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General News    H3'ed 11/12/20

Tomgram: Nick Turse, You Can't Go Home Again

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Let's face it, Election 2020, that wild ride to hell and back, took up every inch of space on the media landscape, vote by vote, one outrageous moment after the next, one edge-of-the-seat state count after another. In these last weeks, if you happened to be anywhere in the United States, it wouldn't have been hard to believe that there was no world out there, nothing but Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Mitch McConnell, and outrageous presidential statements and lawsuits to the horizon and back.

As it happens, however, a world beyond The Donald, his crew, and the chaos they continue to create does exist. Believe it or not, elsewhere on this Covid-19-icized planet of ours, things are still happening. Of course, if you live in this country and aren't among the 47% of Americans who voted for you-know-who, you may be feeling somewhat cheerier this week. Even if you're still living amid soaring coronavirus cases and thinking about what will surely be some kind of a future gridlocked Washington, the world out there has probably remained far away indeed.

You're likely not focusing right now on just what a shaky state so much of it is in. It's still roiled by a series of wars this country sparked in 2001 and never managed to deal with successfully as terror movements and violence of every sort only continue to spread beyond our shores (even as our wars come home in their own strange and unexpected ways). As TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse makes clear today, in the process of all that, almost unimaginable numbers of people have been uprooted from their homes and turned into displaced people, their lives transformed into a hell on Earth. And here, as Turse suggests, is the true horror of it: bad as such a world may look today (if you happen to be looking at all), it's likely to prove mild indeed compared to what's coming down the pike. Tom

A Convergence of Calamities
Record Numbers of War-Displaced to Be Dwarfed by Those Driven From Their Homes by Climate Change
By Nick Turse

I saw them for only a few seconds. One glimpse and they were gone. The young woman wore a brown headwrap, a yellow short-sleeved shirt, and a long pink, red, and blue floral-patterned skirt. She held the reins of the donkey pulling her rust-pink cart. Across her lap lay an infant. Perched beside her at the edge of the metal wagon was a young girl who couldn't have been more than eight. Some firewood, rugs, woven mats, rolled-up clothing or sheets, a dark green plastic tub, and an oversized plastic jerry can were lashed to the bed of the cart. Three goats tied to the rear of it ambled along behind.

They found themselves, as I did, on a hot, dusty road slowly being choked by families who had hastily hitched up their donkeys and piled whatever they could -- kindling, sleeping mats, cooking pots -- into sun-bleached carts or bush taxis. And they were the lucky ones. Many had simply set out on foot. Young boys tended small herds of recalcitrant goats. Women toted dazed toddlers. In the rare shade of a roadside tree, a family had stopped and a middle-aged man hung his head, holding it in one hand.

Earlier this year, I traveled that ochre-dirt road in Burkina Faso, a tiny landlocked nation in the African Sahel once known for having the largest film festival on the continent. Now, it's the site of an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Those people were streaming down the main road from Barsalogho about 100 miles north of the capital, Ouagadougou, toward Kaya, a market town whose population has almost doubled this year, due to the displaced. Across the country's northern stretches, other Burkinabe (as citizens are known) were making similar journeys toward towns offering only the most uncertain kinds of refuge. They were victims of a war without a name, a battle between Islamist militants who murder and massacre without compunction and armed forces that kill more civilians than militants.

I've witnessed variations of this wretched scene before -- exhausted, upended families evicted by machete-wielding militiamen or Kalashnikov-carrying government troops, or the mercenaries of a warlord; dust-caked traumatized people plodding down lonesome highways, fleeing artillery strikes, smoldering villages, or towns dotted with moldering corpses. Sometimes motorbikes pull the carts. Sometimes, young girls carry the jerry cans on their heads. Sometimes, people flee with nothing more than what they're wearing. Sometimes, they cross national borders and become refugees or, as in Burkina Faso, become internally displaced persons, or IDPs, in their own homeland. Whatever the particulars, such scenes are increasingly commonplace in our world and so, in the worst possible way, unremarkable. And though you would hardly know it in the United States, that's what also makes them, collectively, one of the signature stories of our time.

At least 100 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, persecution, or other forms of public disorder over the last decade, according to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. That's about one in every 97 people on the planet, roughly one percent of humanity. If such war victims had been given their own state to homestead, it would be the 14th largest nation, population-wise, in the world.

By the end of June, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, an additional 4.8 million people had been uprooted by conflict, with the most devastating increases in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso. Yet, as dismal as these numbers may be, they're set to be dwarfed by people displaced by another signature story of our time: climate change.

Already, shocking numbers have been put to flight by fires, derechos, and super storms, and so much worse is yet to come, according to experts. A recent forecast suggests that, by the year 2050, the number of people driven from their homes by ecological catastrophes could be 900% greater than the 100 million forced to flee conflicts over the last decade.

Worse Than World War II

Women, children, and men driven from their homes by conflict have been a defining feature of modern warfare. For almost a century now, combat correspondents have witnessed such scenes again and again. "Newly routed civilians, now homeless like the others with no idea of where they would next sleep or eat, with all their future lives an uncertainty, trudged back from the fighting zone," the legendary Eric Sevareid reported, while covering Italy for CBS News during World War II. "A dust-covered girl clung desperately to a heavy, squirming burlap sack. The pig inside was squealing faintly. Tears made streaks down the girl's face. No one moved to help her..."

The Second World War was a cataclysmic conflagration involving 70 nations and 70 million combatants. Fighting stretched across three continents in unparalleled destructive fury, including terror bombing, countless massacres, two atomic attacks, and the killing of 60 million people, most of them civilians, including six million Jews in a genocide known as the Holocaust. Another 60 million were displaced, more than the population of Italy (then the ninth-largest country in the world). An unprecedented global war causing unimaginable suffering, it nonetheless left far fewer people homeless than the 79.5 million displaced by conflicts and crises as 2019 ended.

How can violence-displaced people already exceed World War II's total by almost 20 million (without even counting the nearly five million more added in the first half of 2020)?

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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