Every generation has its civil war. Mine was Cambodia, 1978. This war accounts for at least a million of those sixteen by some estimates. The famine that ensued in the war’s aftermath took its own toll, starving the displaced millions that had survived the killing ﬁelds of the Angkar. The American Red Cross, the UN, the world community began to respond to the humanitarian crisis that was developing. I was in my ﬁrst year of college, studying to be an airline pilot. But Cambodia happened, and I wanted to be there. I wanted to help in some way. The relief agencies needed truck drivers, and I had just quit driving a truck to go to college. I hitchhiked to Detroit to meet my father, to tell him my intentions. We sat in a diner drinking endless reﬁlls of the same cup of coffee, and I attempted to convince him that it was imperative I go to Cambodia. He listened, as fathers do. But he cautioned me to “stay in college. There will be other wars for you, and other famines.” He was right, as fathers are. Although I could hardly stomach the idea then, of other wars and other famines, of millions starving and dead, there have been, of course, other wars and other famines. Many other wars and many other famines. What
my father said came not from callousness, as I had then imagined, but from knowing what I now know. That civil wars happen, that famines follow them, that we have not learned how to stop, or manage, let alone prevent civil wars. And so, every generation has its civil war. Or two or three. The Rwandan and Sudanese wars have killed about a million people each, Uganda a quarter of a million, Bosnia two hundred thousand, Indonesia three hundred thousand, the Philippines between ﬁfty and sixty thousand. Cambodia, Yugoslavia, and today, Iraq. And there are those that go on unrelenting, sometimes silent, sometimes boiling, simmering through generation after generation-Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Palestine.