A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Researchers Examine the Effects of War on Civilians

March 9, 2012


The saying “war is hell” is especially true for civilians, as Mason professors Daniel Rothbart and Karina V. Korostelina detail in their new book, Why They Die: Civilian Devastation in Violent Conflict (University of Michigan Press, 2011).

“Without taking a stand on a particular war or particular country, we wanted to look at the realities of war, and what we found is that noncombatants are affected disproportionally by prolonged armed conflict,” says Rothbart, who teaches in Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR). “Civilians bear a greater burden than combatants, yet their plight is notoriously absent from military and political rhetoric.”

The book includes case studies that highlight civilian devastation, including the Second Lebanon War of 2006, the Iraq War, the genocide in Rwanda, and the deportation of Crimean Tartars by the Soviet authorities during World War II. Through these case studies, the professors find that civilian devastation is systematically embedded in various sectors of modern warfare and not just collateral damage, as government and military leaders might argue.

“In times of war, civilians tend to live extremely difficult lives. They can be uprooted from their homes, removed from guardianship of their land, and treated like refugees in their own country,” Rothbart says.

“War denies civilians agency and voice, disempowering them and transforming them into objects of manipulations,” adds Korostelina, an associate professor in S-CAR.

The researchers have some recommendations to improve civilian-military relationships and change the culture that puts citizens at so much risk. These include establishing stronger civilian-to-civilian connections and cultural exchanges between the countries after the conflict. Rothbart and Korostelina also suggest that militaries collect better data about what happens to civilians during conflict and establish civilian advisory groups.

“Civilians should be given a voice; they should be recognized as equal stakeholders of war,” Korostelina emphasizes.

—James Greif


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