"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"The hand not raised in protest..."


War is, indeed, hell. Here in the United States, the nation that has been making most of the war these days (in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan), we regularly see coverage in the newspapers and on TV of U.S. soldiers who have suffered injury and death - casualties of war. Yet we pay less attention to the civilian casualties, the "collateral damage" of war (especially modern warfare). It is not unlike the near daily front page coverage of the Gulf oil spill contrasted with the news vacuum surrounding (documented) massive oil spills in places like Africa's Niger Delta. Not our problem folks.

It seems that we have not paid attention as the percentage of civilian deaths in war has increased during the past century. At a recent international meeting on gender justice Sister Joan Chittister shared these sobering statistics*:
  • At the turn of the 20th century, 5% of war casualties were civilians
  • In World War I, 15% were civilians
  • In World War II, the figure leapt to a 65% civilian death toll, as whole cities were bombed
  • By the mid-nineties, 75% of war deaths were civilians
  • Today, 90% of the human war toll are civilians-the majority women and children
For all the U.S. investment in high tech weaponry and rules of engagement allegedly intended to reduce collateral damage, it just ain't so! And we wonder why people don't like us??? As we see the increased use of drones and other unmanned/robotic war machinery (and make the killing easier), so the most recent numbers cited by Sr. Joan are bound to seem paltry in years to come.

And yet most of us go about our daily business, untouched by war's violence, without so much as raising a hand in question or protest. Laura Carlsen, in an article titled Within the hell of war lies a private hell, stated that, "The hand not raised in protest appears genteel alongside the hand stained with the blood of the victim." Although Carlsen was speaking in a specific context of violence against women (and we must not forget that women and children are the disproportionately affected in violent conflicts), I believe this quote also speaks in a universal sense to all of us: If we feign ignorance and do not raise our hands in protest, those genteel hands are,indeed, stained with the blood of the victims.

As the U.S. Congress prepares to rubber stamp another $33 billion for Afghanistan (wonder why Karzai was in town last week?) we should be raising our hands (perhaps dipped in red paint for emphasis) in protest, writing letters to the editor and flooding Congress (and The White House) with phone calls and emails calling on our "leadership" in D.C. to stop this madness. Remind them that if they choose to continue on this murderous course, the blood on their hands will not wash off.

If you aren't already tied in to Peace Action, FCNL, Just Foreign Policy, United for Peace and Justice, or a host of other organizations working to change our nation's disastrous militaristic course, check out the list of "Actions You Can Take Right Now!" on this blog. Raise your hands for PEACE NOW!



* The statistics quoted from Joan Chittister are from Laura Carlsen's article titled Within the hell of war lies a private hell. Laura is the Director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

Photo: "The face of US 'collateral damage' in Iraq, 22 March 2003"; Source: Asia-Pacific Network

No comments: