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Tanisha Fazal on war injuries

Professor Spagat interviews Tanisha Fazal about war injuries, including the question of why these receive so little memorialization or even attention.
So now I’m here with Tanisha Fazal, and we’re going to talk about injuries. So you’ll be aware that at several points during the course I’ve talked about how injuries are an important part of war, but we’re not really going to talk about them in the MOOC. But this is the exception, so we’re here specifically at this moment to talk about injuries. And Tanisha is actually an expert on this. So Tanisha, let me ask you. In the course we’ve been talking a lot about ways of documenting deaths in armed conflict. And we’ve talked about several projects where people list deaths one by one, or possibly they organise everything by events rather than individual deaths.
And we have a number of projects that try to memorialise and remember people who have been killed in armed conflict. Is there anything like that with injuries. I would say that individual militaries have tried to do this. I certainly don’t know of anything like that historically with respect to civilian casualties. But for militaries, individual militaries have certainly tried to accumulate casualty counts that include fatal as well as non-fatal casualties. But one of the challenges is that what counts as an injury– so what would get into those lists can vary dramatically historically, across nationally, and even within a single country.
So for example in the US case, which is the case that I know the best, the army counts non-fatal injuries in a different way than the Marines do. So you can’t really compare these lists. It’s very difficult to get a systematic overview of injuries. But has anyone tried to really memorialise it to say here is a list of all of the people who have lost a leg or a limb. Again, not that I know of. You do have something. You can get the Purple Heart if you’re injured in combat or something like that. But I at least am not aware of a memorial to all war amputees or something along those lines.
This tends to be a fairly neglected section of the way that we think of war and war casualties, which is in a lot of ways surprising because it’s the part of war and war casualties that ends up being most visible after a war. These are the people who are surviving, and they’re still living in their communities and in their countries. But we tend to think we memorialise the dead. We don’t really memorialise the wounded. So do you have any speculations on why that is?
And people who have been following the course know that actually people have been making lists of war dead for centuries really, which is not to say that it’s done systematically and you can find one for every war. Certainly not. The oldest one that I know of, which we’ve discussed in the course, is the Marathon Stone, which is actually specifically a list of people who were killed in the Battle of Marathon. So it seems like there’s a real– you could call it an instinct or just some natural human tendency to want to make lists of the dead. And it seems like this doesn’t really spill over to injuries. Do you have some thoughts on why that might be the case?
So I think it would be interesting in answering that question to disaggregate between different categories of people who could be injured. So if we think first about military personnel who are injured and the reason why they would tend not to be memorialised– part of this has to do with the fact that a lot of times of war is over, and you just want it to be over. And so you don’t want to think about the veterans from the war who have been wounded, and there are a lot of politics historically about how veterans are treated around the world historically. Although, again, the case I know best as the US case.
With respect to civilians, I think sometimes the wounds are visible and immediate. Sometimes the wounds show up later on as a result of illness that is born of war but has longer term effects. And I don’t know but I would imagine that to some extent there are questions of culpability for these wounds that are suffered, and sustained, and have to be lived with otherwise later on that people maybe don’t want to deal with. OK, so there might be some legal liability or at least a moral liability so that it’s possible that it’s an important factor here. The powers that be may not be interested in acknowledging.
Its easier, perhaps in some cases to acknowledge a death because there’s not a liability for ongoing and perhaps a very expensive medical treatment. There may be a one-off payment or a pension but that was probably mandated by law in advance. And there’s nothing to be gained from, or it’s maybe not feasible. There could be something to be gained from denying that the death happened, but it may not be feasible. But I guess at least with a number of injuries that might be related to war, perhaps it’s not entirely clear cut that the war is the cause. Yes, that’s an issue too, and that’s certainly been an issue when we’re thinking about military personnel with deciding who gets veterans benefits, right?
So for example, after the US Civil War, the pension system that was put in place was for people who had disabilities that were caused by the war. And so you had to demonstrate that your disability was caused by the war, and that’s not always easy to do. Because sometimes records in war record keeping is very good, and a lot of times it’s not so much very good. So this becomes a very controversial and politicised set of problems that has to be dealt with in terms of accounting for injuries and responsibility for injuries after a conflict.

In this clip I interview Tanisha Fazal who is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

I built this short course around war deaths. But injuries in war are also very important and Tanisha is an authority on this topic. Professor Fazal has argued that advances in military medicine in recent decades have allowed many people to survive injuries that would have rendered them dead in earlier wars. This positive development has come at the cost of creating a large class of wounded warriors who live with severe injuries.

Toward the end of the interview Tanisha offers a comment that is particularly interesting and pertinent to Week 3 of the course. She points out that it can be difficult to demonstrate that particular injuries that veterans suffer were actually caused by a war they participated in. Damage, including psychological damage, may only appear some years after service. Some conditions may have plausible causes besides war experience. And, finally, governments may resist recognizing military injuries so as to avoid paying for expensive treatments that might be mandated if these injuries are war related.

Upon my request Tanisha provided the following bio:

Tanisha Fazal’s scholarship focuses on sovereignty, international law, and armed conflict. Fazal’s current research analyzes the effect of improvements in medical care in conflict zones on the long-term costs of war.

She is the author of State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation (Princeton University Press, 2007), which won the 2008 Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association’s Conflict Processes Section. Her second book, Wars of Law: Unintended Consequences in the Regulation of Armed Conflict, was just published with Cornell University Press. Her work has also appeared in journals such as the British Journal of Political Science, Daedalus, International Organization, International Security, International Studies Review and Security Studies.

She has been a fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. In 2002 she was awarded the Helen Dwight Reid Award of the American Political Science Association.

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