Abolishing War is Needed



‘We must start talking, imagining, designing a world without war’

On 13 August 2021, Italian surgeon Gino Strada, founder of Emergency,  died at the age of 73.  

A surgeon is how  he defined himself when he received the Right Livelihood Award in 2015; a pacifist, or more precisely as he said himself ‘I am not a pacifist, I am against war!’; an activist who spent his life  curing and treating people in war zones; a thinker, who once wrote that wars do not only destroy infrastructure but destroy human relations; a father, a husband. Gino Strada was a model of humility and perseverance that shaped humanitarian health and a culture of peace since the foundation of Emergency in 1994.  

We remember him at several protests and seeing him during a demonstration in 2004 against the war in Iraq, passing by, greeting people with his Emergency T-shirt and white strip of fabric around his harm, symbolising peace. We used to have one on our backpacks, and stickers with the unmistakable red logo of Emergency. Gino’s work and thoughts have inspired generations of people in Italy and abroad; we were among those.   

His last article appeared in an Italian newspaper on 13 August, the day he passed away, commenting on the dramatic events in Afghanistan. Gino Strada spent over 7 years living in Afghanistan, and since 2001 had been campaigning against the war. He wrote in his latest piece: 

Dicevamo 20 anni fa che questa guerra sarebbe stata un disastro per tutti. Oggi l’esito di quell’aggressione è sotto i nostri occhi: un fallimento da ogni punto di vista. Oltre alle 241 mila vittime e ai 5 milioni di sfollati, tra interni e richiedenti asilo, l’Afghanistan oggi è un Paese che sta per precipitare di nuovo in una guerra civile, i talebani sono più forti di prima, le truppe internazionali sono state sconfitte e la loro presenza e autorevolezza nell’area è ancora più debole che nel 2001. E soprattutto è un Paese distrutto, da cui chi può cerca di scappare anche se sa che dovrà patire l’inferno per arrivare in Europa. E proprio in questi giorni alcuni Paesi europei contestano la decisione della Commissione europea di mettere uno stop ai rimpatri dei profughi afgani in un Paese in fiamme.

20 years ago we said that this war would have been a catastrophe for all. Today, the outcomes of that aggression is under everyone’s eyes: a failure, from all points of view. In addition to its 241,000 victims, and 5 million displaced people, internally-displaced and asylum seekers, Afghanistan is today a country on the verge of another civil war, the Taliban are stronger than they used to be, international troops have been defeated and their presence and authority in the area is weaker than in 2001. And above all, it is a country which is destroyed, where those who can, try to escape even though they know that they will go through hell in the attempt to reach Europe. And precisely in the last few days, some European countries have contested the European Commission’s decision to halt deportations of Afghani asylum seekers to their country, which is in flames.

[our translation]

Moni Ovadia recalls a memory of Gino Strada, when once, after one of the numerous heart failures he had, he was planning to go back to Afghanistan, and Ovadia tried to call him and dissuade him from going. Gino’s answer was: ‘I miei malati mi aspettano’ ‘My wounded people are waiting for me’; Ovadia commented that Gino was indeed a personification of the essence of the Oath of Hippocrates. Gino’s life was led by valuing the ‘Other’, whoever the Other was.  

I suoi malati, his wounded ones, the ‘real heroes’ as he used to call them, were at the heart of what he did over the years, and Gino once said, ‘treating the wounded is neither generous, nor merciful, it is only just. It has to be done’ because we need justice if we want to achieve peace. And we don’t help people because we are good people, but just because it is just.  

During the pandemic, Gino, with Emergency, in addition to putting their knowledge and experience of dealing with pandemics in crisis and emergencies, described how ideal – not utopistic, but feasible – healthcare should be. He referred to the Italian healthcare, but we believe his words would resonate in many other countries: 

universal (it cannot discriminate, it doesn’t look at citizenship rights because it has to be available for everyone; and importantly, healthcare should not be for profit, pointing at the importance of relocating resources that in recent years have been allocated to private profit) 

of high quality in all national territories, and independent (not dependent on religious powers and churches) 

welcoming and hospitable – healthcare is solidarity, all of the community should be a part of this, putting the interests of those who are ill first.  

A giant, with a very small ego. Probably that was what made him so unique, he was a man of the people, a man of the field. It is our duty to continue his legacy – whether we do it in war zones, or with our neighbours, at university or at nurseries, selling clothes, teaching languages, working with people, or with computers.  

Whatever we do in our lives, it is our duty to talk and imagine a world without war. Our children deserve this.  

Che la terra ti sia lieve, Gino.  


Watch his moving full speech to learn about war, health, peace, wounds, and broken hopes, and what we must do to conceive a world without war, starting with imagining and talking about it. 

*Andrea Cagli, Associazione Proletari Escursionisti, Italy 

** Diego Lombardi, University for Foreigners of Siena, Italy 

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).