The Human Side of War
In all wars, it’s too easy to focus only on the number of dead and wounded, who’s fighting who, and who the “good” and “bad” guys are.
In Nepal, the countryside (i.e. almost everywhere outside of Kathmandu) has been torn by a civil war between Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government.
I was in Nepal in 1976; spent 2 or 3 weeks in Pokhara, a small town several hours (by bus) from Kathmandu. The residents of Pokhara (like most of Nepal) are now caught in the middle between the rebels and the government.
Nepal is very poor, and depends heavily on tourism. Now, of course, with a civil war going on, who wants to visit? Tourism in Pokhara is practically non-existent, and this has ruined everyone’s livelihood (directly or indirectly).
As if that isn’t bad enough, everyone — regardless of political views, or lack thereof — is in danger of inadvertently pissing off either the rebels and/or the government troops. Earlier this month, the rebels ordered all merchants to shut down for 3 days — Or Else. The trouble is, merchants who closed their shops were in danger of retaliation by the Nepalese army. One merchant said “We’re afraid of both sides. We just want to work, we just want to eat, we just want to survive.”
This is the forgotten, unseen side of any war; all wars. I’ve been to Pokhara, so this story (in the Sunday Seattle Times) really hit home. Very friendly people, the most beautiful scenery imaginable (lush vegetation, with Annapurna towering over everything); such tragedy and violence just shouldn’t be a part of these people’s lives. It reminds me of an article by P.J. O’Rourke about the 1980s civil war in El Salvador. He wrote “how can such terrible things happen in a place that looks like Santa Barbara?”