Violence’s Voracious Appetite

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Food is the polar opposite of violence; neither feels significant until it’s personal. Hunger is in the belly. It feels different to see a bombing on the news versus noticing plumes of smoke from your window. Modern history forces us to consider starvation as a weapon… but is it a useful weapon?

Mỹ Tho, Vietnam. A Viet Cong base camp being burned down. In the foreground is Private First Class Raymond Rumpa, St Paul, Minnesota, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, with 45 pound 90 mm recoilless rifle. Dennis Kurpius, US Army. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Food insecurity and civil unrest form a vicious cycle that compounds every growing season. Soldiers don’t plant the fields but they have a voracious appetite. Lack of food is considered a “threat multiplier” (Hendrix et al, 2013) that the military must assess before doing anything. As cruel as it sounds, this line of thinking used to consider hunger a competitive advantage. This may not be the case: not only are hungry people more inclined to fight, they’re more likely to recruit and coerce others to join in. Fighters may even feel morally justified in robbing families of a daily meal. If you were a farmer without a harvest, wouldn’t you fight too? (Hendrix et al, 2013)

Rather than harness this deadly deprivation, we should defend against it. One officer I worked with in Afghanistan explained it perfectly: “You can’t starve an army that never was.” Food insecurity might cripple an insurgency but the collateral damage will be soul-crushing. Contrariwise, improving food security can win allies and even mitigate the cause of the conflict in the first place. (Hendrix et al, 2013)

Almond trees in bloom line the valley near the Daychopan District Center, March 29, 2011. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson (Wikimedia Commons)

Realistically, food is a local issue. We import bananas and quinoa from outside the state, but Washingtonians will mostly survive if our supply chains collapse. We have a thriving culture of farmer’s markets and organic growing here (and maybe more cattle than we know what to do with), so doesn’t that protect us? Maybe our industrial agriculture and reliance upon water and cattle feed could be a liability. Even local crops do rely on external inputs. (Litfin, 2014)

More than an essay by an undergrad, this is the sincere opinion of a decorated and battle-hardened combat medic. None of us can win unless we consider safety and food as rights above all others.

Works cited:

Cullen Hendrix, & Henk-Jan Brinkman. (2013). Food Insecurity and Conflict Dynamics: Causal Linkages and Complex Feedbacks. Stability : International Journal of Security and Development, 2(2), Art. 26.
Litfin, K. Localism. (2014). (C. Death, Ed.). Critical environmental politics. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

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