Earth Day, Arbor Day and Where Nature Meets National Security

April 22, 2015
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Seventy years ago outside the soaring stone Louisiana capitol building in Baton Rouge, the governor gave an Arbor Day speech that linked planting a tree with securing liberty. Then he put his foot to a shovel to make it happen. What was that tree that would protect the American people? The cork oak!

    Little-known fact: at the middle of the 20th century the United States imported nearly half the world’s cork. It was crucial (as an insulator) for the defense industry’s wartime production of planes, ships and equipment. For years during World War II and after, Arbor Day celebrations across the U.S. featured governors and other officials intoning to live and radio audiences how citizens could help keep America free by planting a cork oak. In response, 4-H groups, boy scouts and garden clubs requested the seedlings and planted trees to do their patriotic duty.
    So for Arbor Day and its successor Earth Day, here’s a reprise of the quixotic tale of the wartime campaign to save the U.S. from Fascism by growing cork oaks across America! Thanks to Chesapeake Bay magazine for publishing this first installment of an elaborate tale of nature and national security.
    And thanks to All Things Considered for airing another slant on the story.
    Digging deeper, I have been intrigued to find more about how cork – that elusive substance of desire and wine stoppers native to the Mediterranean – was a big deal in the mid-1900s. Companies like Crown Cork and Seal and Armstrong Cork – both still going today in different forms – found their work with Nature’s cork entailed unnatural geopolitics. What began as a simple trade in bark and bottle caps snowballed into an elaborate global drama, bringing along sabotage, espionage, and…
    More to come. Do you have a cork oak story of your own? Let me know.
    Happy Earth Day!

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