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The horror of war [Part – II]

In his book ‘What Every Person Should Know About War’, the late Chris Hedges explains the phenomenon of defence employment, which witnessed ups and downs.

Hedges asserts that the 2003 level of 3.5 percent of the labour force was historically low as this percentage was much higher during the peak of the cold war and the second mass slaughter – also known as World War II. He notes, “In 1987, towards the end of the cold war, defence (including the military) made up 5.7 percent of the US labour market; in 1968, during Vietnam, 9.8 percent; in 1943, during World War II, 39 percent. After World War II, defence employment dropped to 4.5 percent, but jumped back to 11 percent in 1951 with the Korean War and the start of the cold war.”

This explanation reflects the nexus of wars, conflicts, military spending and employment at home. It could be one of the reasons prompting Americans to throw their support behind wars and invasions as these loathsome plans of death and destruction are also a source of income for them. This also encourages local politicians, senators and members of Congress to back a war, even if it is illegal, because they believe that lack of conflicts and military spending could render thousands – or perhaps tens of thousands – of Americans jobless, creating immense hardships for citizens besides damaging the US economy that heavily relies on arms and oil industries for employment.

The book also talks about the global arms trade that, although beneficial for weapon manufacturers, turns out to be a curse for those states that witnessed wars and conflicts. It notes that in 2001, US arms manufacturers exported $9.7 billion in weapons worldwide. “The United Kingdom was second in international exports with $4 billion. In addition, the United States made new sales of $12.1 billion. Russia was second with $5.8 billion. The United States is the world’s largest arms manufacturer, supplying almost half of all the arms sold on the world market. Approximately half. From 1994 to 2001, the United States exported $131 billion in arms, with $59 billion going to developing nations.”

This arms trade greatly affects the living standards of people in poor countries that pump billions of dollars into this purchase – most of these weapons are sold by Washington. Hedges notes, “The United States is the leading exporter to developing countries, with Russia and France second and third.”

Even though citizens wilfully let their countries’ ruling classes take decisions about wars, these are the same people who are severely affected by such decisions. Civilians turn out to be the most vulnerable lot in any conflict. Hedges notes, “Between 1900 and 1990, 43 million soldiers died in wars. During the same period, 62 million civilians were killed. More than 34 million civilians died in World War II. One million died in North Korea. Hundreds of thousands were killed in South Korea, and 200,000 to 400,000 in Vietnam. In the wars of the 1990s, civilian deaths constituted between 75 and 90 percent of all war deaths.”

There is no denying that Hedges’ estimates appear to be conservative as it is widely believed that the Vietnam war claimed four to seven million lives and that the Korean war resulted in the deaths of around three million people. A majority of these victims were ordinary citizens, who had nothing to do with these wars or conflicts.

Hegdes further narrates the plight of civilians caught in such conflicts waged by their ruling elites. He notes that civilians are shot, bombed, raped, starved, and driven from their homes. It seems that death travels faster than light for civilians, killing them within the blink of an eye. He adds, “During World War II, 135,000 civilians died in two days in the firebombing of Dresden. A week later, in Pforzheim, Germany, 17,800 people were killed in 22 minutes. In Russia, after the three-year battle of Leningrad, only 600,000 civilians remained in a city that had held a population of 2.5 million.”

It is not only death and destruction that ordinary people have to face; they also remain trapped under the rubble of buildings destroyed by bombings, or are left without food and water for long periods. For instance, in Russia, during World War II, the siege of Leningrad thrust people into a catastrophic situation, pushing them towards hunger and starvation. Hedges observes that one million were evacuated, 100,000 were conscripted into the Red Army, and 800,000 died. He reveals that in Iraq, half of the 1.3 million civilians in Basra were trapped for days without food and water in temperatures in excess of 100 degrees in April 2003.

The West expresses concerns over the arrival of immigrants knocking on its doors but its war machinery is one of the factors fuelling armed conflicts, forcing people to flee their home countries. During the Syrian civil war, over 11 million people were displaced. This is in addition to millions of others who were displaced in the past conflicts. Hedges notes that 40 million people were displaced from their homes because of armed conflicts or human rights violations in 2001. He traces the history of such displacement offering the numbers of people uprooted during various conflicts and wars.

According to him, five million Europeans were uprooted from 1919 to 1939. “World War II displaced 40 million non-Germans in Europe, and 13 million Germans were expelled from countries in Eastern Europe. Approximately 2.5 million of the 4.4 million people in Bosnia and Herzegovina were driven from their homes during that region’s war in the early 1990s. More than 2 million Rwandans left their country in 1994. In 2001, 200,000 people were driven from Afghanistan to Pakistan. In early 2003, 45,000 Liberians were displaced from their homes.”

It is not only the trauma of leaving homes and living in camps that haunts immigrants, but also death that keeps chasing them. Hedges adds that refugees have high mortality rates, primarily due to malnutrition and infectious disease. “Rwandan refugees in Zaire in 1994 had a death rate 25 to 50 times higher than pre-war Rwandans. Iraqi Kurdish refugees in Turkey in 1991 had a death rate 18 times higher than usual.”

Wars and conflicts brutalise children as well. The book claims that more than two million children were killed in wars during the 1990s. “Three times that number were disabled or seriously injured. Twenty million children were displaced from their homes in 2001. Many were forced into prostitution. A large percentage of those will contract AIDS. Children born to mothers who are raped or forced into prostitution often become outcasts. More than 300,000 worldwide. Soldiers are sometimes recruited at age 10 and younger. The youngest carry heavy packs, or sweep roads with brooms and branches to test for landmines. When children are hostile, the opposing army is more likely to consider every civilian a potential enemy.”

Wars, conflicts and civil strife expose the brutal nature of humanity. Some of the most inhuman acts committed by states have occured during the senseless conflicts where opponents were eliminated on the pretext of spying or treachery and minorities were pushed towards extinction. As the book lists the erstwhile USSR killed 20 million people during the Stalin Great Terror (1930s), and Nazi Germany killed six million Jews in concentration camps along with over five million Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other “enemies of the German state” (1937-1945).

In addition to these horrors, other acts of genocides also claimed the lives of ordinary people. The book notes that in Cambodia, 1.7 million people out of the country’s seven million population were killed as a result of the actions of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). Saddam Hussein killed 50,000 Kurds during the ethnic cleansing of Anfal in 1987. Bosnia witnessed the killings of 310,000 Muslims during the civil war of 1992-1995, and Rwanda’s land was drowned in human blood by targeting more than one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were slaughtered over a ten-week-long period in 1994.

To be continued

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Abdul Sattar, "The horror of war [Part – II]," The News. 2022-03-17.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , World war , Human rights , Muslims , Humanity , Politicians , United States , Iraq