“When will they ever learn?”
I just got notice from the American Anthropological Association about my session for the annual meeting, to be held this November at the San Jose Convention Center.
Mark Toussaint organized the session (“Knowledge Production and Framing in Biological Anthropology: Perspectives and Case Studies”) and invited me to talk about research on war-affected populations. We’re scheduled for Friday, Nov 16, 2018 from 10:15 AM – noon.
Children are the same everywhere.
And may others pardon me,
But the children are the same,
In Paris or in Göttingen.
O may it never come back
The time of blood and of hate
Because there are people I love
In Göttingen, in Göttingen.
There’s more on the song that made history here:
“Armed conflicts lead to hunger and reduced food production and economic growth in developing and transition countries. Reciprocally, food and economic insecurity and natural resource scarcities–real and perceived–often precipitate violence.”
-Marc Cohen and Per Pinstrup-Andersen (1999)
Recent images coming out of war-torn Yemen are heartbreaking. After three years of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition (backed by the US, UK and France), an estimated eight million people are near starvation. The war has exacerbated the nutritional situation in what was already one of the poorest countries in the region, causing infrastructure to crumble and unemployment rates to skyrocket. A blockade of Yemen’s ports has also led to a rise in food prices and to a lack of medical supplies, leaving people dependent on insufficient amounts of food aid.
A malnourished infant in Yemen, with a low upper arm circumference (source: BBC).
This has been building for a while. Nearly two years ago, a BBC report cited statistics from the UN that 370,000 children in Yemen were starving. Even infants, who may be buffered from difficult economic conditions via breastfeeding, were not spared as many mothers were too malnourished to produce milk.
The land of a thousand hills (source)
“Incitement is a hallmark of genocide, and it may be a prerequisite for it.” – Susan Benesch
A few years ago, David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government examined the effects of radio propaganda on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which led to the deaths of 0.5 to 1.0 million people (Yanagizawa-Drott, 2014). Rwanda is sometimes called “The Land of a Thousand Hills,” and given the effects of uneven topography on radio transmission, he reasoned that villages with better reception would have been exposed more to incitement to violence against the Tutsi minority. In particular, the Hutu-controlled radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was infamous for dehumanizing the Tutsi by calling them “cockroaches” and calling for their extermination.
Yanagizawa-Drott noted that others had pointed to the role of RTLM and other mass media in fomenting hatred in Rwanda, but no one had attempted to quantify the effect. He calculated the area with radio reception within each village and then correlated it with number of persons prosecuted for violent crimes committed during the genocide in each village, including as a member of a militia (n = 77,000) or as an individual (n = 432,000).
He found that “a one standard deviation increase in radio coverage is associated with a 12–13 percent increase in participation in total violence. The effect is similar for militia violence (13–14 percent) and individual violence (10–11 percent).” Furthermore, there was a “spillover effect,” where the number of people engaged in militia violence increased significantly when neighboring villages had radio coverage. Overall, he estimated that nearly one-third of the violence perpetrated by militias could be attributed to the broadcasts.
“The future is inside of us. It’s not somewhere else.” – Thom Yorke
My advisor from graduate school, Mike Little, retired this year and donated many of his books to his colleagues and former students, including me. I owe Mike a lot in terms of my education. Now I also owe him a box of books.
I was flipping through some of the items he sent and one of them was “How Humans Adapt: A Biocultural Odyssey,” edited by Donald Ortner (1983). The prolog was written by the late microbiologist René Dubos , who struck an optimistic tone about human plasticity, and how we adapt to – and also shape – our environments.
He wrote that all organisms…
One of the recurrent arguments I’ve seen in the debate over the Trump administration’s inhumane child separation policy is that Central Americans are primarily motivated by economic opportunism. The argument goes that people are trying to take advantage of a “loophole” and that U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be more lenient if adults arrived at the border with children in tow. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even claimed that the influx of asylum seekers was due to the previous administration giving people immunity from prosecution if they were accompanied by a minor:
“Word got out about this loophole, with predictable results. The number of
aliens (edit: ‘people’) illegally crossing with children between our ports of entry went from 14,000 to 75,000 — that’s a five-fold increase — in just the last four years.”
A gaping hole with this analysis is that it ignores the fact that the United States is not the only country that has seen an increase in asylum seekers from Central America. Instead, the pattern seems to be motivated primarily from “push” factors such as rising levels of violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras than by “pull” factors in the United States such as easier border crossings.
If Sessions’ claim were true, then we would expect that the increase in refugees and asylum seekers would only be seen in the U.S. But that is not what we’re seeing. For example, the number of asylum applications in Mexico increased dramatically from 2,000 in 2014 to more than 14,000 last year, primarily from Honduras. In the case of Honduras, homicide rates nearly doubled a few years after the President was removed in a coup in 2009. That led to a series of counter-protests, followed by “a wave of political violence that targeted a range of activists, including journalists and human rights defenders.” On top of that, instability allowed gangs and drug cartels to flourish, and a broken legal system has allowed men to kill women at some of the highest rates of femicide in the world, without fear of incarceration.