War Is Not Good For You
By Conn Hallinan
Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)
November 12, 2010
Back in the 1960s, peace activists sported a bumper
sticker that read: "War is not good for children and
other living creatures." In a way, that sums up Barry
S. Levy and Victor W. Sidel's War and Public Health,
where 46 experts on everything from epidemiology to
international law weigh in on the authors' central
premise: "War and militarism have catastrophic effects
on human health and well being."
Levy and Sidel, both former presidents of the American
Public Health Association, and distinguished
researchers and practitioners in their fields, make the
point that wars ultimately always come home. Young
women and men are the most obvious casualties,
shattered in body and mind on the battlefield. But
war's devastation includes the terrible things wrought
by organized violence on the populations and
infrastructures where wars are fought.
The authors consider the shock and awe of battle as
just the beginning of war-inflicted damage. War means
that nations divert their resources from things like
education and health to smart bombs and high tech
drones. War means choosing mayhem over economic
development, exposing the most vulnerable in our
society to disease and privation and the systematic
destruction of the environment. "War threatens much of
the fabric of our civilization," write Levy and Sidel.
Thinking of war as a public health issue allows the
authors to break the subject into digestible pieces:
consequences, types of weapons, vulnerable populations,
specific wars, and prevention. Each major section is
divided into chapters, spanning everything from "The
Epidemiology of War" to "The Role of Health
Professionals in Postconflict Situations."
According to a recent estimate by sociologist Chalmers
Johnson, if all U.S. military-related spending were
added together, it would come to about $1 trillion a
year. Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz posits
that the lifetime costs of treating veterans of
Afghanistan and Iraq will top $3 trillion. At the same
time, according to the U.S. Census, 50.7 million people
in the U.S. are currently without health care. Such are
the tradeoffs the authors and contributors to War and
Public Health find unacceptable.
The book is more than an expose, however. Levy and
Sidel argue that public health officials should be as
involved in preventing war as they be in stopping an
Should the reader not know how to take action, the book
includes an appendix with the names and contact
information for virtually every international
organization addressing war and peace.
"War is hell," remarked Union General William Tecumseh
Sherman. And so it is. But the authors of this well-
written and accessible book argue that wars are not
inevitable, and that time and again human beings have
demonstrated a capacity to avoid them. On one hand, War
and Public Health is an important and valuable effort
to expose the consequences of war. On the other, it
serves as a practical guide for creating a world where
war is an anachronism and health is a human right.
c 2010 Foreign Policy in Focus
Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.
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