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Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 19:15 GMT
The second horseman: War

John Simpson and fighter War and conflict have ravaged the planet

In part two of the special series of reports for the BBC's Newsnight, the award winning world affairs editor, John Simpson, takes a modern look at war, one of the four evils which have ravaged the planet.

The course of the entire 20th century has been distorted by the second horseman, war. Up to and including Korea, warfare was placed on an industrial scale, involving entire civilian populations.

Angolan fighters The Angolan war has lasted for 15 years.

From 1945 onwards, the vast majority of those born in the Western democracies have never seen a bomb dropped nor an artillery shell fired in anger; even though a large part of our entertainment now revolves around violence.

War has shifted from the developed world to the outer fringes, and has dwindled as peace-making techniques have improved. There are fewer than 30 conflicts around the world - probably fewer than at any time in recorded human history - and many of these are virtually dormant.

There are some areas where wars still wreck people's lives every day. Because they happen in places which don't matter to the great countries of the world, they are largely ignored.

The forgotten conflicts

The Angolan war has lasted 15 years, fuelled in part by the diamond trade; in Sudan, Muslim is fighting Christian with no hope of peace; in Burma, a government is trying to wipe out entire rebellious peoples like the Karen; half a dozen small, nasty conflicts are going on in countries like Sierra Leone - another diamond producer - and Liberia.

Aside from Chechnya, the worst conflict is probably Afghanistan, where we went to make the second film in our Newsnight series. Encouraged by outside countries like Iran, Pakistan and Russia, Afghanistan claims its victims every day.


Once Afghanistan was the great cause for Westerners; people protested outside Russian embassies around the world, staged fund-raising events for the victims and donated entire field hospitals.

Afghan ruin Afghanistan: After years of war, the country has been left in ruins
That was when the Russians were there. Ever since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the funds and the sympathy have dried up. Yet the bloodshed is as bad as ever.

The child victims

In an International Red Cross clinic in Kabul, I met a boy of 12 and his 15-year-old sister. They were gentle, intelligent children, in whose faces you could still see signs of the pain they had endured.

child amputees Sadiqa and Abdul each lost a leg in one of Afghanistan's minefields
The ruling Taliban had come to their village during the ethnic cleansing of the entire area. Abdul and Sadiqa ran away, panic-stricken, and found themselves in a minefield.

Each of them lost a leg. Casting around for some way of comforting them, I told them that the doctor in charge of the clinic had himself lost both his legs 18 years before in a mine explosion.

'But he's an educated man,' Abdul replied. 'Whatever future can there be for me?'

Afterwards, the doctor agreed. These children's lives were permanently wrecked. All anyone could do, he said, was to work for the end of the war itself.

And even then, like the damage we have done to our environment, the after-effects will be with us for much of the century to come.

What do you think has been the impact of war on the planet? What will be the nature of war in the next century?

BBC News Online will put your questions and comments to John Simpson at the end of the week.

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See also:
13 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
The first horseman: Environmental disaster
28 Jan 99 |  Angola
Special report: The Angolan conflict
30 Sep 99 |  Europe
Battle for the Caucasus: Special report
11 Jan 99 |  Sierra Leone
Special report: Sierra Leone's civil war
13 Dec 99 |  Africa
Analysis: Power struggle in Sudan

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