Dam Nation

“Every morning when I awake, I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam,” Derrick Jensen writes. “I’ve written books and done activism, but it is neither a lack of words nor activism that is killing salmon here in the Northwest. It’s the dams. Anyone who knows anything about salmon knows the dams must go. Anyone who knows anything about politics knows the dams will stay.”

To that, I’ll add: Anyone who knows anything about hydroelectric dams comprehends and laments the damage they cause: From climate change to the destruction of rivers to human displacement to disappearing salmon…and beyond. As Jacques Leslie, author of Deep Water: The Epic Struggle over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment, points out: “The world’s dams have shifted so much weight that geophysicists believe they have slightly altered the speed of the earth’s rotation, the tilt of its axis, and the shape of its gravitational field.”

Bearing all this in mind, it should come as no surprise that some activists have contemplated the demolition of dams. It should also come as no surprise that such musings are deemed “terrorism” by the powers-that-be. What might come as a surprise to some is that those same powers-that-be have absolutely no problem blowing up a dam…if it serves their interests.

During World War II, British scientists invented a spinning cylindrical “dam buster” bomb specifically to demolish German dams. Conversely, of the 185 Nazis indicted at Nuremberg, only 24 were singled out for the death penalty. Among those two dozen was the German High Commissioner in Holland who ordered the opening of Dutch dikes to slow the advance of Allied troops. Roughly 500,000 acres were flooded and the result was mass starvation. That their crimes merited capital punishment in the eyes of the Nuremberg Tribunal can serve as a measuring stick when we review similar crimes committed by others.

During the Korean War, the US Air Force (USAF) bombed the Toksan Dam (among others) in order to flood North Korea’s rice farms. Here’s how the USAF justified this tactic: “To the Communists the smashing of the dams meant primarily the destruction of their chief sustenance—rice. The Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning that the loss of this staple food commodity has for an Asian—starvation and slow death.”

Fast-forward to the US assault on Southeast Asia: In a now-declassified memorandum dated April 15, 1969, evangelist Billy Graham urged President Richard Nixon to blow up dikes which “could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam.” Even without Rev. Graham’s heavenly sanction, US bombing of dikes in South Vietnam was already a common and uncontroversial tactic.

The moral of this story: Attacking a dam is terrorism…except when it isn’t.

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. anonymous said on January 21st, 2009 at 11:49am #

    Cue cuckoo clock.

    Tens of thousands of humans powering and heating their homes … or a school of fish?

    Dams are causing global warming now?
    Whew. Dig real deep.

    Step back. Shake the noise out of your mind, and start thinking again.

  2. rosemarie jackowski said on January 21st, 2009 at 12:18pm #

    Besides the environmental damage – there is also a big issue of economic damage. The World Bank and IMF are terrorist organizations set up primarily to launder/transfer money from workers to the corporate elite. It is not hard to connect the dots – this kind of money transfer causes people to starve in less developed countries.

  3. corylus said on January 21st, 2009 at 1:38pm #

    Anonymous for a reason: unwilling to practice what “it” preaches and “start thinking again..,” albeit in this case likely not “again,” but for the first time. Anonymous also in cowardly failure or inclination to support or explain a position, or even to provide an identity, instead delivering insinuations and characterizations that are unsubstantiated personal attacks. So, I haven’t much choice but to refer to the anonymous author of this display of ignorance as “it.” Will I be wasting my time, or belaboring the obvious, pointing out its vacuous nature? Who or what is really the wooden head popping out of the cuckoo clock?

    Most humans that haven’t crossed into the void of complete material narcissism understand the interactive nature of organisms (sorry if you’re in denial, but humans are organisms) and the physical environment. These collective interactions are sometimes referred to as “ecology.” Globally, water impounded by dams has destroyed or ecologically altered hundreds of thousands of square miles or riparian forests and woodlands, floodplains, marshes, and other ecosystems – the impacts stemming from water impoundments on organisms, including humans, are widespread, destructive, and numerous. These impacts include loss of huge swaths of plants that serve as carbon sinks (repositories) that provide partial remediation of atmospheric increases in carbon dioxide, a gas implicated in atmospheric retention of heat. Water impoundments have drowned ecosystems, and dried out others, and are a necessary factor in moving bulk water great distances, at the expense of ecosystems upon which many organisms depend – yes, people included. This type of basic information is not top secret material, and is widely available through books, magazines, the internet, documentaries, museums, universities, etc. Profound ignorance can be moderated through reading and other means of education, and is especially useful before spewing stupidity for general public consumption.

    Abusing language and taking liberties with the words of others is also another one of its onerous traits, to wit: dismissing all the organisms and interactions and habitats and ecosystem services ruined by water impoundments as “…a school of fish…,” while juxtaposing this gross mischaracterization against human uses of energy, is an extremely vulgar insult to reason and logic. I can’t afford the time to express my awe at just how ludicrous this empty rhetoric really is. A contribution to “climate change” is not equivalent to “….causing global warming…” (though that may be an outcome of climate change) and it deepened its pit of drivel even more by misquoting Mickey Z., who provided sources of documentation for his essay. Disagreement with those sources, or with established fact and the conjoined refutation of research, study, and hypothesis-testing (reliable methods for understanding the physical universe, even if Derrick Jensen does decry the manifestations of science to promote capitalistic abuses) are symptoms of intellectual devolution. Using the words of others as misquotes or deliberate misinterpretations, in order to support specious beliefs not based on facts (sounds like religion and political propaganda to me) is yet another demonstration of the demise of thought. So, just how would it know it has a “mind” of its own — since it impugns the condition of Mickey’s mind — as from its words it would appears to lack either intellect or conscience?

    Laziness and ignorance and lack of conscience are dams. They are not valid excuses for the failure to understand facts and to learn about environments, landscapes, ecosystems, organisms, and physical processes. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to such a display of unfathomable ignorance, and I’m served well in knowing that “it” speaks for many others who similarly lack the capacity for thought or the motivation to learn. Such ignorance and knee-jerk disrespect for fact and science constitute a huge challenge for humanity and our obligate integration with ecology – and we can and must reassert the human place in planetary ecology, despite delusional thinking that humans are spiritually, intellectually, and technologically superior: no one escapes the physical laws of the universe. Misinformation and belief and propaganda are huge dams to enlightenment and learning, and as we learn, the dams must be methodically dissembled and our minds and ecosystems opened again to full functioning. All of humanity must know these fact if humans are to continue to live on this incomprehensibly complex and bountiful planet.

  4. Ramsefall said on January 21st, 2009 at 5:07pm #

    Mickey Z,

    you sure are able to illustratively get to the point.

    “Except when it isn’t” translates roughly into “except when the Empire feels the need to make water speed.”



    there’s this thing called equilibrium, which humanity and the planet are way far from achieving due to human-over-nature mentality. If you don’t want to acknowledge the ramifications of damming, how about let’s alter the flow of blood in your veins and see how your body reacts.

    Best to all.

  5. L. C. Larson said on January 23rd, 2009 at 2:31pm #

    The very link you included in the article to show how bad dams are states in it’s first paragraph that dams provide 1/5 of the world’s energy (much more than that for the third world) and irrigate half the world’s food supplies.

    Do you have any idea the amount of damage that would result if that 1/5 was replaced with fossil fuels and that 1/2 of irrigation would be replaced with… nothing?

    As far as rotting plants and stuff go there are some ways to mediate that. But please have some F’ING perspective here guys! Guys like Jensen and claims like this make us on the left look loopy.

    ps – good reminder about dam related atrocities from Korea and holland… the US also wanted to massively bomb Vietnamese dams… that’s what “traitorous” Jane Fonda (among others) went over there to try and stop.

  6. anonymous, still said on January 23rd, 2009 at 3:53pm #

    Well, Rosemarie, you sure have some brass ones accusing me of “drivel.”

    Mickey Z has gone looney tune with this article, basically endorsing blowing up existing dams, something that any government in the world would treat as “terrorism.”

    And I’m the ignorant one here?

    For some reason you think that humans have no right to alter the environment in any way at all. Sorry to dispel you of that idiocy.

    This article remains a crazy diatribe that will not be taken seriously by sane people. If you believe that dams are ruining the world, I’d say the burden of proof is on you to make a case.

    The tens of thousands who are receiving power from the local dam have every right to tell you to go fuck yourself. The environment was altered, not substantially, not cataclysmically. And the results are quite efficient, clean and desired by the local population. Good luck convincing people to shoot themselves in the ass. It’s not impossible, but sure is an uphill trek.

    Of all the real issues confronting mankind today, I don’t think dams makes the top 1000. Quixotes may differ on the ranking. God bless the Internets.