(Padova), Associate member of IPA, Società Psicoanalitica Italiana and Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi.
“We’ll meet again
Don’t know where, don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”
(Vera Lynn, 1939)
In 1939, “We’ll meet again” is played on British radio, sung in a dulcet voice by Vera Lynn. The song, poignant and very catchy, is a promise that there will be a “later” when it will be possible to meet again and start living a happy life again. It is a song of hope that entered the hearts of English-speaking soldiers and civilians involved in the war effort.
“We’ll meet again” became very popular during World War II and was played on the radio after the bombings to try and boost the morale of the population. There would have been an aftermath of the war, one had to keep that in mind.
We find this same song exactly 40 years later, quoted in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Roger Waters had lost his father in the Battle of Anzio. He was one of those children who had not been able to re-embrace their father. For Waters, after the war there wouldn’t have been a great reunion, but an emptiness filled with terrifying fantasies and the feeling of being somehow out of sync with the joy of rebirth he felt around him.
Vera Lynn had lied: there is not always a happy ending at the end of wars. In fact, a frightening number of young men had died as “rats in the trenches” (Pink Floyd, 1979), there never was a future for them, and even the future of their loved ones had been crippled.
Even those who had fought and returned home bore the marks of war: they were either maimed in their bodies or otherwise carried within them the long shadows of horrors suffered or acted upon.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline book “Guerre” (War) starts with him waking up after a bombing raid. He is the sole survivor of a carnage that can only be told in detail. Bodies, disemboweled and desecrated by howitzers, lay in a mush that no longer allows to tell them apart from those of their horses.
Céline tells us immediately that he will never be able to erase from his mind the horrors of those battles: “I have always slept like this in the atrocious noise since December ’14. I got the war in my head. I got it locked in my head. […] I learned to distinguish external noises from noises that would never leave me again. […] in order to think, even a little, I had to take it in bits and pieces like when two people talk to each other from a station platform when a train passes by. One piece at a time of well-crafted thinking, one away from the other. It is a tiring exercise, I assure you. I’m trained now. Twenty years, one learns. My soul is harder, like a bicep. I no longer believe in shortcuts. I have learned to make music, sleep, forgiveness, and, as you see, even beautiful literature, with little touches of horror wrested from the noise that will never end” (Celine, 2022, 25-27).
War leaves an indelible mark, individually and collectively, now and in the future.
The book “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Remarque, 1928) begins with these lines: “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with
Generations. War butchers’ generations: both those directly involved in the battles and those to come.
In “The Wall”, we can clearly see how the death of his father is causing the child to experience a grief so deep that, as he grows up, he will find himself filled with anguish and in the grip of an increasingly radical fragmentation. War tears generations apart; the nightmares become less and less perceptible to the consciousness and yet they do not disappear: if anything, they infiltrate deep inside and become transgenerational results.
War leaves such a long-lasting mark that it exceeds the life span of those unfortunate enough to participate in it. Thus, we see how war destroys lives and things but also destroys the flow of time.
We are still here wondering why -“Why war?” (Freud, 1933), why another war? And bitterly we have to realize that this depends on the fact that the previous war was not yet over: its unconscious offshoots were still only partly in process, poisoning institutions and sickening individuals.
In the summer of 2021, I had found myself writing for the website of the Veneto Center for Psychoanalysis a short memoir to acknowledge the 30-year anniversary since the beginning of the war in former Yugoslavia.
I was upset finding that very few people cared about that.
In that situation, I came across an interesting article by Paolo Fonda in which he recalled being in Istria in the very beginning of the outbreak of war between what is now Slovenia and the rest of Yugoslavia. It was the start of a violent conflict that lasted ten years.
I soon found myself discussing with him and Vlasta Polojaz on the need to talk about war. Paul and Vlasta, both psychoanalysts at our center, are Slovenian-Italians and in their lives have crossed paths with war and ethnic persecution very often. They have been involved in training analysts in Eastern Europe for decades, and no one is as capable as they are of reading the deposits left by that war.
We felt it was important to have memory of the events of the 1990s, partly because the Yugoslav conflict had been a wound for us Italians as well, so close and often related to those territories, and partly because it seemed to me that no one was willing to acknowledge that 1991 was a past too near to be able to say we were free of it. I wondered what kind of removal was going on, whether it had the mixture of the defensive cleavages typical of present-day trauma or whether it had to do with omertous claustrations of ambiguous nuclei (Bleger, 1967).
However, there was another reason why, in the summer of 2021, that issue seemed crucial to me: as I had the opportunity to tell them, I was very much worried about what I could see from the window that is the Web. There was a strange electricity in the air.
We were still absorbed in the second wave of Covid, and perhaps that pre-apocalyptic mood was justified by the upheavals caused by the pandemic. Yet it wasn’t just that: populism was becoming more and more disengaged, socio-political supporters more paranoid, and the economy seemed most fragile. And it was.
At school we studied how the Spanish flu pandemic broke out during World War I, and I, who had never witnessed any war, had a strange feeling of déjà vu. I asked Paul and Vlasta what they remembered about the war in the former Yugoslavia and, going further back in time, the border persecutions of the first half of the 1900s.
Between them and me lies a generation, and what was being created in the conversation we had was a scene that had a powerful transgenerational mixture (Spiller, 2022): I was sensing the rise of a karstic river that had invaginated many decades earlier without ever dying out. They were telling me what could be remembered but they were also aware of how forgetting is part of the processes of trauma processing. “It takes time to come to think about trauma. Decades. Generations must pass,” Paolo Fonda said.
There came a desire to broaden the dialogue to colleagues who were interested in war trauma care. We could have had a study group and perhaps a conference.
However, history was ahead of us, and on February 24th, 2022, Russian troops invaded eastern Ukraine. War had indeed returned back to Europe.
We all remember the anguish that gripped us over the news of civilians attacked and of the massacres that, week after week, came to light. Almost immediately the counter-information also began: the massacres had never happened, the children had never been abducted, the bombs were ones of liberation, not attack.
One of the first epiphanies of war is the collapse of agreement on reality: if until earlier it seemed possible to determine whether a fact had occurred, then each side was already shouting its own truth. In war, lies and truth are relative matters: whoever wins will determine how to read the events.
One is incredulous to see how difficult it becomes to state definitively that something evil occurred. Inside, each person feels the emotions strongly and seeks out those who mirror their feeling to reinforce their sense of reality.
Those outside the conflict cannot fully understand the anguish produced by this relativism that destroys the contours of reality. Those on the outside invite the parties to mediation in an attempt to reconstruct a framework for dialogue. And, as we have been able to discover in the facts, sometimes this attempt becomes offensive to the parties in conflict, especially to those who have been attacked.
Those who seek mediation, those who are fortunate enough not to be directly involved in the war, must therefore remember that the position of being impartial and the ability to have a thought that integrates the split parts are two high-level products of the psyche and are a luxury we can afford when we do not have to fear for our survival. Asking someone who is struggling for his or her own life to have a triangulated thinking and reality may hide a radical non-understanding of one’s experience.
We were here, in a partially-involved Europe, still convinced that we could be moderate, that the war had not already changed the usual parameters by which we understand reality. Yet, the contagion ran fast.
I remember feeling that I had to quickly learn the meaning of war-thinking: the public opinion was clogged with an increasingly radical polarization, voters chose right-wing governments, and we were already beginning to feel nostalgic for a past that, not long ago, we considered wretched. We all had to realize that war has the power to affect relations between people even thousands of miles away from where the bombs fall.
What we needed was to stop and think.
On the initiative of Vlasta Polojaz and Paolo Fonda, the Polojaz Foundation offered the Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi to create together an international meeting on the topic of war experiences. I am very grateful to the CVP’s assembly and executive group for wholeheartedly embracing this initiative, which was then held on October 1st, 2022.
 This quote has been translated literally from the Italian version of the book.
The first part of this issue of KnotGarden collects almost all the papers submitted during the international meeting “Psychoanalytic Thinking and War Experience”, which also obtained the sponsorship of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society.
In addition to various analysts from our center, colleagues from Ukraine, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina also spoke. In the present issue, only Dr. Matačić’s intervention – who brought an intense and beautiful clinical work that cannot be published for privacy reasons – is missing.
A report of the conference is available on the website of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society.
The proceedings were opened by Roberto Musella, who, on behalf of the SPI, welcomed the many national and international guests. This was followed by Patrizio Campanile, president of the CVP, who offered a brief introduction titled “Destructiveness: an intolerable reality” that immediately brought the proceedings into the heart of the topic.
Oleksandra Mirza, president of the Ukrainian Psychoanalytic Society, presented a paper comparing thought and propaganda in wartime. Mirza attended the meeting, which was held in Padua, in person, to bring a direct testimony of what was happening right then in her nation. In contrast, his colleague Igor Romanov, UPS training officer, had to remain in Ukraine, as a man of draft age and therefore unable to leave the country at war. Dr. Romanov had, however, connected via Zoom, attending the meeting with a very substantial paper: “The war inside: Unconscious experience of war in a patient and an analyst“
Alberto Luchetti spoke for the CVP with a powerful paper called “Why War? Without wind in the sails and with slow mills” in which he delved into the reflections on war made by great analysts including, Freud, Money-Kyrle, Fornari and Laplanche.
Paolo Fonda, who is also a member of the Polojaz Foundation, presented an original interpretation of the schizo-paranoid position in the dynamics of war conflict, later on focusing on the question of the time required for war to be processed.
Maja Dobranić, a colleague from Sarajevo who had previously collaborated with our website with a memoir on the beginning of the siege of her city in 1992, brought to the meeting a very moving work on the psychic condition that is activated in patients and analysts when one has been a civilian victim of an ideology of massacre.
Concluding this first part of KnotGarden were a commentary on the conference, offered by Andrea Braun and Maria Ceolin, and a touching speech by Vlasta Polojaz tracing the activities carried out by the Libero and Zora Polojaz Foundation in favor of young analysts in Eastern Europe and for the development of a culture of peace based on authentic and non-rhetorical exchange between colleagues from different territories.
The second part of this issue of KnotGarden collects articles touching on various aspects related to war.
Maria Tallandini recalled the great work done by Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham in the Hampstead Nurseries, which were wartime nurseries dedicated to traumatized and/or orphaned children.
Wolfgang Lassmann, a Viennese fellow, brought a contribution named “Going murderous on an inextricable link. Individual and collective attempts to clean up once and for all” bringing attention to the aspects of cruelty, as eternal as it is everyday, that run through humanity.
Patrizia Montagner brings a vibrant testimony of her work with a group of Ukrainian teenagers refugees expressing through their drawings the horror they have seen and were invaded by. Dr. Montagner’s working group was awarded, in 2023, with the IPA “In the Community and the world” award precisely for their support of Ukrainian refugees.
The third and final part of this KnotGarden finally collects, within my short introduction, two papers brought to the 2022 European Federation of Psychoanalysis conference in Vienna. Massimo De Mari and Carine Minne reason about the psychic effects of the mafia and the functioning of criminal gangs. Although these cannot be considered strictly as war situations, they crudely show us many of the deformations that the ego suffers during a war conflict, particularly related to the ideal ego.
War, as we shall see, completely changes a person’s experience, and caregivers must really understand, as Céline wrote, that there are no “shortcuts” and that a song is not enough to believe that there can still be “an afterwards” full of sunshine.
Bléger J. (1967). Simbiosi e ambiguità: uno studio psicoanalitico. Loreto, Laureatana, 1992.
Celine F. (2022). Guerra. Milano, Piccola Biblioteca Adelphi, 2023
Freud S. (1933). Perché la guerra?. O.S.F., XI.
Remarque E.M. (1939). Niente di nuovo sul fronte occidentale. Vicenza, Neri Pozza Editore, 2016.
Spiller D. (2023). Il trauma e i suoi segreti nella trasmissione psichica transgenerazionale. Knotgarden 2022/3 “Bambini e adolescenti di fronte al segreto”, Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi, https://www.centrovenetodipsicoanalisi.it/knot-2022-3-il-trauma-e-i-suoi-segreti-nella-trasmissione-psichica-transgenerazionale/
Pink Floyd (1979). The Wall. Londra, Harvest EMI.
Lynn V. (1939). We’ll meet again. Londra, Michael Ross Limited.
Anna Cordioli, Padova
Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi
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