Conflict causes harm to both the powerful and the powerless
During the past 14 years, 41 Australian soldiers have died either in Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq or in the Afghanistan War (2001-2014). Hundreds more have been tragically maimed or scarred. Many returned troopers struggle with post traumatic stress, whilst others have to rediscover life without one or two of their limbs. They are clearly victims as are the thousands of victims in the Middle East with sad tales. However, whilst the troopers suffer, so too, do many of their leaders.
Megan Stack refers to the story of Ibrahim’s intended sacrifice of his son Ishmael to show how at the root of much of the violence in the Middle East lies a biblical story of sacrifice. The blood and violence, she believes, spreads to include many victims. This sacrifice is the centrepiece of the religious ceremony of Eid-al-Adha; however, upon God’s last minute orders, Ibrahim slaughters a ram instead of his son, Ishmael. (103); Stack parallels this slaughter with the suicide bomber and the typical annual ritualistic slaughter of the cow. The blood that seeps through the cracks on the pavement becomes a metaphor of the cruelty and violence that contagiously spreads through the Middle East and stains everyone involved. This proves her point that “violence is a reprint of itself, an endless copy.”
Past and present soldiers, such as Uncle John, suffer the long-term effects of violence. Uncle John is typical of many soldiers who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder. Stack draws attention to her Uncle John’s war experiences in Beirut. He survived the war, but did not survive the battle. When the bomb in Beirut exploded, 305 people died around him, but John made it back to New York, but few years later shot himself in the head and Megan attended the funeral. This was her first exposure to the battle scars of war which become a predominant theme throughout her journalistic experiences in the war conflicts in the Middle East. She illustrates just how difficult it is to survive the war and often the psychological battles become more horrendous even than the physical. Likewise, Megan survives numerous wars as a correspondent, but it takes its toll.
Likewise, many in a position of power suffer long-term damage. For example, Major John Cantwell was on track for Head of Defence, but returns home, suffering from survivor guilt. Major John General Cantwell was on track to become Chief of Army in the Defence Department. However, he was so severely traumatised by his 10-year involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan that upon his return to Australia he found himself in a psychiatric ward rather than at the top of the Defence Department. In his new book, Exit Wounds, he details his struggle to come to terms with his grief, pain and suffering. Nowadays, he offers counselling services to members in the Defence forces who likewise suffer emotional distress in the line of duty.
Is it possible to escape the carnage?
Many self-serving individuals often seek to exploit conflict for their own advantage. For example, Abu Hakam (an ex-fighter and refugee now in Turkey), was a member of the Free Syrian Army who became disillusioned after he found out that a leading general had misused funds. Hakam says he even wanted to change sides to ISIL, because the general took more than $1 million to renovate his house and bribe his way to safety. The funds had been donated by sponsors in the Qatar to buy weapons and equipment for the FSA brigades to fight against the Syrian Government. (The Age, 7/10/14)
Some also become immune to the damage and mercilessly kill in the name of power. Saddam Hussein and his henchmen slaughtered the Shiites in 1991 after the insurrection. Just like the cow that is slaughtered during the ceremony of El… so too the dead bodies of the Shiites filled the mass graves and littered the streets.
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