Archive for May, 2008

Recognize a Cause of War

Monday, May 19th, 2008

While visiting Prague, Czech Republic, for a medical meeting, we did as much sightseeing as possible. One day we toured the appalling walled city of Terezin.

Although fortified to keep people out, Terezin’s primary use has been as a prison. During the Second World War the Nazis transformed Terezin into a concentration camp. Over 150,000 people, mainly Jews, were imprisoned there—not for any crime, but because of their beliefs. Most were transported to other camps for extermination.

Our gentle guide, in broken English, told us of the horrors of the camp. She showed us where many prisoners were hanged or faced the firing squad. We paused in the small cold cell where fifty people were held with just one meal a day and no toilet facility. She described the food—gruel, with a scrap of meat just once a week. We viewed a sleeping room with bunk beds three high. Each person had just ten square feet for himself and all belongings.

Despite atrocious conditions and thousands of deaths from starvation and disease, the prisoners maintained a cultural life. They produced plays and musical performances. The Nazis used Terezin to mislead the Red Cross into believing that concentration camp conditions were acceptable. They achieved this ruse by deporting many prisoners, fresh paint and other temporary improvements.

The whole time I was in Terezin I speculated how Nazi despotism could have been prevented. Might another similar tragedy be possible? If so, how could we nip it in the bud?

I concluded that a free press is the best weapon against totalitarian control. Although freedom of the press is assured by our Bill of Rights, most countries lack that guarantee. Even in the USA, independence of the media is not assured as huge conglomerates buy up smaller media. We are indeed fortunate that the Durango Herald remains independent. Unfortunately, the Nazis recognized the media’s importance and were quick to suppress them. Perhaps Internet will be more resistant to suppression.

We were relieved to ride a comfortable bus back to Prague. Because this magnificent city was not bombed during WWII, it architecturally beautiful. Tourism has helped to revive an economy that was stifled by communism until 1989. The excellent public transportation system is widely used so there are fewer private cars, and the streets are “pedestrian friendly”. A good dinner surrounded by pleasant Czechs helped to revive my faith in humanity.

The day’s second shock came when I read e-mail. A video by a Kenyan reporter views his country’s current warfare from a distinctive perspective. He feels that the killings there are not just a result of the recent election. Indeed, the slaughter started before the disputed voting. To see this video, go to: www.mambogani.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=8495.

This reporter asserts that his country’s large and growing population has subdivided the available land so that each person’s allotment is too small to grow sufficient food. The fighting is really about land. When he asked a rebel about overpopulation, the soldier pointed out that the only way for poor people to gain power is by increasing their numbers. This is a basic conundrum.

There is precedent for the theory that overpopulation is destabilizing Africa. In a powerful article (www.worldwatch.org/node/524) published on the tenth anniversary of the holocaust in Rwanda, David Gasana points out that the killing occurred where people were close to starvation.

Dr. Gasana had been a minister in the Rwandan government before the holocaust there. He points out that the birth rate, which had been one of the highest in the world, increased the Rwandan population beyond his country’s ability to grow sufficient food. The government was too poor to import the food needed to prevent hunger. The fighting was really about trying to feed one’s family.

Dr. Maurice King is one of my heroes. A retired physician, his years of working in Africa have made him concerned about the future of that continent. He fears that many other countries will follow in Rwanda’s and Kenya’s footsteps. He predicts that poor people will be trapped without food or any means of escape, when human population outgrows the capacity of the land to support the people. He calls this controversial theory “demographic entrapment” Read more at: www.leeds.ac.uk/demographic_entrapment/.

Whether the extreme of demographic entrapment, or Hitler’s claim of needing “Lebensraum” as an excuse to exterminate non-Aryans, a certain amount of land is needed to support any human population. What is frightening is that, in many places, we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of our environment.

 

© Richard Grossman MD, 2008 

 

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.