“When the consequences of conflicts last generations: Intergenerational mobility in Iraq and Vietnam”

Vietnamese refugees living at the Songkhla refugee camp in Thailand. UN Photo/John Isaac.

I’m a subscriber to the World Bank Blogs, which is how I came to learn of this research on intergenerational mobility in Iraq and Viet Nam in the wake of invasion, occupation, and war. Here are the first two paragraphs in the press release (PR).

The immediate effects of conflict are starkly clear. They include deaths and injuries, population displacement, the destruction of assets, and the disruption of social and economic systems. But one day the fighting stops, and life in conflict-affected areas gradually returns to normal. Or does it? How long do the economic and welfare effects of armed conflict typically persist? In particular, how long will these effects constrain growth and limit countries’ ability to reduce poverty? 

The (115 pp.) report ‘Fragility and Conflict: On the Front Lines of the Fight against Poverty‘ summarizes current evidence on the long-term welfare impacts of conflict and fragility. The report reveals that conflict and fragility can have substantial negative impacts that extend across decades and even generations. After the guns fall silent, conflict leaves a legacy of damaged human capital that will lower productivity, weaken growth, and slow poverty reduction far into the future. 

And here’s the final paragraph: Both of these case studies point to conflict and violence exerting large, lasting impacts on individuals’ ability to face equal chances in life and to surpass their parents’ social and economic outcomes . Though the direct consequences of conflict alone are sufficient reason to make this an area of priority, the indirect long-term consequences make this case even stronger.

What’s interesting is that the PR neglected to introduce the elephant in the room, the cause of so much death, destruction, and suffering: the United States of America. Maybe this sin of omission made it more palatable for the US, which is the largest shareholder of the World Bank Group.

Here’s an idea: replicate this study in the long list of other countries that the US has wreaked havoc on in the post-World War II era alone and see what those countries and the world would look like today, if the US had not pursued a foreign policy rooted in imperialism and nationalism.

For information about the human and financial costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, have a look at the Watson Institute (Brown University) Costs of War website. For some of the same information in Viet Nam, check out my April 2020 essay A Letter From Viet Nam on the Occasion of the 45th Anniversary of the End of the War.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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