Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Public health, religion, war, blog: Part V

[Last of a multipart series exploring the relationship between these topics. Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV.]

Public health is a global enterprise. Modern threats to the well-being of populations like climate change or pandemic infectious disease know no political borders. The obstacle of nationalism and the Westphalian notion of "national sovereignty" are now bearing bitter fruit in the inability of the World Health Organization to impose on its member nations responsible standards of conduct concerning timely and accurate surveillance and notification of disease outbreaks within their borders. Thus, even without national conflict, nationalism is a public health problem. But war does exist. By the choice of political leaders.

If something demonstrably and predictably results in widespread disease, malnutrition, disease and loss of life by violence and accident, it would be natural it attract the attention of public health, especially when it is the result of alterable government policy. This is undeniably a description of virtually every policy use of coercive violence to achieve a political goal. Yet, with few exceptions, public health has been silent on the issue (the exceptions are a few public health leaders like Victor Sidel and Barry Levy who have persistently and cogently raised war as a public health issue).

There is currently vigorous debate about the wisdom of the US invasion of Iraq, its motives, its justification, its ultimate consequences. It has clearly had public health consequences, both for the civilian population in Iraq, and in the US, in terms of the distortion in public health priorities, civilian opportunity costs, the creation of new threats from the way the biodefense effort has been prosecuted and the potential destabilization of the biological arms race.

The progressive political movement has not been shy of criticizing this from many different perspectives. It would seem odd that a progressive public health movement would refrain from doing so. This blog will not refrain.

So we conclude where we began, on the role of a blog in all this. The ability to put one's ideas into the great "marketplace of ideas" of the blogosphere is an important development. We are no longer constrained by the daunting economics of print and broadcast publishing. Ideas, including seemingly controversial and unpopular ones, can accrue a market not previously open to them. At least so we imagine.
Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today...

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...

Imagine no possesions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man,
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.
Lyrics, courtesy John Lennon; sentiments, courtesy hundreds of millions the world over