The never-ending cost of war

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

The recent concern expressed over the Afghan translators who will, with their family members, be hunted down and killed by the Taliban should serve as a warning that starting a war needs serious scrutiny and should not be used as an expression of our (theoretical) military superiority or to teach potential enemies to fear us.

How many tens of thousands of translators and family members will be repatriated to a safe location and how many will be abandoned, forgotten or lost in the process? And how about the other supporters of our war effort – truck drivers, maids, guards, etc. — are they vulnerable to reprisals?

The tragedy of the concluding days of the Vietnam war are burned in my memory, and I wonder how many of those poor supporters of our brutal war were killed – thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands? I can’t imagine what it would be like to be abandoned on a helicopter landing pad as the last plane takes off. Add to this the estimated 3 million south-Asians killed, as well as the environmental devastation.

Modern wars don’t just stop – they live on in so many ways. World War I, which concluded in November of 1918, is still with the French farmers. In an exclusive article a few years ago, titled “The First World War bombs that are still killing people in France”, the author states “Nearly 100 years since the conflict ended, an estimated 300 million unexploded bombs lie buried under farmland in Northern France and Belgium … In the past four years alone, they (army bomb disposal units) have removed 629 tons of bombs, shells and other explosives on former battle lines in Flanders. More and more are being found because of growing development in the region and modern tractors ploughing much deeper than in the past.”

Another example of the continuing impact of wars is the production and spread of anti-personnel land mines – also called anti-personnel bombs. They are “…designed to wound and permanently disable people… Often, they are strewn over large areas as armies depart. Being small, the mines are not easily found. Anti-mine technology remains primitive and expensive. Many being made of plastic or wood the metal detectors cannot be used to locate them. Most produced do not have an expiry date. They may lie active in the ground for 50 years.”

Even with the successful Land Mine Treaty supported by Prince Diana, “It is estimated that there are 110 million land mines in the ground right now. An equal amount is in stockpiles waiting to be planted or destroyed.”

It is estimated that daily there are 20 civilians killed or injured by these anti-personnel mines.

This short essay is not meant to be partisan, as both of our major parties have succumbed to the temptation to use war as an extension of foreign policy.

We must not forget the words of President Kennedy’s to the General Assembly of the United Nations: “Mankind must put an end to war – or war will put an end to mankind.”

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist