Friday, March 11, 2005

The Atlanta Executions and the Madrid Bombings: The Impact of Violence and Trauma on a Community

I woke this morning to news of the murder of Judge Rowland Barnes in Atlanta. His court reporter and at least one deputy were also killed.

While this is dramatic news, I wonder what it must be like to live in Iraq where there is low grade civil war going on as I write this.

Spain is honoring the Madrid Bombing of March 11, 2004 with a moment of silence today.

The execution of Judge Rowland Barnes and the manhunt for Brian Nichols pushed the anniversary of the Madrid bombings out of the television news entirely today, but the Guardian covered it.

Spain was today holding a national day of mourning to mark the first anniversary of the al-Qaida Madrid train bombings in which 191 people died and more than 1,500 were injured.

People across the country observed five minutes silence as a main memorial service began in Madrid's biggest park at midday local time (1100GMT).

A grove in the park, where 192 olive and cypress trees have been planted to honour the victims of the bombs and a special forces officer who died while trying to arrest suspects three weeks later, has been named the Forest of the Absent. |Link|

Bonnie Burstow of the Ontario Instutite for Studies in Education has written a fascinating piece called Towards a Radical Understanding of Trauma and Trauma Work. It's published in the journal Violence Against Women, Vol. 9, No. 11, page 1293-1317.

A more fundamental departure from the dominant trauma discourse comes with the community trauma theorists. General community theorists such as Erikson (1995), Native theorists such as Duran and Duran (1998), and Holocaust theorists, such as Danieli (1998) point out that it is not only individuals who are traumatized. Whole communities can be traumatized. In making this claim, community theorists are not simply meaning that all people within the community are traumatized but that the community as an integral whole is traumatized. [p. 1297]

It's a great article if you have the time to track it down. I found the viewpoint of the community theorists to be underpinned by my experience of September 11, 2001. Even one of the pacifists I know expressed an (irrational?) desire to bomb the shit out of the person or persons responsible for the destruction of the Twin Towers.

The entire United States was traumatized on September 11, 2001. Since for many white people in the United States, the U.S. is a place of safety and privilege, I think that feeling of rage and despair that we all felt on Sept. 11, 2001 is worth remembering. When atrocities are committed anywhere, the entire community feels that sense of despair...and rage. Americans would do well to remember that feeling when they listen to the news in order to understand the suffering of the people who are the victims of U.S. foreign and military policy.

The people of Spain responded very differently to their tragedy that we did to ours. They didn't suspend their civil rights and engage in widespread racial profiling. I won't even get into the torture scandals among the U.S. military in this post....

I think America has conducted itself badly since September 11, 2001. But I think much of that was the result of trauma and I am hoping that we have healed to the point where we can participate in the world community as a positive force rather than as a rogue state hostile to international law.

I'm not a pacifist. I believe there are times when violence in self-defense is necessary on the personal, local, national, and international level. I wholly approve of violence calculated to stop obvious harm. I would approve of pre-emptive action to prevent contingent harm if I could be convinced that the harm was real and that the benefits of pre-emption were likely to be greater than the negative outcomes.

I am dubious of any claim of pre-emption of violence. Too often, history indicates that bias, ignorance and self-interest are the bulwarks of U.S. foreign policy. Remember the USS Maine?

But enough of my politics. I don't pray...but I will light a candle for survivors the Madrid Bombing and the survivors in Atlanta today. May the odd gods of the universe take pity on us all.

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