Violence Rages on Well After the Conflict Is Over -- How War-Time Torture Can Turn into a Life of Domestic Violence
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Many of us who did this work argued that the violence of private life is not private at all. So often it spills into the world at large. An abusive husband shoots his estranged wife in her workplace and kills some of her colleagues as well. Another appears for a child custody hearing and shoots his wife, her lawyer, the judge, and other bystanders. We see such stories often in the media. Accounts of these routine rampages invariably accept the shooter's anger at his estranged wife or girlfriend as sufficient explanation for mass homicide. But where does such rage come from?
I still believe that violence in the home imperils us all. Just as it spills into the streets, it schools the next generation in violence. But now I wonder if that is truly where violence starts, at home. When my father attacked my mother or me, he was often angry about something altogether different. He laid into us -- me especially -- because I was there. But the response? The techniques? Those were things he had learned in the army. In fact it must have been his success in learning to act so swiftly, so effectively, so violently that made him a hero and earned him the highest honors of three allied countries. His medals hung on the wall at home, under glass. Friends of our family often said to me: "You must be so proud of your father." I was. I admired him and loved him, even though I knew what his heroism cost us, and him, at home.
One stronghold of the battered women's movement -- in Mary land, if I remember rightly -- distributed T-shirts bearing the words WORLD PEACE BEGINS AT HOME. I believed it. Raise up children in peaceful homes free of violence, I thought, and they will make peace. But now, having spent the last many years in and around wars, I think the motto is painfully idealistic. The relationship it describes is reciprocal, but not fair. World peace may begin at home, but violence just as surely begins in war; and war does not end.
Ahmad's cry -- "I need to know if my son has a future" -- is echoed by all survivors of the violence of war. What will become of the children? During the war in Vietnam, the peace movement had a slogan: "War is not healthy for children and other living things." In the violence of war, children are orphaned, maimed, mutilated, sexually assaulted, kidnapped, forced to be soldiers or servants or sex slaves, tortured, and murdered. The children who survive the violence of war may be deeply wounded, robbed of childhood, and poised to enter adult life already crippled beyond repair. Even children who know war only at secondhand, the children of soldiers returning from far-off lands, may be bent. Any of these damaged children may inflict the harm done to them upon others, even when it breaks their hearts.
Think of wars of recent memory and those still going on in the world today. Think of Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Burma. Think of Darfur, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone. Think of Sri Lanka, Kashmir, East Timor, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea. Think of Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Georgia, Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia. Think especially of the United States, which has been at war, overtly or covertly, some place (or many places) in the world almost continuously since 1941.
Today children and their mothers are among the first victims of such wars. Despite the conventions of modern warfare that forbid armies to target civilians, it is civilians who die in far greater numbers than do soldiers. The more high-tech the army, the more sophisticated its weaponry, the safer the soldiers; but that shield does not extend to citizens. In fact, in many conflicts today, ruthless leaders use an effective strategy to destroy the civil society and culture of the enemy: a deliberate but unacknowledged war against women.