In the making of this issue of KnotGarden, we decided to include two very interesting speeches that let us reflect about war in a broader sense.
These papers, presented at the 2022 European Federation of Psychoanalysis conference in Vienna, speak of social phenomena that are devastating (Mafia warfare and gang wars), but whose dimensions are incomparable to wars between nations.
Vlasta Polojaz, in a conversation we had one summer evening as we commented with concern on the news from Ukraine and the growing tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, made me reflect on the dimensions of the conflicts.
Can we really juxtapose heinous but circumscribed conflicts alongside the testimonies of those who are suffering the invasion of tankers? Is there a risk of downplaying one or the other tragedy? Is it more terrible to die from a bomb falling from the sky or in an ambush in the city center? Needless to say, these are incomparable contexts, but it is important to grasp some differences and set up a frame thought that creates a reading perspective.
When the conflict is both in my city, and in the city next door, and in my street, and in the street next door, something peculiar happens in the mind: the destruction appears boundless, with no islands of safety; an uninterrupted erosion of hope and security.
When the numbers of war’s annihilation are huge, even being a victim loses all its individual character. The people in the mass graves of Bucha or Srebrenica died only because they belonged to a different nation or ethnicity; there was nothing personal in their annihilation, no individual trait was granted to them either while alive or dead. And that is why, for a long-time, international commissions have worked hard and persistently to, at least, give the bodies of the victims a name again.
This depersonalization, which we are familiar with in the process of enemy’s creation, in wars between nations reaches its apex of abstraction. The civilian population feels endangered in that each person, impersonally, feels that they are possible collateral damage from the war.
An individual story that will not be told by anyone. There will be no subsequent generations who can remember which life their ancestors lived because even children will be killed. The threat of war is to make everything disappear: the person, the history, the human heritage, the culture.
Mafia wars and gang wars, as Minne and De Mari will show us, while involving smaller geographic territories, nonetheless replicate on a smaller scale almost all the dynamics of war conflict. We find again the aspects of identification with the ideal of one’s group of belonging, the disappearance of the subject and the appearance of the militiaman, the alienation from the other who becomes just an enemy to be annihilated. In particular, we will see adherence to a group narrative with epic and tragic overtones. Belonging to the criminal project is narrated as belonging to a code of honor and justice that just so happens to serve the militia’s purposes perfectly.
Finally, it seems to me one aspect above all is typical of the war set-up: the absolute expendability of the young. As we have seen, war is mostly fought by young men, who often make up for their inexperience with respect to the things of life with physical strength and unawareness of the effects of their actions.
As De Mari will tell us, these young men become instruments of the war but are also what was called “cannon fodder” during World War I. No one spares a thought about their future: their task is exhausted by their own sacrifice. They are instilled with the myth of the hero who dies young for the right cause – yet, the truth is that they are worth little or nothing. They are small fish – “paranza.”
These two articles show us a close up of the processes of creation of the psychology of the private soldier and the lies behind it. There is a narrative that remains silent about a bitter truth: those who die in war, whichever side they are, will almost always be forgotten.
Anna Cordioli, Padova
Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi
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