“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.