Friday, October 3, 2008

War's Missed Connections

"In the shadows of war and politics there came to be surreal turns of cause and effect."

This line from Anil's Ghost possessed me while I was reading the first part of the book. The unreal aspects of war, the horror, the trauma, collapse all sense of truth and understanding, history and memory. Ondaatje explores how fear infiltrates a country so pervasively that nobody can recognize the reality of individual lives. Is this what happens in all wars? Cause and effect become propaganda and history the fiction written in a time of exception?

The text explores these questions but also initiates a response. It attempts to empower mechanisms to bridge the gap between past and present, the bones of the dead that lie in the earth, the stories of relatives, literature. How do we read the surreal world that disconnects life from its own story?

21 comments:

sikes688 said...

I don't believe that this loss of recognition occurrs in all wars. The war in Sri Lanka spans generations and in this length of time values will be lost, purpose blurred, and definitions clouded. The only identies left in the war are the factions themselves, not its members. In war, as we have discussed in class, the identity and humanity of the enemy is excluded from the context in order to rationalize an act that in itself defies rational behavior. But the enemies in shorter conflicts maintain a level of identity that time erodes.

hdgie411 said...

In response to the previous post, I would disagree in the fact that I do believe that this loss of recognition occurs in all wars. War is a devastating thing to the environments and societies that people grow up in, whole countries can be destroyed in days and civilizations can remain in crumbles for many decades after.
When the ‘unreal’ aspects of war take hold of people, people make the changes necessary to protect themselves and somehow justify the actions that are taking place. All of a sudden, the violence, death, and destruction are rationalized and the ideas of truth and memory are destroyed. Even the view of a human life can be marginalized to that of an animal. Through the horrors and traumas of war, new truths, understandings and memories are developed.

lu2009 said...

I think the loss of recognition of individual lives is something that happens in all wars. I don't know of a war that was really against only one person. War is one group against another group. After 9-11 there was discrimination against Arabs because people associated them with the group we were now against.
In class today the question was asked if the individual soldier was important and some answered no. That is a loss of individual life. When a soldier goes to war I think their life still matters, they still have a past.
In Anil's Ghost, Anil is trying to bridge this gap by giving one person a face. To her, the individual life is what matters.

lindsay said...

The loss of recognition of an individual does occur during war time. War, soldiers enemies are merely groups in which each individual are comprised to make the group. When each individual joins there sense of self, self identity is in a disappearance from there lives, and now the focus is on the greater cause. When war is occurring everything surreal happens. Reality is only what you want it to be. The play of cause and effect may changes things known as true to become untrue, shift in language.

TexasAggie09 said...

I agree. War is among a group of people against another, and not specifically an individual. War does collapse all sense of individual lives for the reasons that you are all effected by it whether your fighting or not. The surreal world is created through war and then we are just among it.

Engl352Student said...

I agree that war is not between one person or another but the job of historians or authors is to make sure that the individual is not lost. Once the face of the people dying is lost we become desensitized and then war rages onward unchecked. Anil's mission (and any other forensic anthropologist investigating genocide) is to individualize war in hopes it doesnt happen again.

Being a pessimist I dont think that one person exposing the horrors of war will stop all wars or even one war, but just giving up wont get us anywhere. The point of literature is to individualize a machine (like war, or government, or terrorism) so the reader has a rare insight not normally seen.

tay123 said...

While I do agree that loss of recognition of some kind occurs in all wars, I don't think it is to the ultimate extreme that it seems to be in the Sri Lankan conflict. Devestating tradegy and ultimate fear alters all individuals, certainly, but there are other factors that come into effect to make the situation as bad as it seems to be in Anil's Ghost. Time, for one plays a major factor. The conflict had been lasting for so long that people began to incorporate it as a way of life. This caused loss of recognition. Another cause was the fact that individuals just gave in to what was happening to them. They crumbled to the fear instead of fighting for it. They couldn't look at the big picture objectively. Anil has the ability to step back and de-emontionlize herself with the situations she is put in. Because of this, she will never disappear into the crowd.

MBins said...

In all war fear is widespread. This fear inherently alters peoples perceptions of reality and denys some truths. Fear of the enemy and fear of loosing ones life make people view reality in very different ways than in the absence of that fear.
Not only does fear warp peoples perceptions of reality, it can make them alter their beliefs of the past. When investigating the past, one might choose to interpret it in a warped way out of fear of what the truthful interpretation conveys. We see this through out history as the "winners write the history books".

kyoung88 said...

I think that for wars to occur (any war), a loss of recognition MUST happen -- there is no room for the individual. From an outsider's perspective, to deal with the tragedy that events like such are occurring, one must look at the event as a whole NOT the individual faces. ie. malnutrition and poverty in Africa -- we can brush it off easily UNTIL we see the commercials on tv that put faces (especially those of children) with the situation. Looking at it from an insider's view, the fear in such a situation takes away rationality and may destroy any sense of what's right or wrong, leaving only what allows a person to survive...

I don't think the surreal world cannot be taken for face value -- everything that is true, everything that is real has been buried so far beneath the surface that what lies on top is just a facade that allows people to cope with the situation. The real life lies beneath. In order to see it, we must unearth it.

Jacob Lo said...

Contrary to the first post, I believe that there are those times, perhaps moments when all recognition is lost and there is no more realization of life as once known.

This resonates in history; it happened during vietnam with the hippy movement, WWII when the Germans tried to take Russia, and as recently as our own war with Iraq when less then half the nation support the war and the other half doesn't even know who we are fighting.

Ondaatje touched on the extent of just how long this uncertainty and questioning has been going on in our world, "Well, kings also caused trouble in those days, even then there was nothing to believe in with certainty. They still didn't know what truth was. We have never had the truth."

This quote can some up one of the central themes of Anil's Ghost, war does alter what we view as reality.

War provides a society in affected areas which is unimaginable and completely different from the one existing. This alternate surrounding makes people do things that they wouldn't do before, fear of your life brings out the most primal survival instincts in all of us.

Monica said...

Great post. I wonder if war is simply always the collapse of the ethical in favor of the political (getting a bit Levinas here). I'm inclined to think that perhaps it's not, that sometimes war is just, that it has to happen in order that "the reality of individual lives" remains intact. However, I would also venture to say that war, even just war, can get out of hand quickly, often obliterating the justness of the original intentions, and defeating the purpose altogether. Just a thought...

ahelton said...

War, like many other aspects of life, must be experienced first hand in order to understand what is going on...especially in relation to individual lives.

While reading history books and watching television documentaries may increase our knowledge on a particular battle or war, we still really have no idea as to what someone (an individual) really experienced. There is no way we can grasp the psychological and emotional wear an individual experiences during such a crises. Perhaps, the most honorable thing we can do is to quit trying to figure it all out and just listen. Listen to those individuals who were there. Hear their stories. Hear their cry. Let them speak.

Engl352Student said...

Even though i agree with post prior that you truly cant know the effects of war on the psyche unless involved first hand, can even listening to those involved be enough? My grandfather was a fighter pilot in Korea and he has told many stories of first hand accounts of his battles, yet I do not feel any closer to being there than I do when I read a history book or watch a documentary. I think that a bystander will never know the actual effects of war unless the war is brought to them (urban terrorism) or they fight first hand.

hurrayforstuff said...

It seems to me that loss of individual recognition would be lost in all wars, but i cant say for sure because i have never been placed in a situation that was either kill or be killed. i feel like if my survival depended on the death of another individual, my brain would automatically tell me that it was justified because the man i killed was part of a dangerous whole, a dangerous whole that the heroic whole i was a part of was supposed to be killing.i dont think human minds are strong enough to live with the idea that "I am killing this man because he is shooting at me" so it becomes "my country is killing this country cause they were shooting at us" and then what is left is the loss of individual recognition and surreal feelings

Recoleta09 said...

I understand how the individual can lose its recognition in wartime if one refers to the theory that war is a group vs. another group. War is such a horrid event so brutal and savage, it is no wonder that the individual gets lost in translation. I agree with the fact that many will do what it takes to survive- if that means rationalizing a heinous act to gain strength for your side. This is seen very often, many times because as one witnesses violent acts over and over again it is very easy to become desensitized. At the same time though, I feel as human beings we innately possess some notion to second guess our actions.
My military ethics/philosophy class touched on a topic that makes me wonder how our young men on the front lines are coping with the situations they deal with everyday over in Iraq and Afghanistan or any other human beings involved in civil wars across the globe...
This may be way out there but in class we were asked to imagine this situation: A soldier is on duty and gaining headway, just about to come across the enemy. He finally reaches the enemy’s location and sees him in a clear view but what is he doing, he is showering or even better sipping on a cup of coffee… enjoying a human luxury. Now here is the big question: What does that solider do towards his enemy? Does he shoot the man who is clearly the enemy? Does this thought process reoccur in more aggressive war situations? This is where I feel individuals are taken into consideration… All we can see reading this is simply a human unarmed and vulnerable performing a daily task.

Mr Floyd Waters said...

I think distinguishing between war defined in 'just war theory' and the tactics defined by terrorism is important. In conventional warfare, two states represented by soldiers in traditional armies compete. Soldiers are distinguished from civilians and represent some state. Terrorism is defined by reversal of this definition. Terrorists don't represent a state, they don't form conventional armies, and they necessarily target civilians. This difference in acceptable targets changes the relation between the citizens involved in the 'warfare' and the experiential effects on them. The case in Anil's Ghost is complicated by the both terrorists and government military using the same terrorist tactics.

Caitlin Van Wagoner said...

the thing that struck me the most about "Anil's Ghost" is how simple the story line is. It's plot is fairly linear yet the infusion of the memories and character sketches add color that add a depth and beauty to the text that other authors would miss with this type of work. the enemy in the text is the fear. it is not tangible but is a driving forces in almost all of the story lines. it builds throughout the text and yet its culmination is subtle. It is almost as if the revelation of who Sailor is causes the fear to diminish; a victim was given a name and for the first time in the work the fear was unmasked, made real and believable.

Pellerino87 said...

War does lead to a loss of recognition. Have you ever heard of an actual war that has not left any damage? emotional, physical, spiritual?

Anyway my point is that war will always leave a mark and always be recorded. By who and how close to the truth it is written is really up to whoever takes up the cause...and it's usually the victor. This surreal world of text that we call "history" is what we believe the world has been or has become.

bailarina said...

I don't think war really causes a loss of recognition. It CAN change identity, though. War is never a pretty thing, but some are worse on the individual or even the groups than others.

Vietnam obviously took its toll on many troops but I don't believe it caused a loss of recognition, even to the Vietnamese people.

The same goes for Sri Lanka. It changed the identity of those who knew Sri Lanka before the war and decided the identity of those who were born into the war.

bgasp123 said...

I beleive the loss of recognition occurs in all wars over time. I'm not sure when we exactly reach that point, but I'm almost positive we have already reached it in the war we are fighting now. At first, every death was breaking news in the media now its just an everyday occurence that most do not even give a second thought to anymore. Therefore, I know the war in Sri Lanka, which has been going on for way longer than the war we have grown up watching on tv, has experienced severe loss of recognition. It unfortunately becomes part of everyday life, and anything other at this point would seem not normal.

Anonymous said...

I think that war does cause people to lose recognition that peoples lives are being affected. We see things as numbers. Whether it is the number of deaths or the number of people without homes in a foreign country, people do not think about the people whos lives are actually being affected. If we did, war would be seen in a different light.


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