as hulls of shipping vessels. When the ships became worn out or damaged beyond repair, Berenike [an ancient city located in modern day Sudan] residents recycled the wood for building materials, the researchers said. The team also found materials consistent with ship-patching activities, including copper nails and metal sheeting.” 198

Three key issues show how resources became more specifically targeted with human development. From hunting grounds needed to acquire food, to wood needed to build cities, to the important role of water irrigation, these new concerns reflect the old concerns of human development. The foes in the conflicts also changed: from Neanderthal to mythic creatures (a symbol of nature) to other human beings and their gods. Egypt, as noted in the earlier Cedars of Lebanon case study, was already importing wood and timber from Lebanon to build its great cities 3,000 years ago.

The modern battle for water is not above ground but below it. There is simply no more surface water to distribute and that which remains is highly contentious. The focus thus is on water under the ground. “Aquifers are underground water systems that underlie most of the earth's landmass. Shallow aquifers are renewable, in that they are continually replenished from rain water and snow melt that seeps down into the ground rather than immediately being drained by streams and rivers into the oceans. Fossil aquifers, on the other hand, are extremely deep-lying (i.e., half a mile or more) aquifers that are non-renewable, at least in terms of a time scale useful for human populations (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization). The term stems from the fact that some of these aquifers were formed (and sealed) in prehistoric (even pre-human) times.” 199 A huge aquifer underlies Egypt and Libya and others are in Sudan and Chad that also cross national borders, though far underground. Some aquifers are replenished by slow natural processes. Fossil aquifers are completely enclosed, similar to oil, and are not renewed.

What are the environmental and legal consequences? How much water is there? What are international implications? Other large aquifers include the Guarani in South America, the Kalahari in Southern Africa and the Nubian in Northeast Africa. Will this issue lead to more cooperation or more conflict?

The Anasazi case is reminiscent of the “ancient cases” that examined water as a specific resource that can be a reason for conflict, especially that of the Nile River. The Nile is the longest river on the planet (there are some differences on how one measures the length of the river) and the Anasazi relied on the existence of much smaller rivers or streams. Size is thus an important attribute of the cases, in that the scale of impacts may be proportional to the size of populations supported by rivers.

There are also links to the Mayans before their decline that helped shaped Anasazi culture. There were Meso American influences on Chaco culture and similarities in architecture (great houses), the practice of teeth chiseling, and the existence of cannibalism. Perhaps the Anasazi learned of the fate of the Mayans, and chose another alternative.

"Anasazi…was a Navajo word.  The Navajo used it to describe the ancient people, now vanished, whose ruined dwellings the Navajo found when they migrated into the Four Corners region from the northward.  In a loose, vague sense Anasazi meant ancient enemies. Richard did not know if this implied that the first of the Navajos had found some of these early ones still in their pueblos and cliff dwellings, and made war upon them."200

The change in climate that impacted the Mayas, Anasazi and the Vikings w ere all related to this single phenomenon of vast changes in temperature and climate over the period from year 900 to 1500 that impacted large parts of the Northern Hemisphere. These are lessons for the debate on current climate change and its relation to conflict.

The existence of fresh water in arid areas is an ecotone artifact that naturally invites conflict. The need for water might be expressed as water availability per person and no doubt, there are those thresholds that indicate the likelihood of conflict once water use dropped below those levels. This threshold might represent something such as minimum daily requirements for a person.

The ancient Nile case and the middle-era Anasazi case shows the imbalance between supply and demand for water in areas where it is sparse. The modern Jordan River case echoes this long standing trend in the Middle East. Water is both the cradle of civilization and the grave of many from intersections of conflict and environment.
5. Weapons
Early people saw the power of nature and the damage it could wreak though earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In particular, the river cities that grew were often destroyed and rebuilt after major floods. Water could be a great weapon. The recognition that the environment and its resources can actually be used as weapons of war or part of a war strategy is explored through case studies of water and the Assyrians, the Native American and buffalo, and the Kuwait War and oil. The weapons of war required great efforts in history and these efforts are now more capable with modern technology.

There are relatively few cases of the use of the environment as a weapon of war, similar to the issue of climate change. The cases are all relatively short in duration in achieving their outcome and the outcome is usually a definitive victory. In the purple feedback loop in the environment sub-system, the link of victory is associated especially with the extremely near and extremely long term (see Figure IV-9). The former suggests a quick end to a battle, the latter to a multi-generation struggle.

Figure IV-9

The Environment as a Sub-System Causal System (Purple Loop in Conflict-Environment Overlap Sub-System)

a. Weapons: Nebuchadnezzar’s Water Wars

Time Period







Environment as a Weapon

As human settlements grew and put increasing strains of the water supply, the growing scarcity reflected interest in engaging in conflict to secure resources. Water emerged as a resource worth fighting for, especially due to the successes of the Agricultural Revolution. Water use evolved from an aspect of survival to an early weapon of mass destruction.

One of the earliest examples of the use of water as a weapon is the ancient Sumerian myth -- which parallels the Biblical account of Noah and the deluge -- recounting the deeds of the diety Ea, who punished humanity’s sins by inflicting the Earth with a great flood. According to the Sumerians, the patriarch Utu speaks with Ea who warns him of the impending flood and orders him to build a large vessel filled with ‘all the seeds of life’.201

Truth or mythology, the great flood story reflects the historical importance of water in the Middle East. Not only did ancient society understand water’s value in the life cycle, but it understood water’s potential to bring agricultural prosperity and physical security. The people experienced the effects of flood and sought an explanation for such devastation. Finding answers in the will of the gods, they connected the great flood to gods’ punishment for original sin, which is an interpretation of free will in all three traditions. The gods were the first to introduce the water weapon to man, whose free will allows him to mimic the gods. Since the great flood, men have used water as a weapon of mass destruction by its contamination, diversion, dispossession, and by waterpower itself.

Water has been an element in conflict in other historical writings dating over 4000 years old. Moses led the Jews away from slavery and across the Sinai desert where the Egyptian army trapped them against the Red Sea. In the story, the Red Sea suddenly parted and led the Jews to freedom but them closed and destroyed the Egyptian army. The story of Exodus was originally written in Hebrew Yam Sup, a language that can be interpreted in many ways. Although the Red Sea is the common translation, the author could have meant the Sea of Reeds, the Gulf of Suez, the Gulf of Aqaba, or even the Mediterranean Sea. Recent evidence makes it scientifically plausible that the Jews could have crossed the Red Sea around 1500 BC, as in the story. Russian researchers Naum Volzinger and Alexei Androsov determined that a reef runs across the northern Red Sea.202 They have reason to believe that the reef was much closer to the surface in Moses’ time, and that the reef could have been exposed for small periods of time depending on weather patterns and tidal movements.

The use of environment as an instrument of war has occurred throughout history. Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.) went to war over the Cedars of Lebanon and employed the waters of the Euphrates to defend Babylon from Assyrian attacks.203 Water became a tool of war for both offense and defense in attacking city-states. Nebuchadnezzar wrote that "to strengthen the defenses of Babylon, I had a mighty dike of earth thrown up, above the other, from the banks of the Tigris to that of the Euphrates five bern long and I surrounded the city with a great expanse of water, with waves on it like the sea."204 The defense also included an intricate system of canals. Nebuchadnezzar, however, did not start these projects but did finish them. He completed the works of his father, Nabopolassa. Nebuchadnezzar's building operations "were so extensive that in this particular he outranks all who preceded him, whether in Assyria or in Babylonia."205 Nebuchadnezzar evidently took pride in his accomplishments: "his long and elaborately written inscriptions have only a boastful line or two of conquest, while their long periods are heavy with the descriptions of extraordinary building operations."206 Large-scale water diversions became a weapon.

Babylon, like Baghdad, was a difficult city to defend because the Euphrates River transects it. The older part of the city lay on the east bank and the new on the west. Nebuchadnezzar built forts at the north end, where prior invasions originated. He added a hydrological defense as well and diverted the Euphrates through a canal into a moat that wrapped around the city.207 Behind the great moat there were two walls: the inner wall of Babylon, the Imgur-Bêl, and the outer wall, the Nimitti-Bêl. The city was thought to be impregnable due to the moat and walls. The walls had a protected roadway called Imgur-Enlil, and Nimitti-Enlil (see later case studies on Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China). Herodotus, the Athenian historian, in Book One of his Histories includes this description of Babylon. “The wall is built down to the water on both sides, and at an angle to it there is another wall on each bank, built of baked bricks without mortar, running through the town. There are a great many houses of three and four stories. The main streets and the side streets which lead to the river are all dead straight, and for every one of the side streets or alleys there was a bronze gate in the river wall by which the water could be reached.”208 The areas where the river entered the city were also secured. Nebuchadnezzar notes "no pillaging robber might enter into this water sewer, with bright iron bars I closed the entrance to the river, in gratings of iron I set it and fastened it with hinges." 209

Nebuchadnezzar, devotee of the god Marduk (noted earlier in the Epic of Gilgamesh), believed that "eternal fame rested on his creation of a rampart that would protect both his citizens and his god's temple from attack. Likewise, Gilgamesh built a rampart enclosing his city of Uruk and linked faith with conflict and “raised up the names of the gods' in a manner not seen before his time."210 Virtually all Mesopotamian rulers "considered defense of their capitals and the maintenance of their god's temples to be the keys to eternal fame."211

Nebuchadnezzar’s defense of Babylon through the use of the water was to be repeated many times throughout ancient history. As soon as humans learned to use water control as a resource from agricultural production, so too did they learn to use it as a weapon of war.

Peter Gleick says that “The history of water-related disputes in the Middle East goes back to antiquity and is described in the many myths, legends, and historical accounts that have survived from earlier times. These disputes range from conflicts over access to adequate water supplies to intentional attacks on water delivery systems during wars.”212

This chronology is presented in the form of cases or events that involve water and conflict. Gleick’s database includes 120 cases in all, many of which overlap with the TED cases (in fact some are used). Gleick also presents these cases in terms of some basic categories for comparison and contrast over time (see Table IV-5).213

Table IV-5

Water Cases Coding Categories (Peter Gleick)

1. Date

2. Parties Involved

3. Bases of Conflict

4. Violent vs. Context Conflict

5. Description

The category operationalization is described in Gleick (1993, 1998). The “Bases of Conflict” includes (1) political goals, (2) military goals, (3) development disputes, (4) conflict targets, (5) conflict tools, and (6) terrorism. Violent versus context conflict differentiates direct and indirect links between conflict and water.

The use of water has been an integral part of human history and human conflict. A 2003 UNESCO report noted that since “ancient times, the destruction of water resources and facilities have been used as weapons against the enemy.”214 History is full of such examples from all over the world, showing a great variety of ways and means to use water in military conflicts.

Perhaps the idea of water as a weapon was when places saw the destruction of their homes through great floods, although the usually attributed to action to a vengeful god. Great floods are noted in the ancient Sumerian texts of 3000 BC and the role of the god Ea in punishing humans as well as in the Epic of Gilgamesh. For western civilization this story became the legend of Noah.

In all three stories the same theme with variation is repeated. Human free will, taken by eating the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, had gone too far and god wreaked vengeance on unholy people, and this vengeance is repeated in the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah as well. In this case, only the pious Noah and his family are spared a world wide flood. Having the foresight to build a giant ship and acquire pairs of all animals, Noah drifts on an endless sea until arriving on Mount Ararat and the waters then begin to subside.

A modern explanation is being pursued to suggest that this story was a real event. Robert Ballard and others have found evidence of human settlements deep in the Black Sea.215 The idea is that the melting glacial waters of the post Ice Age lead to the breaching of a sea wall that existed in the Straights of Dardanelles. The influx of sea water lay atop the existing fresh water, thus helping in the preservation of artifacts and flooded the people for lived along the shore of the lake. The idea is that this flood may have been the basis for the Noah story.

Diverting precious water was also an issue long ago, and is an example of indirect conflict. “Urlama, King of Lagash from 2450 to 2400 B.C., diverts water from the region to boundary canals, drying up boundary ditches to deprive Umma [another city state] of water. His son Il cuts of the water supply to Girsu, a city in Umma.”

Conflict broke out between the Mesopotamian city-states of Umma and Lagash over the fertile soils and water of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. From roughly 2500 to 2400 B.C. conflicts occurred over irrigation systems and diversion of water.216

Gleick’s water history shows that water as a weapon was frequently used through ancient history. “Other historical accounts offer fascinating insights into the role of water in war and politics. Sargon II, the Assyrian king from 720 to 705 B.C., destroyed the intricate irrigation network of the Haldians after his successful campaign through Armenia.”217

Water was also used to put down civil unrest. Chronicles 32.3 describes Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem. In this instance Jerusalem is saved by digging a conduit from wells outside the city walls to cut off enemy water supplies.218 “In quelling rebellious Assyrians in 695 B.C., Sennacherib razes Babylon and diverts one of the irrigation canals so that its water wash over the ruins.” In 689 B.C., in revenge for the death of his son, he destroyed the canals that supplied water to the city.

Control of water resources became part of wartime campaigns. “Assurbanipal, King of Assyria from 669 to 626 B.C., seized water wells as part of his strategy of desert warfare against Arabia.219 In 612 B.C., “a coalition of Egyptian, Median (Persian), and Babylonian forces attacks and destroys Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nebopolassar, lead the Babylonians. The converging armies divert the Khosr River to create a flood, which allows them to elevate their siege engines on rafts.” In this case water was used as a means of laying siege to fortified cities.

Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.) built immense walls around Babylon and used the Euphrates River to create a series of canals as defensive moats. The ancient historian Berossus said that he "arranged it so that besiegers would no longer be able to divert the river against the city by surrounding the inner city with three circuits of walls."220 In other wars he used water in different ways. ”In 596 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar breached the aqueduct that supplied the city of Tyre in order to end a long siege.” 221

Another ancient historian, Herodotus, tells how Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. by diverting the Euphrates River into the desert. He then marched troops into the city along the dry riverbed. The fascination with using water as a weapon continued through out history. ”In 1503, Leonardo da Vinci and Machiavelli planned to divert the Arno River away from Pisa during a conflict between Pisa and Florence.”222

Modern wars too focus on destruction of water assets. “In 1938, Chiang Kai-shek ordered the destruction of flood-control dikes on a section of the Yellow River in order to flood areas threatened by the Japanese army. The flood did destroy part of the invading army, but also between 10,000 and 1 million Chinese people were displaced.”223 Allied forces targeted hydroelectric facilities in Germany in World War II and U.S. planes destroyed large parts of North Vietnam’s water system infrastructure. “North Vietnam claimed a death toll of 2 to 3 million inhabitants due to the drowning or starvation that resulted from these attacks.” 224 Like the Romans who salted the wells of the Carthaginians after defeating them in the Punic Wars, in the 1999 war in Kosovo “water supplies and wells were contaminated by Serbs”. 225

The use of water in conflict in the Middle East has continued up to today. In 1974, Iraq threatened to attack the al-Thawra Dam in Syria, and both sides called up border troops due to a dispute over control of downstream water. Completed in 1968, the impact was pronounced in the 1973-5 period when there were extensive droughts in the region. Only through the mediation of Saudi Arabia was war diverted. Since water behind dams can also be used to create electricity, war was extended into the realm of the use of water as a source of energy. Warfare adapted to this reality. In 1981, during the Iran-Iraq war, Iran bombed a dam for hydroelectric production in Kurdistan.

Water scarcity has led to some initial efforts to use ocean water to supplement water resources, although is not fit for human consumption. In 1991, “during the Gulf War, Iraq destroys much of Kuwait’s desalination capacity during retreat.” The allies targeted Baghdad’s water and sanitation systems as part of the war. In response to a Shiite rebellion following the Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein in 1993 launches a water deprivation war against the Ma’dan or Marsh Arabs.226

Water was an ancient dual-use product. It was both vital to a nation’s existence but also could be used as a weapon of war. Water was considered as a weapon in the Gulf War. The Allied forces, especially the United States, feared that Iraq would use chemical or biological weapons against invading troops. In the search for responses other than chemical, biological or nuclear, the United States held out the option of destroying several upstream dams from Baghdad on the Euphrates River. The release of waters would cause large-scale destruction downstream since most cities are on or near the river and ruin related water uses for human consumption or agriculture, for example.

b. Weapons: The Slaughter of the Buffalo in Native American Wars









Deer were a key food source for the survival for poor people in England living on the margin in the time of Robin Hood. In North America, buffalo filled this role and assumed an all-encompassing part of the lifestyle of some Native Americans living on the plains. The English of Nottingham could survive without deer but the Native American could not survive without the buffalo. This reliance on a single resource was their key to survival but also a major weakness.

Although the Mayan and Anasazi civilizations collapsed, and the Incas and Aztecs conquered, the tribes of the Great Plains thrived and their numbers grew following the advent of Europeans into North America. The Spaniards who invaded Mexico also brought horses back to North America after a lapse of at least 10,000 years. Horses were native to North America but died out, probably because of human hunting for food. The horse greatly increased the ability of these tribes to exploit buffalo, around which their subsistence strategy was based, and they took advantage. The Native Americans relied on the buffalo for meat, clothing, shelter, and even waterproof containers made from the horns. In the war against them, killing the buffalo became a key strategy of the US Army.227

For many decades, most Americans knew of the Great Plains simply as the Great American Desert, an inhospitable area of poor soil, little water, "hostile" Indians, and general inaccessibility. The American Civil War and its aftermath changed that conception and there were three forces largely responsible. In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act; in 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was completed, and in 1873, barbed wire fencing was introduced. Coupled with improvements in dry farming and irrigation and the confinement of American Indians to reservations, after much brutal warfare, the Americans were the majority population in the Great American Desert.

The U.S. Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized the president to grant Indian nations unsettled western prairie land in exchange for their lands. These attempts were usually met with violent resistance, especially the members of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek tribes. Some 100,000 people were forcibly removed, many in manacles. The trek of the Cherokee in 1838-1839 was known as the Trail of Tears. Wars over resettlement were also fought with the Seminoles (1835-42) and many others.

The Indian Territory was that part of the United States west of the Mississippi, and not within the States of Missouri and Louisiana, or the Territory of Arkansas. Never an organized territory, it was soon restricted to the present state of Oklahoma. The Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Chickasaw tribes were forcibly moved to this area between 1830 and 1843 from the American Southeast, and an act of June 30, 1834 set aside the land as Indian country which later came to be known as Indian Territory.

In 1866, the western half of Indian Territory was ceded to the United States, which opened part of it to white settlers in 1889. This portion became the Territory of Oklahoma in 1890 and eventually encompassed the lands ceded in 1866. The territories became part of the Union as the state of Oklahoma in 1907.

With the decline of the range-cattle industry, settlers moved in and fenced the Great Plains into family farms. That settlement--and the wild rush of pioneers into the Oklahoma Indian Territory--constituted the last chapter of the westward movement. By the early 1890s, a frontier had ceased to exist within the 48 continental states.

As the hunters were destroying the buffalo, the U.S. army was fighting the Native Americans. The U.S. government tacitly supported the buffalo destruction in order to get rid of the “Indian problem”. Some southern Plains Indians saw that the hunters were uselessly killing masses of buffalo and resisted. In 1867, the U.S. government granted private hunting lands to the Comanches and Kiowas in Texas without state approval, so when white hunters crossed into Native American territory, the Texas government looked the other way.

In 1876, the Kwahadi Comanche warriors led by Tu-ukumah went in search of the white hunters that crossed into their territory to kill bison only for their tongues and hides and destroyed their camp and the buffalo parts. On their mission, Tu-ukumah’s warriors fired upon famous hide hunters John Cook and Rankin Moores’ camp and then Marshall Sewell came to their rescue. He was unfortunately captured,was killed and scalped. The death of this well-respected Marshall drove the buffalo hunters to form an Indian-fighting unit in which they swore not to kill any more buffalo until they had scalped every Comanche warrior involved. After months of small battles between the Comanches and the hunters, the fighting culminated at the Battle of Yellow House Canyon where at least 50 Native Americans were either killed or injured and one white hunter was killed. Several months later, Tu-ukumah’s Kwahadi Comanche warriors were destroyed by Captain Patrick Lynch Lee and his black ‘buffalo’ soldiers.228

The original bison in North America that lived up until the end of the Pleistocene era (around 10,000 years ago) were the gargantuan Bison latifrons and the Bison antiquus. The larger latifrons was common in middle Pleistocene and the antiquus more toward the end of the age, so the possibility exists that the latter evolved from the former. It is uncertain when today’s Bison bison came into the picture. One theory is that it simply evolved from one of the two older species. Another theory is that the Bison evolved from the European Bison priscus, which migrated across Siberia and over the land bridge connecting Asia to North America. The Bison priscus lived in the far northwest of the continent and evolved into Bison bison, according to the theory.

The changing of the environment prompted general evolutionary change toward smaller, well-adapted buffalo species. As the last ice age ended, then so did the Bison latifrons and the Bison antiquus. It may have been because of the inability to adapt to environmental changes, or it may have been because of Native American over-hunting at the time. Even 10,000 years ago the Native Americans used mass killing techniques on the buffalo like running them over cliffs. The Native Americans have their own stories as to why the Great Spirit killed off the megafauna.

William Tall Bull, Cheyenne elder, said that there once was a giant buffalo that was carnivorous and greatly oppressed the people, but the Great Spirit reduced him in size. Thereafter the Cheyenne would not eat a certain kind of fat found in the throat of bison bison because it represented human flesh that giant buffalo once ate. Both the Sioux and the Cheyenne insisted that the two species of buffalo were actually the same animal, reduced by this strange intervention of Great Mystery.229

Millions of buffalo once roamed North America.230 The Great Plains of North America were said to be “black with buffalo”. The North American Plains Indians were essentially big-game hunters, the buffalo being a primary source of food and material that was used for clothing, shelter, tools and religious icons. Woven into the fabric of Native American life for millennia, the buffalo was revered and honored. Some scholars argue that extermination of the buffalo was an official policy of the U.S. government in order to achieve extermination of the Native Americans, particularly those living in the Western Plains.

The American bison may not have been the brightest creature in North America, but it was certainly resilient. It was the dominant herbivore of the Great Plains after the extinction of other large herbivores coming out of the last ice age. “Before humans of European descent began to exert their influence on the biota of North America, the number of bison living here periodically may have approached 30 millions. A little more than a century later, fewer than 1,000 bison remained.”231

The buffalo came into competition for grazing land with the horses that were reintroduced to North America by the Spanish conquistadores, and eventually with cattle that also transmitted disease to the American bison. Market hunting for buffalo drastically affected the buffalo population, leaving them close to extinction. Interestingly, it was market forces that ended up saving the buffalo from their demise. The American Bison Society advocated preserving the buffalo and encouraged Buffalo Bill and other Wild West Shows. The Wild West shows depicted the dangerous, exciting American frontier where the U.S. army sent scouts like Buffalo Bill out to kill buffalos and Indians alike. “By the 1990s, more than 90 percent of the bison in North America were in private hands, rather than publicly owned.”232 Private bison herds raised and sold buffalo to circuses, zoos, and parks.

In the 1870s and 1880s the buffaloes were killed by the hundreds of thousands each year. Market demand for buffalo robes, meat, and tongues was at its peak. Demand for buffalo hides started in the 1870s when Argentinean cattle production was diminishing. The market demand for buffalo increased as the buffalo skeletons were ground into buttons, combs, knife handles, ingredients in the sugar-refining process, and phosphate fertilizer to sweeten the ‘corn belt’ soil. The invention of the Sharps rifle and the extension of the railroads west of the Missouri river played a significant role in the quick destruction of the Plains Indians’ source of clothing, food, and shelter between 1840 and 1870. The Sharps rifle allowed for quick and efficient shooting, which made it easier to kill both people and buffalo. The railroads expedited trade with the East. American westward expansion onto the new frontier brought the settlers west and the homesteaders north.

Some researchers discount the impact of the hunters on the buffalo population as not crucial to the near-extinction of the buffalo. Jim Flores of the University of Montana believes that “they [the white hide hunters] share the burden of the final mop-up. But without their involvement, the buffalo would probably have only lasted another 30 years.”233 Flores believes that other factors affected the decline of the buffalo more strongly, including climate change, competition for space, and disease.

The actual military campaign against these tribes was largely ineffective, but the near extermination of the American bison during the 1870s was an enormous blow to Native Americans. By denying access to these resources, the buffalo slaughter was the beginning of total war against those people. Generals Sheridan and Sherman, using similar tactics to those they employed in the American Civil War against Confederate supplies and food sources, sought to eliminate the buffalo not only to defeat the tribes militarily but also to subdue them for relocation. Forts provided de facto support for the buffalo hunters and military personnel often killed buffalo for food and sport.234 Furthermore, "In 1874, Secretary of the Interior Delano testified before Congress, "The buffalo are disappearing rapidly, but not faster than I desire. I regard the destruction of such game as Indians subsist upon as facilitating the policy of the Government, of destroying their hunting habits, coercing them on reservations, and compelling them to begin to adopt the habits of civilization.”235 Sheridan added that "if I could learn that every buffalo in the northern herd were killed I would be glad".236 Other records however point to a groundswell of military opposition to the wanton killing.

A final factor in the buffalo war was to provide income to those living in the area or those who wanted to live there, thus actually attracting settlers. Colonel Homer W. Wheeler, who fought with the U.S. Cavalry for 35 years, said that "millions of Buffalo were slaughtered for the hides and meat, principally for the hide. Some of the expert hunters made considerable money at that occupation.237

On April 29, 1868, the Indian Peace Commission of the United States government signed the treaty of Fort Laramie with the Sioux (Lakota) and other tribes in the Dakotas. The treaty closed settler trails and forts, and allocated hunting rights along the Powder River. It also created a Sioux reservation west of the Missouri river in what is now South Dakota, but required that they allow railroads to run through their reservation. The treaty obliges the U.S. government to arrest and punish any offender of the treaty guidelines.

The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1870 and by 1874 rumor spread that there was gold in South Dakota on Indian Territory. Under pressure to open up the reservation to mining and buffalo hunting, the U.S. government reneged on its treaty and Colonel Custer attacked Chief Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake) and the Sioux Nation. Eventually, the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe fled to Canada, but after a few years starvation forced the tribes to move to North Dakota and surrender to the US government.

In buffalo hunter John Cook’s memoir, General Philip Sheridan told the 1857 Texas Legislature not to protect the remaining Texas buffaloes and reward the hunters for killing buffalo and for discouraging the Native Americans. He said that the buffalo hunters were doing more “to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army . . . for the sake of a lasting peace let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle, and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as the second forerunner of an advanced civilization.”238

In 1876, Texas Representative James Throckmorton said, “there is no question that, so long as there are millions of buffaloes in the West...the Indians cannot be controlled, even by the strong arm of the Government.”239 Chief Sitting Bull was imprisoned for two years after which he traveled with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. In 1888, Sitting Bull negotiated the sale of the Sioux reservation to the US government and was shot by Indian policemen two years later. The Sioux wars ended in 1890 when the U.S. army massacred them at Wounded Knee, South Dakota and were left with a population of less than 250,000 people. The Sioux were not the only dwindling population. With a buffalo population of 60 million in 1800 falling to13 million in 1870, the Great Plains retained less than 1000 buffalo by 1900.240 It is no coincidence that the Native Americans’ main food source was rapidly over-hunted and mass slaughtered during the same time period as the Sioux Wars.

General Custer was enthusiastic about the buffalo wars and killing buffalo in general. He said that “to find employment for the few weeks which must ensue before breaking up camp was sometimes a difficult task. To break the monotony and give horses and men exercise, buffalo hunts were organized, in which officers and men joined heartily. I know of no better drill for perfecting men in the use of firearms on horseback, and thoroughly accustoming them to the saddle, than buffalo-hunting over a moderately rough country. No amount of riding under the best of drill-masters will give that confidence and security in the saddle which will result from a few spirited charges into a buffalo herd.”241

In 1873, over 750,000 hides were shipped on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad alone, and it is estimated that over 7.5 million buffalo were killed from 1872 to 1874.242 The slaughter of the great buffalo herds of the West took place between 1874 and 1884. The Southern herds of in the Texas panhandle were gone as early as 1878 and extinction spread north.

c. The War in Kuwait and the War on the Environment




Conflict Type




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