War Trauma And Forgetting

Gaza Rafah
Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at a hospital morgue in Rafah, Monday, February 12, 2024. [AP Photo/Fatima Shbair]

Our memories are often suppressed by trauma, a word derived from “Traumatiko”, a wound or mental shock. Examples of traumatic events are people being compelled to leave their homes due to war, disease, drought, famine or similar events. Recent sociological studies on the after-effects of war reveal feelings of apathy, resignation and hopelessness brought on by being forced to leave one’s ancestral territory.

Kelly Borhaug, author of “Moral Injury and War Culture” quotes Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase on “the banality of evil” in reference to the Holocaust. The “evil” referred to was a “failure to think” [through the consequences of their actions], Evil has many guises, as Borhaug notes, and is “most pernicious and dangerous when it is routinized and normalized”. 

Bombing civilians makes the victims “hopeless and willing to leave” which facilitates dispossession and depopulation. According to the Israeli historian, Illan Pappe, who recently wrote in his book: “Ethnic Cleansing” that the aggressor nation masks their intent by dehumanizing those they are dispossessing in order to exonerate themselves from the consequences of their actions. He also noted that the term “Zionism” is often confused with Judaism, but they are not the same. Zionism, including Christian Zionism, is an ideology, whereas Judaism is a religion. 

In Aristotle’s Politics, “wealth is the guiding principle of oligarchy” and “freedom the guiding principle of democracy”. But when “freedom” is only freedom for those who are within the tribe it becomes “ethnocracy”,  which  concerns a nation favoring only one group, which is particularly true in Israel.

When one ethnic group is favored then empathy for others is in short supply. According to the 17th century Scottish philosopher, John Hume, the highest sensibility that humans should strive for Is empathy, Genuine empathy is not just a convenient word, it represents an identification with the suffering of others. When civilian populations are slaughtered in Gaza by incessant bombing, the devastating results are experienced by thousands of women and children, some now buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Such circumstances are so painful to contemplate that euphemisms are adopted to find blame with the victims. A former Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, once said “…we can never forgive the Arabs for forcing us to kill their children”; This tribal attitude asserts that only those who are within the group deserve to be protected, whereas those who are outside the group must be treated harshly.

Such tribal attitudes toward the Palestinians in Gaza has resulted in mass death in gruesome circumstances with the end result being starvation and disease. The enormity of the suffering numbs the mind, and the complicity of U.S. politicians betrays the reality that our leaders have become emotionally disconnected and unable to fully comprehend the devastating effects of suffering taking place on a daily basis? 

In her book on trauma, Borhaug quoted the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who spoke to veterans: “we know that war is not only in us, it is in everyone, veterans and non-veterans alike. We must share our insights [from the tragedies of war], not out of anger but out of love”. Buddhists understand that suffering has causal factors which inevitably result in consequences to the victims, but also to those who cause suffering, since they too will inevitably suffer the results of their actions.

We try to obliterate the memory of war victims but “we do so by dehumanizing the victims, which, in turn, dehumanizes the military forces which are the causes of pain and suffering” (Borhaug). Yet it is the policy makers, enabled by political leaders, who contribute to wrongful conflict and war, although everyone, to some degree, may be complicit. In order to atone for war’s atrocities we need to face into the causes and deal with the results which cannot be effaced or blotted out. 

There are those who adopt a form of amnesia as a way of disconnecting from a sense of responsibility, and who insist that they are merely carrying out orders. But what if the persons in command are unable to fully comprehend the harm caused by their decisions, and are themselves suffering from cognitive or emotional dissociation.

A journalist at VOX Media recently wrote an article titled: “How Israel’s War against Hamas has gone horribly wrong” stating that:“the truth is that this nightmare was depressingly predictable. When a dozen experts were surveyed about the war they warned that Israel had a dangerously loose understanding of what the war was about. [and its] conduct in the war so far has vindicated these fears. [having] dragged Israel down to a moral nadir… to an “an era-defining catastrophe.”

Israel, at one time, represented qualities admired by small nations, but it has  descended into a moral quagmire which is taking place at a time in history when the world has become a “Global Village” and where communication takes place almost instantaneously around the world. The present war in Gaza is a slow-motion tragedy being viewed throughout the world community via video imagery.

What is taking place is a calamity with enormous ramifications, Israel’s pretense to being an exceptional nation is shown to be questionable, while Europe and America’s pretense to upholding humanistic and humane values, is shown as having very little value

In these circumstances. 

The only saving grace to the catastrophe taking place in Gaza are the dozens of peace groups within Israel and Palestine who continue to work toward a ceasefire and a permanent peace. Other groups, such as: “Jewish Voices for Peace”(JVP), with its tens of thousands of members  demonstrating daily in peace marches and rallies in cities of America and Canada, hoping that the moral sensibilities in the heart and soul of Israel can be awakened.

Hugh Curran is a Lecturer in Peace & Reconciliation Studies at the University of Maine

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News