Potential Applications of Public Health Tools to Bioarchaeological Data Sets : The "Dirty War Index" and the Biological Costs of Armed Conflict for Children
Bioarchaeology of Women and Children in Times of War
New York, NY
Springer International Publishing
In the past and present, the biosocial effects of armed conflict are increasingly well documented for combatants but are comparatively poorly understood for noncombatant civilians. Data for contemporary conflicts indicate that civilians suffer elevated morbidity and mortality above peacetime levels, but it is difficult to empirically reconstruct whether the effects were similar for premodern populations. Here, we propose and demonstrate the application of a public health tool, the "Dirty War Index" (DWI), to bioarchaeological and paleopathological data for empirically assessing the effects of armed conflict on civilians, particularly subadult children under 5 years of age. The DWI is a recently introduced, highly flexible, quantitative tool for identifying rates of undesirable or prohibited outcomes during conflict, with a "clean" conflict generating low values (e.g., 0) and a "dirty" conflict high values (e.g., 100). To demonstrate the DWI's utility for past conflicts, its novel insights, and the theoretical and methodological issues involved in applying it to analyze past conflicts, we generate DWIs using established data for two well-documented conflicts, one modern and one historic: the early twenty-first century Syrian Civil War and the mid-nineteenth century Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah. By applying the DWI to a modern conflict and to a historic massacre we demonstrate and explore the applicability of the DWI to bioarchaeological research, focusing on its utility for enabling quantitative comparisons of the outcomes of conflicts across time and space. The DWI enables empirical comparison of the effects of conflict on civilians using culturally specific outcomes, producing objective and culturally contingent evaluations of pain and suffering.