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The Virus of Violence

In the study of epidemiology, one has an opportunity to learn about communicable and non-communicable diseases. This curriculum is usually pursued on the graduate level and involves a combination of courses that investigate hard sciences dealing with pathogens, hosts, environments, and incubation. Also, it includes study in the soft sciences such as human evolution, human variation, bio-statistics and a few others. One of the interesting aspects of epidemiology that always held my attention was the origins and development of bacteria and viruses. From my perspective, what I found most fascinating is their way of surviving and thriving by their inherent ability to mutate. Survival at its most infinitesimal and all encompassing level. A life form whose’s primary purpose is to survive at all costs and is willing to use anything in order to accomplish that goal – until – its lifespan expires or it causes the host organism to expire first. It should be obvious that any such bacterium or virus usually constitutes an invasion of the host organism.

In this article, I argue that war also has the character of a bacterium or virus. Let’s see, characteristically, it is a state of armed conflict between states, governments, or societies; it is generally accompanied by extreme aggression, violence, destruction and mortality; and is not specifically limited to legitimate military targets (often resulting in massive non-military or civilian suffering and casualties). It appears these characteristics are shared – in that, epidemiological medicine describes in terms of populations, groups of people, frequencies of disease, its effects, and the variables affecting the distribution of disease in populations. Any good epidemiologist (whether a MD, bio-statistician, or demographer) will tell you their job essentially is to interpret the process of “transmission” of disease. So, let us take a look at the process and transmission of war.

When we look deeper into the structure and development of war, we will find it similar to viruses in several ways. For one, it has many different strains or types and has mutated through the centuries. For example, the known types of warfare are asymmetric warfare, biological, chemical, civil, conventional, cyber, insurgency, nuclear, total, unconventional, information, war of aggression, and war of liberation.  The only two that can be added to this extensive list would be guerrilla warfare and now in our life time “financial” warfare. From a historical point of view, It seems the earliest record or evidence of war belongs to the Mesolithic Cemetery Site 117 determined to be approximately 14,000 years old. Records show that 45% of the skeletons there displayed violent deaths. About 8,000 years later, the virus mutated and military activity appeared over much of the globe. However, with the technological advance of gunpowder (…another obvious mutation) the birth of “modern” warfare took place.

One source, Conway W. Henderson believes that 14,500 wars have occurred between 3500 BC and the late 20th century. He claims that an estimated 3.5 billion people have lost their lives to warfare during the last 5,500 years with only 300 years of peace during that period. However, his estimate was challenged as improbable and high which necessitated further examination of his findings. Apparently, the approximate figure of 3,640,000,000 human beings killed by war and diseases produced by war was re-adjusted to 1,640,000,000 human beings. This estimate is based on 1,240,000,000 killed by war between the aforementioned period which includes diseases produced by war. Also, the 100 deadliest acts of mass violence between 480 BC and 2002 CE is estimated to have claimed another 455 million and primitive warfare is estimated to have accounted for about 15% which is another 400 million lives. This means that a total of 1,640,000,000 people have been killed by war and the famine and diseases caused by war compared to the estimate of 1,680,000,000 people that died from infectious diseases in the 20th century. When we consider nuclear warfare at the height of nuclear arsenals, it is estimated that the human population could have been reduced from about 5,150,000,000 to 3,300,000,000 within a period of one year (a reduction by 1,850,000,000). Of course this is only a hypothetical but if a correlation were to be made, it would exceed the reduction of the world population caused by the Bubonic Plague’s (the Black Death) impact on the European population in 1346-1353.

Now, we seem to be moving into another period of the “deadliest acts of mass violence” and it seems to be reaching epidemic proportions. A silent, violent epidemic that manifests itself through children and adolescents that can get their hands on military grade weapons, somehow get them into their schools and gun down dozens of fellow classmates and teachers; extreme acts of violence and mass murder at religious institutions and demonstrations; and terrorists bombings at public gathering places, restaurants and train stations.  Alas, it seems the virus is mutating again.


“Warfare”Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved 1 August 2016.;  Šmihula, Daniel (2013): The Use of Force in International Relations, p. 67, ISBN 978-80-224-1341-1; James, Paul; Friedman, Jonathan (2006). Globalization and Violence, Vol. 3: Globalizing War and Intervention. London: Sage Publicatio;  “War”. Online Etymology Dictionary. 2010. Retrieved 24 April2011; D. Hank Ellison (August 24, 2007). Handbook of Chemical and Biological Warfare Agents, Second EditionCRC Press. pp. 567–70. ISBN 978-0-8493-1434-6; Lewis, Brian C. “Information Warfare”Federation of American Scientist. Archived from the original on 17 June 1997. Retrieved 27 Feb 2017;  Keeley, Lawrence H: War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. p. 37; Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs and Steel; Conway W. Henderson (9 February 2010). Understanding International Law. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 212–. ISBN 978-1-4051-9764-9. Retrieved 31 May 2012; B. Jongman & J.M.G. van der Dennen, ‘The Great “War Figures” Hoax: an investigation in polemomythology’; Roberto Muehlenkamp, ‘Germs vs. guns, or death from mass violence in perspective’; Matthew White, Atrocitology: Humanity’s 100 Deadliest Achievements, Canongate Books Ltd. (20 October 2011), ISBN 0857861220; Matthew White, ‘Primitive War’; David McCandless, ’20th Century Death’; Wm. Robert Johnston, ‘The Effects of a Global Thermonuclear War’




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