Other Collateral Damages of War

Some great minds maintain that “War is always a betrayal!” Besides the dominant and politicized ethics of “kill or be killed,” the act of killing usually results in gruesome ways that end up in colossal collateral damages. Collateral damage can range from simply living in constant fear, to poverty and the destruction of physical and public health.

I remember during the Nigerian Civil (Biafran) war, one of the professors used to tell people (including us students) how terrible war was: He would say: “I almost died for nothing because a stray bullet almost killed me!!!” While those who have never witnessed wars would not understand, it is profound in its own right, as a collateral damage. This professor lived in perpetual fear of that war and the fear of that “stray bullet” restricted his movements till he eventually became a casualty of that war!

On CBS Sunday Morning – March 16, 2014, Martha Teichner did the Cover Story on the collateral damage that could result from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The focus was on what the war/s did to the families (especially children) of war veterans with PTSD when they returned home. Here the collateral damage is also against those who never went to war. One illustration was with a 15-year-old Abigail Barton and her father, Aaron Barton, a veteran of the Iraq war. Aaron Barton was a specialist in the US Army National Guard, who after two deployments in Iraq, in 2005 and in 2007 returned home a damaged man with brain and spinal injuries and PTSD. He was scared of getting out of their house because “Crowds make me nervous. I’m always still looking for snipers.” While he could also work as a butcher for a local supermarket, he could only do so if he worked alone. Abigail’s view was: “I just figured he’d come home and he’d start, just like he used to, start taking us to the park, playing basketball, getting ice cream, all that stuff,” … “And it just immediately changed, it was completely gone.” Abigail herself developed depression and anxiety over a long period because the father she knew was completely gone.

Chris Hedges presented an audio version of collateral damage on the war veterans themselves as they tried to resolve the dissonance between what actual war entailed and the “lofty” claims by the establishments. For example, those in command and control would claim that killing large numbers of people in a war is “a virtue”, while the soldiers who engage/d in such acts (especially when faced with split second decisions) and when such acts end/ed up killing innocent people, would experience a shattered myth. Actively faced with “unleashing industrial slaughtering,” some returned home with enormous reduction of compassion for people. Yet, all that killing of those people does not make “evil vanish”. When therefore, the veterans return to the reality (they see and face) and ideal presented by those who sent them there, they are traumatized by such a clash. This is also because in war, we, as human become as barbaric and savage as those we oppose. Consequently, the monopoly we think we have on “virtue” quickly dissipates. Finally, in this binary world of us and them, the good and the bad, those worthy of life and those unworthy of life, some veterans no longer see the others as humans – but only as “abstractions in human forms.”

This final portion focuses on a more collective collateral damage of war, its cost with regards to physical environment, public health and poverty. Pick any war of choice including the Iraq of 2003, the major report on that given war will show that (even after it has ended) it will continue to have a major impact on the physical and mental health of civilians and combatants, and on the environment and physical infrastructure of the country in which it is fought. As many health professionals already know, they are called upon to take action on various faces of destruction and work to improve the health of survivors of conflict such as refugees. They are charged with the “health consequences of war, poverty and environmental degradation and other major threats to global health.”

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18 Responses to Other Collateral Damages of War

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  4. Chidexo says:

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