US Military Burn Pits and the Slow Violence of War


This project explores the slow violence of post-9/11 US warmaking by focusing on the US military’s use of massive open-air burn pits used to dispose of all waste produced by the US military in the early years of it’s post-9/11 wars. The practice of constructing city-sized operating bases outfitted with modern and largely disposable conveniences led to unprecedented amounts of everyday waste, including Styrofoam meal trays, plastic water bottles, and e-waste–with each soldier generating roughly three times more waste every day than their civilian counterpart in the US. The burning of this waste became a signature of the toxic post-9/11 ecology of war and has been linked to an array of illnesses both in US veterans and Iraqis and Afghans. Zoë Wool and anthropologist Ken MacLeish have been working on this project with funding from the VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center since 2017. Recently, they have teamed up with fellow anthropologist Kali Rubaii who works on experiences of contamination in Iraq to put the US and Iraqi experiences of this slow violence into relation to each other. You can read more about this project in Wool and MacLeish’s publications about the burn pits and the politics of health in the US and about the idea that their toxicity is central to warmaking, rather than a collateral effect. The TWIG Research Kitchen core team is also working on a spin off project that focuses on the US Military’s use and production of plastic bottled water during the post-2003 invasion and occupation.


Zoë Wool, Ken MacLeish, Kali Rubaii, Bradley Dunseith, Yasir Piracha, Anisha Sankar, Jennifer Su


All that is Solid Burns into Smoke: US Military Burn Pits, Petrochemical Toxicity, and the Racial Geopolitics of Displacement (Wool), Burn Pits are not Just a Veteran Issue: Without Iraqis and Afghans, the PACT Act becomes and alibi for environmental injustice (Rubaii and Wool) | US Military Burn Pits and the Politics of Health (MacLeish and Wool) | The Relativity of Toxicity (Wool) | US Military Waste as War Violence (Wool and MacLeish) | Burn Pit Explainer Prezi (Created by Bradley Dunseith)

Funding & Support

VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center; SSHRC Insight Award

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