The Effects of War and Conflict

Human beings are allegedly the most intelligent species on the planet, and yet uniquely, we are the only species to wage war on each other.  Other species may squabble and fight amongst themselves to protect their territory but in general they live peacefully with one another.

Humans have populated the planet for about 200,000 years but war and conflict is a relatively new introduction to the lives of men, woman and children.

The earliest known conflicts happened possibly only as recently as 20,000 years ago – and more likely much more recently than that.  There is no evidence of serious conflict before this time and earlier cave paintings and excavations reveal only a peaceful society.

Yet, of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for only 268 of them, or just 8% of recorded history.

In recorded history since 3,600 BC, over 14,500 major wars have killed close to four billion people – a staggering number that equates to almost half of the current world population.

In armed conflicts since 1945, 90% of casualties have been civilians compared to 50% in the Second World War and only 10% in the First World War. The planning and execution of war remains controlled by men. But women and children are the main victims of violence in war and peace.

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At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century.

War has several major effects on population, including decreasing the birth-rate by taking men away from their wives. The reduced birth-rate during World War II is estimated to have caused a population deficit of more than 20 million people.

Currently, the combined armed forces of the world have 21.3 million people. China has the world’s largest, with 2.4 million. America is second with 1.4 million. India has 1.3 million, North Korea 1 million, and Russia 900,000. Of the world’s 20 largest militaries, 14 are in developing nations?

But war and conflict are entirely unnecessary.  They only demonstrate a failure of humanity to resolve their disagreements peacefully, with intelligent and respectful discussions where compromise is the goal of all sides.

The losers of any conflict are the innocent people in the middle, and usually it’s children, the sick and the elderly who are affected worst.  Those who choose to pursue or even just to threaten war and conflict must be vilified as the enemies of humanity on both sides.  

Things have to change – and they need to change now.

Here are some of the effects of war and conflict.

357 million children are forced to grow up in the midst of armed conflict. This atmosphere of violence has many direct negative effects on the mental health of these children – including feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression.

A contribution to the militarization of society is to socialize children into thinking violence and war are justifiable and glorious. From military, defence and weapons-industry recruitment schemes to action-hero toys, society creates killers.

Even in peacetime, women are far more likely to experience violent abuse than men – for example one out of every six pregnant women in the USA is battered during pregnancy.

Governments and national leaders are often the most horrific perpetrators of violence. Torture occurs in more than 100 countries and is carried out as part of government policy in at least 40. And governments form a crucial part of the military-industrial complex that is responsible for churning out the weapons and methods of war.

Children suffer a range of war injuries. Certain weapons affect them particularly. A landmine explosion is more likely to kill or seriously injure a child than an adult. Thousands of children suffer landmine injuries each year.

Millions of children are disabled by war, many of whom have grossly inadequate access to rehabilitation services. A child may have to wait up to 10 years before having a prosthetic limb fitted. Children who survive landmine blasts rarely receive prostheses that are able to keep up with the continued growth of their limbs.

Conditions for maintenance of child health deteriorate in war – nutrition, water safety, sanitation, housing, access to health services. There may be loss of immunity to disease vectors with population movement. Refugee children are particularly vulnerable to the deadly combination of malnutrition and infectious illness. There is also interruption of population immunization programs by war which may be responsible for increases in child mortality.

Rape and prostitution for subsistence are phenomena which often occur in situations of war, ethnic cleansing, and refugee life, leaving lasting physical impacts in sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, psychological impacts and changes in life trajectory.

Children are exposed to situations of terror and horror during war – experiences that may leave enduring impacts in post-traumatic stress disorder. Severe losses and disruptions in their lives lead to high rates of depression and anxiety in war-affected children. These impacts may be prolonged by exposures to further privations and violence in refugee situations.

The experience of indifference from the surrounding world, or, worse still, malevolence, may cause children to suffer loss of meaning in their construction of themselves in their world. They may have to change their moral structure and lie, steal, and sell sex to survive. They may have their moral structure forcibly dismantled and replaced in training to kill as part of a military force.

Children may lose their community and its culture during war, sometimes having it reconstituted in refugee or diaspora situations.

It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of young people under 18 serving in militias in about 60 countries. They are particularly vulnerable to all of the impacts listed above.

Thousands of children die each year as a direct result of armed violence, but millions more die from the indirect consequences of warfare – as a result of the disruption in food supplies, destruction of health services, water systems and sanitation

In poor countries where children are already vulnerable to malnutrition and disease, the onset of armed conflict can increase death rates by up to 24 times – with the under-five years at particular risk. The indirect effects of war are profound, under-appreciated and preventable.

Children born of war are commonly faced with stigma, discrimination, abandonment and infanticide.  This makes them vulnerable to trafficking and ending up on the streets. The closure of schools during conflict and war results in children being pushed onto the streets.

In addition to having awful consequences for people and their civilizations, modern warfare also causes terrible environmental damages. These include the destruction caused by conventional weapons, effects of the military use of poisonous gases and herbicides, and petroleum spills.

Some animals have been brought to the brink of extinction through warfare. For instance, the last wild Pere David’s deer (Elaphurus diavidianus ) were killed during the Boxer War of 1898-1900 in China. The European bison (Bison bonasus ) was almost rendered extinct by hunting during World War I to provide meat for troops.

More recently, warfare has led to lawlessness in much of Africa, allowing well-armed gangs of poachers to cause white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum ), black rhinos (Diceros bicornis ), elephants (Loxodontia africana ), and other species to become critically endangered over much of their range. These animals are hunted for their horns, tusks, and other valuable body parts.

During the 1991 aerial campaign over Iraq, the US utilized approximately 340 tons of missiles containing depleted uranium (DU). Water and soil may be contaminated by the chemical residue of these weapons, as well as benzene and trichloroethylene from air base operations.

We didn’t inherit this planet from our parents. We’re just borrowing it from our children”.

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  And although nobody claims to know its true origins, it’s often described as a Native American proverb, probably following on from when, over a century ago, Native American Chief Seattle was quoted as saying: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.”

The Amish Community in North America have a similar saying: “We have not inherited the land from our parents, we are borrowing it from our children.”

And a version of the same words was used by Moses Henry Cass, the Australian Minister for the Environment and Conservation, in a speech he gave in November 1974 in Paris at a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. He said this:

“We rich nations, for that is what we are, have an obligation not only to the poor nations, but to all the grandchildren of the world, rich and poor. We have not inherited this earth from our parents to do with it what we will. We have borrowed it from our children and we must be careful to use it in their interests as well as our own. Anyone who fails to recognise the basic validity of the proposition put in different ways by increasing numbers of writers, from Malthus to The Club of Rome, is either ignorant, a fool, or evil.”

On the assumption therefore that we agree with the sentiments of that statement, made nearly 50 years ago, let’s now consider what sort of world awaits our own children and grandchildren.

It’s very clear that, as things stand, they will all face a world of uncertainty…

  • Substantially more people to feed
  • Far less farmland for growing food
  • Vastly depleted fish stocks in our oceans
  • Reduced availability of water
  • Higher energy requirements

Estimates indicate that the global population will grow from 7.7bn now to over 9.8bn by 2050 so there’ll be many more mouths to feed.  And it’s amazing to consider that that increase in population alone of 2.1 billion people in just 30 years is equivalent to the actual global population as it was in 1930.

By the time we reach that point in the middle of the 21st Century, however, there’ll be less farmland to produce the food to feed all these extra people.

The world has lost over one-third of its arable land in the past 50 years, largely through soil erosion caused by farming and other human activities.  And enough farmland is still being lost every year, so that by 2050, there could be another 7% reduction compared to now.

We’re also facing depleted fish supplies.  Over 65% of the world’s marine fish stocks are already fully or over-exploited.  Yet over a third of the world’s people rely on seafood for 20% of their daily animal protein.

Why then, with this long list of environmental, some might argue almost unavoidable, challenges already facing our children and grandchildren, do we seek to burden them further with all the unnecessary complications resulting from prejudice, division, discord and, in some circumstances, even conflict and war.

All these are completely avoidable if there is the will of the people and our leaders to do so.  Sadly, they are often the result of widespread misinformation, a complete lack of awareness about the key issues and a few misguided opinions based on differences in faith, belief, culture or national identity.

Things have to change.  And they need to start changing now.  We must become a more tolerant society which can reap substantial benefits by embracing and even celebrating the differences between us.

But are we really all so different?  Aren’t we actually similar in so many wonderful ways?  After all, we are all members of the human race, allegedly the most intelligent species on the planet.

Surely, it is in the gift of every one of us, whatever our position in society, to choose to work together with our fellow humans, using all the vast array of resources, expertise and research available to us to address and, if possible, to solve some of the challenges listed above.  Certainly, we should not be adding to them.

What we do need to do, however, is to inspire young people to take on the responsibility for change.

We need to make it “cool” to discover new ways to be more sustainable and to live in a more tolerant society.

We should equip our young people so they’re at home as much in the seats of government as at the driving wheel of the car when they’re older.  

They can start making real choices for the future today, sharing power and sharing responsibility.

Here at The Wisdom Trust, our vision is to help create a new global ‘better informed’ society where the human race acts as one in celebration of our many diverse cultures and communities.  We need to combines our collective expertise to pursue peaceful and willing co-operation in order to help make the world a better, safe and more sustainable place to live for everyone.  This should include joint initiatives on every continent so we can make the right decisions to care for our planet and to care for each other, wherever we live.

But in order to reach this goal, no one should be in any doubt that there will, of course, be difficult choices and challenges along the road towards a point of mutual respect.  Indeed, in some cases, this will also mean reaching a position of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.

We believe we can do it if there is the willingness in every nation to put aside the divisions and disagreements of the past.  We need to forget talk of walls, tariffs, sanctions and cultural differences, and concentrate all our efforts, instead, on building bridges and embracing wholeheartedly those things that are important to all of us:

  1. The Welfare of children and young people;
  2. Education for all;
  3. Secure homes in safe, happy and sustainable communities;
  4. Clean water;
  5. Sufficient food;
  6. Universal healthcare;
  7. Protection of the environment and all living things
  8. A closer, sharing, caring society.

Nations, leaders and people should work together, using all the technology, resources, manpower and skills at our disposal to deliver these global aspirations.  We believe that if the nations of the world combined their efforts, there would be sufficient resources, expertise, manpower and innovation to achieve all this, as long as the world remains confident enough to work as one in the interests of everyone on the planet.

Unfortunately, however, even if we achieve all this, we know that there will still be those who are sufficiently misguided in their beliefs and in their actions that they choose to promote a path towards the darkness of division, conflict and terror.  To meet this threat, therefore, there needs to be a willingness in everyone, whatever their position in society to challenge prejudice, discrimination and exploitation wherever we find it.

The global community must co-operate completely as one to leave no stone unturned in order to identify, name and shame those who would do us harm or cause distress to others.  Then we should be confident that the full force of international law will ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

At The Wisdom Trust, we aim to engage with people and organisations all over the world to work towards this goal.  And we welcome your thoughts, ideas and support to help make this vision a reality.

What will we do?

  1. The Wisdom Trust will use its online learning resources, together with a series of seminars, workshops and other events, to increase awareness about the big issues affecting the future of our planet.  We will also provide hundreds of simple ways in which people of all ages and backgrounds can help make a difference with small changes in their own activities to help protect the environment and to live a healthier lifestyle.
  2. We will also strive to help people embrace and celebrate the rich and colourful tapestry of contrasting societies and communities that inhabit our planet and to assist different communities in connecting with each other so they can collaborate in a process of learning about each other so that we can all be stronger together.
  3. We will make donations from our funds to support charitable causes which promote these goals and we will work with any organisations or individuals to move towards eliminating prejudice, discrimination, hatred, evil and exploitation from our world as far as possible, so we can deliver better friendship, goodwill and understanding across all borders.

Will you rise to the challenge and challenge others to do the same?

Click here to make your own pledge for friendship, goodwill and understanding across all borders.  Become a leader in your community and be an inspiration for others.

Click here for some more information about our pledge for peace.

Thank you.

We will make a difference and in just a few click of your mouse you too could be playing your part in helping to make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of age, background, religion, race or culture – or even where they live. 

The Wisdom Trust – making it happen

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