ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

The Insanity of War

A reflection on the recent outbreak of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Insanity [from the Latin insanus, from the Latin in-, not, + sanus, whole] 1. The state of being insane; mental derangement or unsoundness; lunacy; madness; dementia. 2. A defect or weakness of mind that makes a person incapable of understanding the nature of particular acts or legal actions. 3. Extreme folly.

I first visited Eritrea in 1989 during its 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia. At that time I could visit only the Eritrean capitol of Asmara. The Ethiopians held the city, and it wasn’t possible to go outside it into the rebel-held areas.

The long civil war ended in 1991 with the overthrow of the Ethiopian Marxist dictatorship by joint revolutionary forces in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Two years later Eritrea received its independence.

This May, I was finally able to see more of Eritrea than the city of Asmara. We traveled by jeep down from the cool highlands, first northwest to Keren, then southwest to Agordat and Barentu and finally south to the hot and dusty lowland town of Dukambia.

Most of the few narrow and bumpy paved roads date from the Italian colonial period. Only part of our journey was on asphalt; most of the trip was over rough, washboard-surfaced dirt roads or tracks in the countryside.

Some areas are remote from the capitol not only in space but in time. Many of these rural folk live and work as their ancestors did centuries ago.

How strange it was to see poor farmers scratching a living from their dusty, semi-arid land alongside rusting hulks of tanks, heavy trucks and field weapons, wrecked and abandoned along the margins of the road.

What madness to have deployed these massive and expensive instruments of war among simple people whose lives were so remote from the issues of the conflict.

Thanks be to God, I thought, at last there is peace, reconstruction and development in this shattered, weakened land.

A few days after we crossed into Ethiopia, however, the border was closed. A new war had broken out.

Unbelievable! Until then the leaders of the two governments seemed to have had a cordial relationship. What were the reasons for renewing war? Ostensibly an old dispute about the exact position of the frontier. Actually, nobody knows.

Within days bombs were falling in both countries, sometimes seemingly at random. Small children died at a school in Mekele a few weeks after our visit there.

What an insane game is sometimes played by the wielders of political power. They move their powerful and deadly toys across the board of life, casually wiping out living, breathing human pieces like the pawns they have become.

How long and hard we work to build lives child by child, family by family. How easily and quickly they are destroyed.

From the insanity, lunacy, madness and folly of war, deliver us, O Lord!

Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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