Scorched Earth

Throughout history, humans have fought 3 out of every 4 wars in order to gain control over territory. But, just as often, wars have also witnessed combatants and civilians intentionally destroying that very territory over which they started a war. Why is this the case?

This book, "Wars against nature," will explore a behavior that is just as puzzling as it is recurrent: the deliberate destruction of the natural environment during wars. 

Comparing the occurrence of this behavior over time, from the Romans' decision to salt the earth in Carthage in 146BC to the targeting of dams in the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022/23, the book will ask why this type of destruction has persisted for so long and in so many different parts of the world. 

To answer this question, the book will leverage insights from a diverse set of disciplines across fields of study. It will draw from theories of primates' territorial control in biology, but also theories of emotions and short vs long-term biases in psychology, as well as insights from history on the memorialization of conflict, international law understandings of environmental destruction, and theories of the causes and consequences of wars from political science and economics. This book will help us wrestle with fundamental questions about human nature, our right to shape the environment around us for better and worse, and what we owe future and past generation.

The IR Lab @ Amherst College, which I direct, is working on this very project.

Please email me if you want to connect on this project or see the latest version.