If you asked the ordinary soldier or citizen, mother or child of a country in conflict, they would almost certainly say no good will come of war. Witnessing the death of their fellow soldiers, or the death and destruction of their homeland, the utter helplessness to do anything but be afraid must haunt the living.
Despite our most desperate and mostly indulgent claims as humans to be civilized and above the laws of beasts, we wage war. Every day, in every corner of the globe people are dying in armed conflicts. Killing and dying over money, power, religion and territory; the war machine rages on, as it has since the beginnings of civilization.
When we are cast in our better light, when reason seems to supercede violence, men speak of the horrors of war, of the injustice of war and of the utter madness of war. Ernest Hemingway once famously wrote, “never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime” and perhaps even more famously Spanish philosopher George Santayana immortalized the saying “only the dead have seen the end of war,” all noble thoughts, but sadly only novel ideas.
In the year 2014 the world is still ravaged by armed conflict, as much as it has ever been. Maybe not on a global scale as in centuries past, but war is still being waged every day in nearly every part of the world. Tensions in the Middle East are again reaching a heightened state; Russia and the Ukraine are in conflict over territory and civil wars in Africa and South America are still being fought and seemingly have no end.
War is, as it always has been, a distinct part of the human condition. While every country on the planet has engaged in conflict at some point, there are those nations that, for one reason or another, are mired in perpetual warfare, desperate to get out, but seemingly destined to remain shackled to the cycle of violence that has devastated their countries for so long. Here is a list of some of the most war torn nations on earth.
10. Sierra Leone
After three military coups in a period of a year, Sierra Leone settled into just over a decade of peace before an 11-year civil war broke out in 1991. With help from Liberia, the Revolutionary United Front attempted to overthrow the government of Joseph Momoh. The war led to over 55,000 deaths and millions more wounded and displaced a figure that would have been much higher if not for British and American intervention. The conflict was, as is the case in so many African wars, over natural resources, specifically diamonds in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Though peace has remained steady since 2002, it is a tenuous one.
Sudan has been embroiled in civil war for the better part of the last 60 years. The first Sudanese Civil War fought between the Islamic north of the country and the Christian and tribal south of the country lasted from 1955 until 1972. Fought over religion and oil, most scholars agree that the first conflict never ended and instead an 11-year cease-fire kept tensions at bay, until the Second Sudanese Civil War erupted in 1982, lasting until 2005. The conflict in Sudan is one of the most devastating in African history, with places like Darfur becoming synonymous with massacres and human suffering. When South Sudan finally broke away and formed an independent government in 2011, it was thought that violence in the utterly devastated region would subside. This was not to be however, as in 2013 civil war broke out again, this time between various factions in South Sudan, keeping the region in the grip of war to this day.
Another African nation utterly devastated by war, the conflict in Congo was precipitated by the Rwandan genocide. Though the vast array of details are too many to list here, essentially every neighboring African nation (and then some) invaded Congo and began killing each other, all the while mining the nation for its natural resources. Between 1999 and 2002, 2.5 million Congolese died alone. With marauding guerillas lead by warlords roaming the country, Congo descended into horror, with people being routinely shot, hacked and starved to death, children taken to become soldiers, and entire villages being wiped off the map. Though there has been no fighting in the Congo for two years now, the amount of tension still prevalent in the nation means violence is never far away.
If you’ve seen the film Black Hawk Down you’ve seen a brief glimpse into the nightmare plaguing Somalia, and the difficulty that western powers have in intervening in regional conflicts. Engulfed in a civil war between various warlords and would be rulers from 1991 until 2006, the west pulled out of Somalia in 1995 amidst large numbers of casualties and no hope for restoring a centralized government. With no western backing for leadership the war continued for another decade, devastating the nation, so much so that even though the civil war ended, insurgencies and conflicts still break out today further destabilizing Somalia, nullifying its long term recovery and priming the country for another potentially brutal civil war.
When the French left their colony of Vietnam in 1950 the country split into two opposing factions; the communist government recognized by the Soviet Union and China centered in Hanoi in the north, and the remnants of the French installed government in Saigon in the south, backed by the United States and Great Britain. By 1955, the country was at war with itself. What ensued was not only an extremely bloody 20-year civil war but also a proxy war between Cold War rivals, with American involvement being by far the most expansive. The war was notoriously grim, producing substantiated claims of war crimes committed by all parties. Seeing no victory in sight after the fall of Saigon, U.S. involvement in Vietnam ceased and the country has remained communist ever since. All told, over 3 million people died in the conflict, and Vietnam is still experiencing the debilitating effects of the war nearly 40 years later.
Conflict in Colombia has been ongoing since 1964 between the government, paramilitary groups, left wing armed revolutionaries and various criminal organizations. Some groups, such as the left-wing rebels say they are fighting in the name of Marxism, while the government is ostensibly fighting for stability and to restore peace. The paramilitary groups claim they are fighting to protect the country from the revolutionaries, but have also been accused of engaging in drug trafficking with criminal elements within the country. Essentially, it is a free for all with a central government doing little to stop the violence that has claimed over 200,000 lives, the vast majority civilian, and forced over 5 million people from their homes. Though peace talks opened in 2012, rebels quickly thwarted any hope for resolution by killing over 20 people in July of 2013.
Known officially since 1989 as Republic of the Union of Myanmar when the ruling military government changed the country’s name from Burma, either way you call it, the nation has been engaged in an ethnic civil war since 1948. After gaining independence from Britain, Burma descended quickly into violence as the various ethnic groups in the country clamoured for power, fighting each other and eventually fighting against the military government that took control of the country. To this day fighting continues amongst some of the ethnic groups, with most hoping to carve out a small nation of their own. Though 25 separate groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the military government, violence still occurs in certain areas of the country.
Iraq has been at war in one way or another since 1920. From foreign powers invading, to civil wars between ethnic groups, internal revolutions and wars with Israel, to the 1980-1988 war with Iran and the two wars with the United States and its allies, Iraq has seen plenty of bloodshed in the past 100 years. Today it continues with the insurgency that has been terrifying the country since 2011. While various groups vie for power in Iraq against a weak central government and military, the west has yet again decided to enter the conflict in the Middle Eastern nation to quell the violence. Only time will tell how effective that may be, but right now the war in Iraq is far from over.
The mountainous, largely inaccessible and opium rich nation of Afghanistan boasts some of the most beautiful geography in the world. It also boasts vast cultural groups making up a colorful, yet difficult to govern mosaic. As such, many other nations have attempted to rule the region, none with any success. Afghanistan has been at war since 1839, beginning with the British colonists who sought dominion over Afghanistan until 1919. Following a period of 60 years of relative peace, the Soviet Union attempted to conquer the mountains and waged a vicious war against the guerilla fighters, the Mujahideen, until massive losses forced the Red Army to withdraw leaving the nation ruler-less. A period of civil wars followed culminating in the rise of the Taliban, before a post-9/11 coalition invaded the country, where western forces and Afghan military still fight a violent insurgency today.
Russia and Chechnya have had a bloody and tumultuous relationship for over two hundred years, with no signs of abating. At times forced to be a reluctant part of the Russian Federation or the Soviet Union, at times an autonomous state, and at times in a violent limbo, Islamic Chechnya has sought to be freely independent from Russia, and has been fighting to that end, since 1785. Apart from the periods in which Russia and the Soviet Union were waging either a civil war or global war during WWI and WWII, the Chechens and Russians have been waging war against each other by any means necessary. Chechen-mounted terrorist attacks, filmed beheadings of hostages, school massacres, airport bombings and entire Chechen populations being massacred and towns being razed to the ground as retaliation; both sides are fighting an absolute war of attrition. The conflict has spilled over Chechnya’s borders and into neighboring Islamic territories within Russia as well, meaning there may be no end in sight to the violence.