War affects our world and lives, whether we are directly involved or not. Its effects are like those of a disease that spreads through the organism, weakening it and altering its relationship with the environment. War destroys communities, poisons associated life, and builds walls. And, which is worse, it plants rotten seeds from which bitter fruits will grow. One antidote to the spread of its malice is listening to the stories of those who have seen its very Gorgon’s face and suffered from its scorching touch.
The Close Encounters in War Journal inaugurates a new section called Back to the light. Stories of healing from trauma. It is entirely devoted to the stories of people who have experienced the war and learned how to cope with the burden of its traumatic memories. Sharing these stories means much to the authors both in terms of ethical commitment and psychological effort. They reveal something intimate that has been troubling them, a core of traumatic memories that haunt their lives. Nonetheless, they are eager to share their stories worldwide with a public of interested and empathic readers, who want to listen and know what war is about.
We are happy to launch this project with two contributions by Ukrainian refugee Olga Kornyushyna and American former infantryman Charles Collins. Olga tells about her traumatic encounter with war as a civilian who had to flee from Kyiv, bombed by the Russians in the present war. Charles tells how he went through four turns of deployment overseas and how he had to fight to heal the moral wounds that such experiences inflicted on him.
The editors of the CEIWJ would like to express their profound gratitude to the authors of these stories and invite all who have stories of healing from war trauma to share them with us and our readers. Veterans, families, friends, therapists, and healers are welcome to submit their contributions.
Our gratitude also goes to Ed Tick, who has generously accepted to embark on this endeavour as co-editor of the Back to the light project, and the members of the section-specific editorial board, Charles Aishi Blocher, Kate Dahlstedt, Nathan Graeser, Lawrence Markworth, Donald McCasland, Glen Miller, Roxy Runyan, and Floyd Striegel.
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 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/
On 22nd June 1941, the German armies overcame the Russian resistance on the river Bug and started to penetrate in depth in Russia in a drunken state of exaltation. It was the triumph of the Blitzkrieg which many generals considered the only true form of military art, according to the legacy of Clausewitz and Schlieffen: the dimension of the attack was such that the commanders ignored what other units were doing, and the common motto was “forward, no matter what the others do”, in order to annihilate the enemy before this could strike back. For many a soldier this unstoppable advance was just a leap into the void, because after leaving the last villages of the Reich they found themselves alone in the vastness of an unknown land…
When he stopped his studies of engineering in Manchester, Wittgenstein moved to Cambridge to study logic under the guidance of Bertrand Russell because he believed that by comprehending the fundamentals of language, and therefore the limits of language, he would understand its essence, as well as that of human beings, in primis, himself…
Few professions have such discriminatory stereotypes as translators and interpreters. Very sadly, the Italian cliché traduttore, traditore is still thought to be true by many people. Nevertheless, both translators and interpreters have also contributed to the persistence of these stereotypes. To make matters worse, the concept of the unfaithful interpreters has been fuelled by sensationalist media as well as by military and political leaders. The following example is from The New York Times…
The letters sent from the front during WWII constitute a broad universe which we are just partially familiar with (tens of thousands of letters out of billions). Only a very small portion of the immense corpus of letters from and to the fronts has been published, which means that such a form of testimony constitutes an important but also distorted means of encounter with war. Do therefore letters constitute a good means for encountering war? Do people at home really come across war, when they read the letters received from their loved ones at the front?…
Ancient Romans used to say “si vis pacem, para bellum”,
which one could rephrase as “if you want peace, prepare for war”. War
has always been much more than mere fighting. It affects society as a
whole even in peacetime, for example in terms of training, preparation
and strategy. Carl von Clausewitz wrote that war is the “continuation of
politics by other means”, meaning that war implies some transformation
of mentality and the awareness that sometimes dialogue and compromise
are not enough to compose litigation between two countries o two
communities. However, war is no necessity. The Latin motto cited above
must be read ironically, especially because it sounds very useful for
any imperialistic ideology aiming to preserve its power and privileges
by threatening other countries by stockpiling weapons and training big
armies. War is not desirable, and as the French WWI veteran Jean Giono
said, war does not uphold peace. All the opposite: war produces war,
while peace is just another path. But one could say that it takes a long
way to understand this, or better, it takes experience.
War is a brutal affair, but it has been and continues to be a key
aspect of human history and social change. The Humanities and the Social
Sciences can help us make sense of that, because they talk about who we
are and they help us define our experience. They can also help us make
sense of the disturbing aspects of the human character which become so
evident in war. The violent nature of wars and conflicts and their
effects on societies around the world and throughout history raise
complex moral and ethical questions the answer to which is generally
very controversial. For example is war always wrong? How can we explain
our behaviour in war? Why do we wage war?
We believe that the best way to address these complex questions
(again, ambitious project!) is to look at the cultural aspects of war
and conflict, really focusing on the human experience of those who were
(or are) there. We want to talk about ‘what it is like’ to be there, and
for us the best way to do it is with the help of the Humanities.
‘Cultural aspects’ means that any kind of narrative about war and
conflict is interesting for us, as well as any kind of representation,
from literary, journalistic and artistic portrayals to exhibits and
Combatants are not the only witnesses of war. Civilians, journalists,
NGOs-operators, and other groups can equally tell stories about war
insofar as they have seen it. The strength of such stories rests on
their ability to convince others that war is, or is not, a worthwhile
experience. They have come across war and gone through it, for better or
worse. All those who have seen war have experienced violence and its
corruption. Story-telling, together with other things (such as
monuments, museums, celebrations, and others) embodies atonement,
purification and return to civil society. Witnesses can share their
opinions about war, can use words as a new and not lethal weapons to
support the cause of fighting or that of peace. Story-telling is a
particular encounter with war for those who have no clear idea of what
war is. A narrated conflict is a cultural object. It is made of images
and words; its very fabric is the rhetoric of story-telling, and later
on of history. From facts to stories, war transforms itself into an
experience of suffering and violence which can be made without the risk
of getting overwhelmed and harmed.
All representation is interpretation. It has its own reality but it
also contributes to create new reality. Representation-interpretation
transfigures war into an indirect experience, an intellectual one. One
could say that a discourse on war is true because it has been produced
by an eye-witness or by an objectively detached and well-informed
historian. But how can one tell the difference? Where is the limit
between war as reality and war as a vision? The Humanities and the
Social Sciences set the tools, critical and intellectual, to face this
methodological and epistemological questions. What’s more, they also
help understand those questions ethically.
War as an encounter with the unknown, the unexpected, the undesirable
implies an understanding of what encountering ‘the enemy’, ‘the other’,
or merely ‘the different’ means. Disciplines such as history,
philosophy, literature, sociology, anthropology, psychology and others
can help us discern and comprehend. So let us begin our discussion with
two articles on the very actual issue of violence in captivity.
Terrorists kidnapping relief workers and journalists, terrorists publishing videos of horrible executions by decapitation and even burning, terrorists wiping out principles such as the freedom of the press and satire in the heart of the West in Paris, while stories of westerners joining the fight on the IS side are profusely present in the news. The ‘war on terror’, far from over, is raging, and it continues to be depicted by Western media and political authorities as a ‘just war’ fought against a heinous enemy…