Selected poems from “In the Courtyard of the Moon”, by Humberto Ak’abal

Humberto Ak’abal is a poet from Guatemala. These poems were written in K’iche and translated into Spanish by Humberto. Further translation from the Spanish into English was made by Miguel Rivera with Fran Quinn. All poems are extracted from the book by Humberto Ak’abal In the Courtyard of the Moon, Los Angeles, Tia Chucha Press, forthcoming in April 2021. We kindly thank the publisher for permission to publish these poems.

Read Humberto Ak’abal’s poems here

Short story of close encounter in war: “Soul Operation”, by David Klein

“I’m not letting him, or any other gook sonovabitch get anywhere close to me. Especially near my eyes!” 

This conversation was going nowhere fast, but he didn’t have the option of choosing another surgeon; it was the only specialist available in this region for the relatively rare ocular condition that was slowly blinding my 80-year-old combat veteran therapy patient. Dr. Kim’s highly respected reputation mattered not. As it were, he happened to be of Chinese ethnicity.

That was all Don needed to know. He had served with the “Triple Nickel” 555th Military Police Battalion during the Korean War. From the outset, he was clear that he was still filled with rage towards his former enemy. Curiously, he reserved his deepest vitriol not for the North Koreans, but for their Chinese allies who had joined the effort to push the Americans off the peninsula and into the sea…

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Dòng suối quê hương (The Streams of Our Native Land): a poem by Trần Đình Song

Dear readers of Close Encounters in War, we are delighted to publish another poetic contribution about the Vietnam war, this time from the perspective of a Vietnamese veteran: Trần Đình Song, who served in the Southern Vietnamese Air Force and was in the re-education forced labour camps after the war. This beautiful poem was written in 1966, and although the horror of civil war war haunted the Author and his country, his words are full of love and hope. We publish the poem in its original version, accompanied by the new English translation that the Author made with his friend and member of the CEIWJ Editorial Board Edward Tick.

Dòng suối quê hương (The Streams of Our Native Land), by Trần Đình Song

Close Encounters in War launches a new section for stories and poetry

Stories and poems of close encounters in war

Close encounters in war are, before anything else, life experiences that change in depth those who make them. As editors of the Close Encounters in War Journal, we have always been aware of this simple but basic fact and therefore decided to open the third issue of the journal (2020) to creative writing. We wanted to propose an experimental encounter between scholarly research and forms of creative and non-fictional writing whose roots go deep into experience and imagination.

After that exciting experience, being aware that stories and poems of close encounters in war deserve a place of their own in the website, we are happy to announce the launch of the new section “Stories and poems of close encounters in war“.

This new section of the journal is divided into three subsections (Poetry, Fiction, and Testimonies and Autobiographical Essays) and is meant to be a space for creativity and exploration of all those forms of writing that help us understand war more thoroughly as a multifaceted and complex experience. We invite storytellers, veterans, practitioners, relatives and friends of veterans, poets, therapists, and much more to feel free to submit their contributions to the CEIWJ. We will be happy and grateful to read year round your original and unpublished works about your encounters in and with war, real and imagined. We will select and publish the best, more insightful, and inspiring contributions.

Call for articles: CEIWJ n. 4 (2021), “Emotions and Close Encounters in War”

The editors of the CEIWJ invite to submit abstracts by February 10, 2021

The universe of emotions has always represented a major challenge for research in every field of knowledge, from Philosophy to Physics, from Psychology to the Arts. Although everyone knows what emotions are insofar as almost everyone can “feel”, as it comes to provide a clear or systematic explanation of emotions, words fail. Today, interdisciplinary studies see cognitivists working side by side with psychologists, linguists, anthropologists, biologists, historians, and philosophers to elaborate insightful theories of emotions. One breakthrough that has oriented the new research agenda since the 1990s consists in the claim that the human mind is – despite the rationalist tradition rooted in Descartes’s philosophy and the following theories of Enlightenment and Positivism – emotional (see, for example, pivotal studies by Antonio Damasio and Joseph Ledoux in the 1990s).

During the preparation of Issue n. 3, devoted to post-traumatic stress disorder, we have grown even more aware that war and emotions are deeply entwined. We may even dare to say that if humans go to war, it is mostly due to emotions, although the rational urge to organise and explain war in term of science is equally powerful (as historian Bernd Hüppauf and ethologists such as Irenäus Eibl-Eibelsfeld have demonstrated). For sure, the individual caught in a war, from its preparation to the very experience of battle, is exposed to a great number of emotional stimuli that affect their reactions and decision-making. Propaganda, the feeling of “belonging”, affective bonds, ethical inclinations, and cultural notions such as racism, nationalism, patriotism, cosmopolitanism, as only some of the numerous and varied contributing factors that may lead people to make war or to avoid it. We believe that the “close encounter” makes this list as well as a fundamental emotional experience in war.

Issue n. 4 of CEIWJ will aim to investigate the theme of close encounters in connection to the emotions by exploring its facets both on a micro-scale, by studying individual testimonies and experiences, and on a theoretical and critical basis throughout history. CEIWJ encourages inter/multidisciplinary approaches and dialogue among different scientific fields. We therefore welcome articles that frame the topic within the context of close encounters in war from the perspective of Aesthetics, Anthropology, Arts, Classics, Cognitive Science, Ethics, History, Linguistics, Politics, Psychology, Sociology, and other disciplines relevant for the investigation of the topic. Case studies may include different historical periods as well as over different geographic areas.

We invite articles which analyse the connection between war and emotions from ancient to modern and contemporary periods, from the perspective of the encounter, reaching beyond the study of military tactics and strategy and focusing on the emotional dimension of how human beings “encounter” each other – or themselves – in war. Contributions are invited to promote discussion and scholarly research from established scholars, early-career researchers, and from practitioners who have dealt with the emotional response to war in the course of their activities.

Topics and research fields that can be investigated include but are not limited to:

  • Theoretical inter/multidisciplinary approaches to the study of emotions and war;
  • The emotional impact of war on culture and social behaviour;
  • The emotional and ethical impact of language in the context of war (propaganda, pacifism, anti-war literature, etc.);
  • The emotional aspects of oral history, memory studies, therapy, and PTSD-counselling in theory and practice;
  • Expressing and representing emotions and war in music, figurative arts, literature, testimonies and personal narratives;
  • War and the emotional elaboration of death, mourning, trauma, and loss;
  • The emotional impact of colonial and civil wars, captivity and deportation;
  • Emotional response to war crimes and military justice;
  • Emotional implications of otherness, race, and gender in war-contexts.

The editors of Close Encounters in War Journal invite the submission of abstracts of 250 words in English by 10 February 2021 to ceiwj@nutorevelli.org. The authors invited to submit their works will be required to send articles of 6000-8000 words (endnotes included, bibliographical references not included in word-count: please see submission guidelines at https://closeencountersinwar.org/instruction-for-authors-submissions/) in English by 30 June 2021 to ceiwj@nutorevelli.org. All articles will undergo a process of double-blind peer-review. We will notify the results of the peer-reviewing in September 2021. Final versions of revised articles will be submitted by November of 2021.

Issue n. 2 (2019) of CEIWJ is online

Close Encounters, Displacement and War

We are delighted to announce that the second issue of the Close Encounters in War Journal has been published online. This issue marks the real start of our project and is devoted to a topic that seemed relevant to us both for its historical meaning and its topicality. In fact, the issue hosts five contributions by authors who consider the theme of close encounters, displacement and war from a great variety of angles and in different disciplines.

The Issue and single articles can be downloaded here: http://issue-n-2-(2019):-close-encounters,-displacement-and-war

Displacement and forced migration represent some of the most worrying issues of the contemporary world: according to data published by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are currently 70.8 million forced migrants globally (Figures at a Glance, 2019) and its reports also show that wars, persecutions, violence and human rights violations are among the main causes of current forced migrations. The current crisis is unprecedented and calls for a deep reflection on how to face its urgency, particularly in relation to the situation of the people involved and the humanitarian emergency. In this special issue we look at displacement and forced migration caused by war and conflict in the contemporary era, with a particular focus on the challenges met by those who experienced it.

The five articles collected in the present issue cover a number of case-studies of displacement that vary as to geographical and chronological context, methodological approach, and specific disciplinary field, as far as they range from oral history to cultural history, and cultural studies.

The author of the first contribution, Christoph Declercq, focuses on the “odd case” of Belgian refugees in the United Kingdom during WW1, a small community of displaced people who were warmly welcomed and rather well absorbed in the British daily life, but who were soon after their repatriation forgotten. As Declercq claims, “the destitute Belgians had been used as a tool of warfare and when the war was finally over, those tools were hastily discarded, and all the stories that came with them suppressed” (infra, p. 14), which was one of the reasons why this group of displaced people remained so long forgotten by historians. Actually, as the author shows, the story of this group was more complex than a simple mass movement from Belgium to UK, and the figures of the mobility are therefore analysed thoroughly in order to understand what actual perception the Britons had of this phenomenon of displacement.

In the second article, Simona Tobia presents a number of case-studies deriving from oral history interviews that cover the displacement of Jewish Europeans fleeing from Nazi Germany to the United States before and during WW2, facing very challenging experiences of adaptation and integration. The author opens her article by discussing a number of methodological issues of oral history in order to theoretically frame her work and the use she makes of her sources. Tobia’s main concern is the emotional impact that displacement has on those who experience it, which often affects their ability to remember and share effectively the most traumatic aspects of their journey. She therefore claims that any oral history of displacement must take into account not only the cultural issues related to oral narrative but also the emotional impact of being displaced in terms of identity-building and memory, because “the strategies of memory composure that the narrators in these case studies used revolve around cultural knowledge, on the one hand, and emotions and feelings, on the other” (infra, p. 44).

The author of the third article, Barbara Krasner, touches upon another rather neglected scenario of displacement, namely that of Polish citizens who were caught between Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes in 1939, when Poland was invaded by the Wehrmacht from the west and by the Red Army from the east. This form of displacement concerned above all the Jewish population of the town of Ostrova, who found themselves trapped between two invaders who equally threatened their survival. Thus, “the decision to cross or not cross the border in the first three months of Nazi and Soviet occupation of Poland had longer-term consequences for the Jews of Ostrova” (infra, p. 63), which reminds us that displacement is a multi-faceted phenomenon that can be very different from case to case. Displacement can turn itself into a deadly condition for those groups of people that for racial, ethnic, religious or political reasons are particularly exposed to persecution both in the place they flee from and in those they try to enter.

The fourth article by Elisheva Perelman takes us in Japan in 1945, when the country is occupied by the American troops and the encounter between the soldiers and the civilians gives birth to the need for normalizing gendered relationships between America and Japan. To cover this topic, Perelman chooses to focus on a well-known post-war product of American pop culture, i.e. the cartoon Babysan, first published in 1951 and depicting the regime of occupation in a palatable way, which means in a sexually hegemonized way. Babysan made thus an ideal ethnographic object through which the Americans could look at defeated and occupied Japan in terms of naivety and objectification. Perleman also shows that the experience of displacement can occur without being removed from one’s own place. Babysan depicts a culture that has been displaced by the very glance that the occupiers have cast on it. As a “symbol of occupation and subjugation, of racism and misogyny” (infra, p. 81), Babysan reveals much about the complex reality of displacement in war.

The fifth and last article considers a more recent scenario, i.e. the worldwide diaspora of Somali citizens in the wake of the Somali civil war. Natoschia Scruggs takes into account testimonies of Somali displaced people resident in the United States, some of whom, though, have had previous experience of displacement in Europe and other countries in Africa or the Middle East. Once again, this article shows that displacement triggers a long chain of identity-related issues in those who are involved, in particular for people coming from cultural milieus where “clan affiliation and one’s immediate family are significant sources of personal identity and security” (infra, p. 92). What emerges is that generalisation is not useful when one attempts to understand the impact of displacement on such aspects as identity-building, self-perception, or social relationships, which are largely dependent on the cultural milieu of origin.We wish to extend a warm thank you to all the people who work with us to realize this project: our Editorial Board, the many scholars who accept to act as peer reviewers, and all those who have supported our project with counsel, criticism and constructive dialogue. And above all, the contributors, who have allowed us the privilege to read and publish their excellent academic work.

An unusual close encounter with the enemy

Nuto Revelli’s Il disperso di Marburg after 25 years. Marburg, July 18, 2019

Nuto Revelli.

Nuto Revelli (Cuneo 1919-2004) was an officer of the Italian Royal Army and fought in Russia in 1942-1943. Following the armistice of September 8, 1943 between Italy and the Allies, Revelli joined the anti-fascist partisan groups and fought as commander of the 4th GL Band (later renamed “Carlo Rosselli” Brigade) until the liberation of Italy in April 1945. The experience of war engendered deep hatred against the Germans, which Revelli had met on the Russian front as allies and then as enemies in the mountains of his region (Piedmont). For decades this hatred remained unchanged and the intensity of such feeling was captured in the first books that Revelli published in the post-war period, Mai tardi (1946 and then republished in 1967) and La guerra dei poveri (1962). In these books the Germans are represented as cruel beasts, enemies to hate and despise.

In the 1980s, while collecting oral accounts from peasants in the Alpine valleys of Piedmont, Revelli heard from a former partisan a strange war story, the legend of a German officer who rode off in the countryside and who was kind to the local inhabitants and children, a peaceful and apparently “good” man. One day of 1944 this man disappeared, possibly killed in an ambush of partisans, and since then no one knew anymore about him. This legend disturbed Revelli because it challenged his memories of war and seemed too lenient to be true. Nevertheless, it was the story of a missing-in-action soldier. The memory of soldiers missing in Russia during the retreat from the Don River had tormented Revelli since the end of the war. A missing soldier, the writer said, is the cruellest legacy of any war.

Thus, he decided to engage in the search for the identity of this missing man, and after ten years of work, oral interviews with witnesses and research in German military archives, he succeeded. He discovered that the missing man was a 23-year-old German officer, a student who had not joined the National Socialist Party, who was not enthusiastic about the war and had already lost his older brother in Russia. A young man like so many others, who had been involved into the enormity of the war and had been overwhelmed by a cruel fate.

Fifty years after the war, Revelli thus found the way to reconcile with the hated enemy through a historical quest that in the end also turned out to be an experience of friendship, as far as he befriended the German historian Christoph Schminck-Gustavus, who remained close to Revelli. And, above all, this was a story of reconciliation with the human side of the so-called enemy. The book that tells this story, Il disperso di Marburg, was published in 1994 and for the occasion Revelli visited the German town of Marburg where Rudolf Knaut, the missing officer, was born. This year, on July 18, Marburg hosted an event dedicated to Revelli and to Il disperso di Marburg to celebrate the centenary of the writer’s birth (July 21). Gianluca Cinelli gave two lectures at the Institut für romanische Philologie at Philipps-Universität Marburg and at the Technologie- und Tagungszentrum in the presence of a large audience.

Announcement: Experiencing War at the Library of Congress

For the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Library of Congress published a webpage titled Experiencing War. Researchers and anyone who is interested can access 12 collections with diaries, photos and oral histories of men and women who experienced that event.

The page can be accessed at this link: https://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-dday75.html

The materials are part of one of the Library of Congress’ special projects: the Veterans History Project (VHP), part of the American Folklife Center, which collects personal accounts of American war veterans with the aim to preserve the memories of war and conflicts in which the United States took part, from the First World War up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VHP’s materials provide a wealth of sources for researchers who work on experiences of war, and many of those can be accessed remotely through their website: https://www.loc.gov/vets/