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Bombs Away

Militarization, Conservation, and Ecological Restoration

When viewed from space, the Korean Peninsula is crossed by a thin green ribbon. On the ground, its mix of dense vegetation and cleared borderlands serves as home to dozens of species that are extinct or endangered elsewhere on the peninsula. This is Korea’s demilitarized zone—one of the most dangerous places on earth for humans, and paradoxically one of the safest for wildlife. Although this zone was not intentionally created for conservation, across the globe hundreds of millions of acres of former military zones and bases are being converted to restoration areas, refuges, and conservation lands. David G. Havlick has traveled the world visiting these spaces of military-to-wildlife transition, and in Bombs Away he explores both the challenges—physical, historical, and cultural—and fascinating ecological possibilities of military site conversions.

Looking at particular international sites of transition—from Indiana’s Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge to Cold War remnants along the former Iron Curtain—Havlick argues that these new frontiers of conservation must accomplish seemingly antithetical aims: rebuilding and protecting ecosystems, or restoring life, while also commemorating the historical and cultural legacies of warfare and militarization. Developing these ideas further, he shows that despite the ecological devastation often wrought by military testing and training, these activities need not be inconsistent with environmental goals, and in some cases can even complement them—a concept he calls ecological militarization. A profound, clear explication of landscapes both fraught and fecund, marked by death but also reservoirs of life, Bombs Away shows us how “military activities, conservation goals, and ecological restoration efforts are made to work together to create new kinds of places and new conceptions of place.”

208 pages | 36 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography, Environmental Geography


“It is vital to remember other kinds of military legacies, too, as Havlick’s book, Bombs Away, powerfully demonstrates. . . . It is easy to see the conversions as ecological success stories—and in many ways they are. But Havlick is adamant that this coat of green paint mustn’t obscure sites’ uncomfortable histories and legacies, in many cases of unexploded ammunition, toxic chemicals, and human displacement. . . . Havlick’s aim is to nettle us out of an easy complacency about our military history and future. Sadly we may not need that nettling now.”

Bob Holmes | New Scientist

“The author approaches his topic with the refreshing breadth of a geographer, looking beyond wild-life considerations to include the complex human histories of military landscapes. . . . Havlick’s treatment is even-handed and thought-provoking throughout, enriched by personal travels to many of the places in question. . . . Bombs Away makes a valuable contribution to an emerging field by significantly broadening the discussion of nature conservation on military landscapes. It will be a go-to reference for anyone looking for case studies on the challenges of integrating history, ecological restoration, social justice, biodiversity conservation, and other overlapping issues facing landscapes touched by warfare.”

Thor Hanson, author of "Buzz" | Quarterly Review of Biology

“Havlick’s treatise on the status quo of militarized landscapes is one of those rare part-academic/part-pop science books that grabs you and does not let go until you find yourself sharing the author’s philosophy. . . . You will find yourself immersed in this geography teacher’s train of thoughts on the history, ethics and politics of militarized landscapes such as barracks, proving grounds and air bases—a ride fueled by his travel and research experience. . . . Havlick’s deep dive into military environmentalism is an important chapter in environmental history.”

Vijay Shankar Balakrishnan | SEJ BookShelf

“Compact and accessible. . . . Its seven chapters analyze converted military sites from social, political, and environmental perspectives, using evidence from interviews, government documents, and site visits. The author's lucid style of writing and personal experience—he grew up near the highly toxic Rocky Mountain National Arsenal, now a National Wildlife Reserve—will engage readers, both general and specialist. . . . Bombs Away has few weaknesses, being built on a solid theoretical background illustrated by well chosen case studies. . . . In short, scholars should welcome Havlick's fine study as a model for adding missing pieces.”

Tom J. Arnold, San Diego Mesa College | Michigan War Studies Review

“[A] thoughtful and interdisciplinary study. . . . One of the book’s many strengths is that the author draws on his notes and observations from personal visits to many of these M2W refuges, not only to those in the United States, notably the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver, Colorado, but also to those elsewhere in the world, such as the Iron Curtain Trail in Central Europe and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan."

Kevin Jon Fernlund, University of Missouri, St. Louis | Environmental History

“If Bombs Away offered a detailed account of the challenges faced by resource personnel at M2W refuges and nothing more, it would make a valuable contribution to the growing body of literature on federal land management. Fortunately for us, Havlick strives to do so much more with this volume. Rather than accept the M2W program as evidence of a more environmentally friendly and responsible military—an image the DOD and armed services are eager to promote—or dwell on the power of nature to recover from even the most egregious assault, he asks readers to consider M2W refuges in all their complexity. . . . Perhaps the most important lesson we should draw from Havlick's illuminating new book has relatively little to do with national wildlife refuges per se. If J. B. Jackson is right, that ‘landscape is history made visible,’ then it follows that erasing evidence of that history—even if carried out with great care and with the best of intentions—diminishes our ability to remember and learn from our experiences. Although the naturalization of militarized landscapes can and should be celebrated, we should not lose sight of the fact that our capacity—and willingness—to inflict pain on each other and to wreak havoc with the natural world is also deeply inscribed at these sites. Rather than revel in nature's ability to heal itself or wager that new technologies will emerge to solve our problems, Havlick suggests we would well to safeguard our memories (even the painful ones), mend our broken relationships, and chart a more promising course for the future. These are the larger ‘takeaway’ points that make Bombs Away such a timely and relevant book.”

Geoffrey L. Buckley, Ohio University | AAG Review of Books

“Havlick unpicks the curious relationship between defense and environmental protection. Specifically, he guides us through the complex and sometimes difficult phenomenon of the ecological restoration of former military sites. Havlick is a recognized authority on this issue, and Bombs Away offers an extended and deepened analysis of the practice, readily nameable as military to wildlife conversions and problematized as hybrid places where nature and culture come together in transformative ways. These blended places, Havlick argues, give us new ways of understanding society-nature relationships, and Havlick is an expert guide to the manifestations of hybridity brought into being by the practices of converting and ecologically restoring former military sites. . . . Bombs Away is an engaging read, not least because it includes both explicit and implicit reminders that geography is essentially a field-based practice. Havlick develops his arguments about these hybrid spaces while telling us about his own encounters with the huge variety of military-to-wildlife conversion sites that he has visited. He reminds us that fieldwork is not just an exercise in looking, but also an exercise in visualization so as to understand what we see. . . . Bombs Away made me think differently about a place I thought I understood because, as Havlick shows us with the more contemporary former military sites which he guides us through, romantic notions of natural reclamation in military landscapes can provide quite insidious cover for processes that are violent, expropriating, and deadly.”

Rachel Woodward, Newcastle University | Cultural Geographies

“Restoration is not a panacea and should not enable current or future generations to forget what past generations both caused and endured. Bombs Away effectively argues that as we restore ecological integrity to militarily damaged lands, we must also maintain a historical link to the cause and nature of the damage to help prevent such human and ecological violence from happening again. Havlick poignantly and elegantly conveys the importance of remembering and honoring the profound destruction and devastation on these lands as well as the danger of ‘erasure’ if we focus on ecological restoration alone. With many military lands now abandoned, and unfortunately new military atrocities occurring daily, Bombs Away provides a much-needed reference for how to deal with the opportunity military conversions offer in a culturally and ecologically sensitive manner.”

Bethanie Walder, executive director of the Society for Ecological Restoration

Bombs Away focuses on the post–Cold War trend of turning former military bases and land used for military purposes into wildlife preserves. Havlick’s scholarship is refreshing, as it reflects a genuine curiosity and openness to exploring this apparent paradox. Often the public perception is that once the military pulls out, land becomes either demilitarized or totally destroyed. Havlick’s work is original as it considers how land remains fundamentally shaped by former military activity, while it also changes in ways that may be compatible with environmental recovery. Connecting to theoretical discussions of nature and society, wilderness, public land management, and defense policy, this book should have broad appeal to scholars and students of geography, anthropology, sociology, and environmental studies. Accessible, clear, and provocative, Bombs Away is fascinating, timely work.”

Kate McCaffrey, Montclair State University, author of "Military Power and Popular Protest: The US Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico"

"Bombs Away is an outstanding accomplishment of serious scholarship.  It contains key theoretical insights about 'ecological militarization' and 'demilitarized geographies' within a political ecological framework. But unlike many political ecology scholars, Havlick does an exceptional job writing in a language that is both interesting, accessible, and appealing to a wider audience....This book is a 'must read' for scholars interested in what is happening today to many of our public lands."

Lisa Benton-Short | Geographical Review

Table of Contents

ONE / Military Natures
TWO / Bunkers, Bats, and Base Closures
THREE / Real Restoration?
FOUR / Sanctuaries Inviolate
FIVE / Not Nature Alone
SIX / Army Green
SEVEN / Remembering and Restoring Militarized Landscapes



Colorado Center for the Book: Colorado Book Awards

Association of American Geographers: John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize

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