War’s Violence Scalds Fighters and Their Families

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Ann Jones(WOMENSENEWS)–I am here to listen. I listen to what people like Ahmad and Azhar, Iraqi refugees living in Lebanon, tell me about war and the violence that attends it because my own life–the only life I can know firsthand and even that imperfectly–has been darkened by war.

That war is now commemorated with paper poppies, the Great War, in which my father served with uncommon distinction and from which he returned a hero, irrevocably changed, subject to nightmares and sudden rages and drunken assaults upon innocent furniture and my mother and me, and tearful reconciliations we were not permitted to reject.

I watch the BBC coverage of the distant ritual of Armistice Day and see many people, mostly women, advanced well beyond middle age, weeping with remembrance. Their memories, I imagine, might be like mine: the memories of people who never participated in the war and yet have never escaped it.

My father, at 16, enlisted in the American Expeditionary Force to take part in the war to end all wars. But that’s not how it worked out. In some ways, as the BBC presenter says, the Great War laid the foundation for more wars to come, and certainly for wars at home, like the one my father waged for 20 years and more against my mother and me in a dark-green-shuttered house in a small town in Wisconsin.

The Shadow of War

The war my father carried home in his khaki canvas bag from the trenches of Flanders to the valley of the Chippewa is the shadow in which I’ve lived my solitary life. It is surely the reason that now in my 70th year I sit in this seedy room in a fading Beirut hotel long favored by journalists and stare at cigarette burns in the worn carpet and see only the purple toes of Ahmad, from the torture he endured in an Iraqi prison, and the fading yellow bruises on the face of his wife Azhar, healing from when Ahmad hit her.

My father used to say that wars were made by men who had never been to war, men who didn’t know that once started it never ends. The Great War ended with the Armistice in 1918, but my father lived another 60 years–and during all that time the war never left his memory or his nightmares. Nor is it ever far from mine, because the violence my father brought home fell on me and shattered whatever small childish trust I may once have had in the simplicity of love.

The violence of war does not end when peace is declared. Often it merely recedes from public to private life. I am here in Beirut talking about war, writing about war, because my father fought bravely in a brutal one. And that changed everything for him, and consequently for me.

Where Violence Really Starts

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.

Excerpted from "War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War" by Ann Jones, published in September by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright copyright 2010 by Ann Jones. All rights reserved.

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Ann Jones, a writer and photographer, is the author of seven previous books, including "Kabul in Winter," "Women Who Kill," "Next Time She’ll Be Dead," and "Looking for Lovedu." Since 9/11, Jones has worked with women in conflict and post-conflict zones, principally Afghanistan, and reported on their concerns. An authority on violence against women, she has served as a gender adviser to the United Nations. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Nation.

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War Is Not Over When It’s Over
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  • Legendernow71

    Thank you for this. I was in a war in England and my village was bombed in 1942. It was not until I moved to Los Angeles in the early 70s that I realized that the odd visions I had and the sometimes uncontrollable crying and shaking was connected to that time. It also never occurred to me that my father, who was a Captain in the Marines and who was stationed in the Solent at Portsmouth might have been suffering from PTSD as well. I was terrified of him, and really could not understand why. He was not physically violent. He did have a very cutting tongue and an immense belief in his own “rightness”, but why so terrifying? I think now, after reading your most moving article, that he had such a degree of pent-up rage that it communicated to all of us, and had us living in the shadow of the uninflicted violence. Not that I would have wanted to be beaten or tortured – no!
    War is such a cruel and unjust way of living – for anyone. It is also a really, really stupid way to spend resources! And if those ignoramuses in power only knew, and for those who went and came back, and still want us to fight, if they only were aware enough of how they were damaged, then maybe we could get on building a world that works for everyone.
    Thanks. Susan.