Refugees fleeing their homes (Syria), people killing collaborators (Mali), security forces mowing down demonstrators (South Africa) - just another night on Channel 4 News. Nothing to do with us. Or has it?
I grew up in a war - in the UK. I'm still shell-shocked, though there wasn't a lot of shelling. Bombing mainly. And shooting. And refugees. Day after day, year after year, I was bombarded with violence. A British Paratrooper tells my sister to close her bedroom window or he will blow her f***ing head off and then goes around the corner and blinds a mother of ten. A boy says 'Hi!' to me and is shot dead hours later in his own home, another calls at my door and is murdered the next day. Two British soldiers laugh in the back of an armoured car and one of them is dead by the time I reach my home only yards away, shot in a rattle of gunfire. A British soldier runs for cover, pursued by a group of ten or so women intent on killing him, and finds refuge just in the nick of time in a house behind my own. A neighbour dies on hunger-strike, a young boy is snatched from the streets and driven to his cruel death - murdered by Loyalists. Live rounds whizz within an inch of my ear. Full-scale riots are the order of the day. You'd return home from school clambering through burnt-out wreckage or steering well clear of blazing buses, sometimes dodging gunfire. Informers are taken out and shot dead. I wake up one day and our local school is packed with refugees - Catholics fleeing Protestants in the wake of Loyalist attacks. Later, local schools are taken over by British troops and used as army bases. Bloodied bodies are led to rest in box-rooms; men weep openly in the streets at funerals. My mother's cousin is shot dead on his way to work. "Auntie Bridie", a young girl calls out to my mother one evening after a long day's gun-battle, "Mummy's been shot." Her mother had been killed at the top of our street, but she didn't know that then. Crossfire. A mother of ten. Two years later, her son is also shot dead.
The second I came to understand as an adult what I had been put through as a boy in Belfast, I wanted to kill everyone who had ever hurt me. Fortunately, I didn't get the chance. And what has any of this got to do with you, you might ask? (Or with Mali, for that matter?)
Nothing, of course, you might say. You are a nice, rational person who wouldn't kill in a fit.
Except, remember the last time someone jumped the queue on you at your local coffee shop, or took the parking spot which you had been queuing up to get into (and they probably hadn't even noticed you!). Remember that? Remember what you felt? Angry? Humiliated? Aggrieved? Vindictive? Well, these are the same feelings that drive war. Oil, profit, freedom, and access to resources - they are merely the goals of war.
The political is personal, and all the way back. It is all connected.
I once gave a lecture on conflict resolution to a group of political scientists, citing the conflict that sometimes occurs between my wife and me (as with any couple) as an example of the difficulties that pit people against each other. They were horrified (and mortified). How could something so private as the way I relate to my wife tell us anything about the nature of political conflict, they wondered. Well, it does. And we dress it up.
We call it 'liberation' - Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Ireland, Egypt, Libya - but we do not liberate the dead, usually in the tens of thousands, mainly civilians. We call it 'victory', when all we do is perpetuate divided societies. And, of course, we blame others. And, worst of all, we prolong the conflict even when the price is too much to bear. - check out the Middle East, Northern Ireland etc. Which only goes to prove that we enjoy our woes - though usually unconsciously. Rationality doesn't come in to it, though we love to think that it does. Ideology simply serves to dull our pain and prolong violent conflict.
Call me an idealist, but people need to reflect upon their motivation, on where they get their kicks, on what is really driving them in conflict before they embark on violence with all its negative consequences for themselves and others. Maybe then they could get their kicks elsewhere and do the world justice.
No more wars - that's a joke. Underneath it all, we secretly love violence and pain, even victimhood. And it's high time that we changed.
P.S. If you want to read more, check out my book on Amazon.
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