By Carl Sigmond

Printed in: The Chestnut Hill Local, Philadelphia, PA, July 20, 2006.

Is war a disease? Does violent conflict lead to massive malnutrition and psychological unrest? Is war contagious? These were among the many questions that were discussed in a workshop I attended at Friends General Conference two weeks ago. This annual gathering of Quakers took place this year in Tacoma, Washington.

My workshop was titled “War as Disease” and was facilitated by Dale Dewar, M.D., president of Physicians for Global Survival (Canada). Our intergenerational group of 15 met for five mornings. Each morning we focused on a separate topic in our overall theme of War as Disease.

Our first discussion was on the causes of war. The massive uneven distribution of wealth throughout the world kept surfacing as a major cause. Another recurring theme was cultural isolation and ignorance – the lack of knowledge and understanding among cultures of the world. Greed was another factor, the greed of individual people in power and of nations.

In our discussion on the effects of war, we talked about the negative and, yes, positive things war can bring about. We talked about how some people say that World War II brought the U.S. out of the Depression and gave our economy the boost it needed to recover. We talked about how war can benefit the wealthy and politically powerful.

War is known to bring about a multitude of physical and emotional disasters. Dr. Dewar has been to Iraq several times and shared what Iraqi doctors and medical students recounted. Around the world, violence brings about many hardships from injuries to family separations and losses. War also destroys towns, cultures and ecosystems.

We spent a large part of our time talking about possible treatments to cure the disease of war, and focused on community, national and international solutions. The United Nations and international courts are ways to resolve conflicts between nations. These organizations were designed to help reduce the number of wars. We need to use these institutions often and more effectively.

On a national level, we need to create more communication between different classes of the population. Talking to elected officials – when there is a government – is a good place to begin. In our country the national media is monopolized. In order to have discussions and open communication we believe that more points of view need to be present in U.S. corporate media.

When we were discussing what we can do in our communities to help cure the disease of war, we felt that communication is essential. In order to resolve conflicts with people who have different viewpoints, it is important to find something that there is agreement on. This becomes a strong connection that facilitates discussion. It is important not to try and change minds, but to learn another person’s beliefs. This strengthens a sense of community.

I often talked about my neighborhoods of Mt. Airy and Germantown. There are many neighborhood organizations in northwest Philadelphia. These networks are very supportive of different points of view on many different issues. We live in a community of understanding and accepting neighbors. I have lived here most of my life and I am not used to living in a place where my beliefs could be seriously contested.

The whole world is not Mt. Airy though. We, as a global community, need to strengthen places in the world where this sense of community is not present. We need to work on creating more tolerance and understanding in ourselves and among world peoples in order to really cure this disease of war.

“Cure for the all-too-common war” originally appeared in The Chestnut Hill Local. Used with permission.