Honoring veterans

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(Host) Commentator Nils Daulaire marks the occasion of this Veteran’s Day to reflect on the realities of war.

(Daulaire) Here in the United States, it’s been a long time since most of us have seen war close up. We always seem to be sending our young men and women “over there,” across oceans and continents, and war’s realities can be hard to comprehend at such distances. But our veterans have seen what war does to soldiers, civilians and societies. They know the human cost.

One reality of war is that bombs and bullets don’t do most of the killing. In the American Civil War, for example, about 200,000 soldiers died in combat, but nearly half a million died of pneumonia, typhoid, dysentery and malaria. Disease and starvation are every war’s deadliest weapons.

Another terrible truth is that through these means, war kills far more civilians than soldiers. War destroys the infrastructure that brings food to market, makes drinking water safe, delivers medical care. War chases people from their homes, exposes them to the elements, to starvation, to diseases of poor sanitation and crowding.

The decade-and-a-half since the end of the Cold War has seen a global explosion of armed violence. Scores of wars and countless smaller conflicts, from Colombia to Kashmir, have killed hundreds of thousands and created an estimated 50 million refugees.

As many as 75 percent of these refugees are women and children. In much of today’s warfare, this is no accidental “collateral damage”: their suffering is actually used as a tool of war. Ours is an era in which “for civilians, armed conflicts have become events of limitless horror. They are often the main targets of aggression. There are no sanctuaries.

Even after the fighting stops, the disastrous health effects of war blight the futures of individual survivors and whole nations.

Malaria was under control in Afghanistan before fighting began there in 1979. Now the disease infects 2 to 3 million people per year. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sleeping Sickness had been reduced to 1,000 cases, but then decades of war and unrest led to an estimated 40,000 cases today, with more than 70 percent of people infected in some communities. And new data from the International Rescue Committee indicates that the indirect effect of this war has taken over 3 million lives.

The long-term effects of wartime malnutrition can cripple a generation, as can the spread of HIV/AIDS, which has regularly exploded in conditions of warfare and systematic rape.

And even many years after the signing of peace accords, anti-personnel mines are still killing and maiming men, women and children in Angola, Cambodia and Mozambique.

War is a lasting horror. So today and every November 11th, we Americans should indeed honor our brave veterans for their sacrifice and valor. At the same time we should honor their cause by renewing our own dedication to work for peace – remembering that it was peace, after all, and not conquest, for which they fought.

This is Nils Daulaire.

Doctor Nils Dalaire is President of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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