The following is in response to Dr. Lori E. Amy’s book “The Wars We Inherit: Military Life, Gender Violence, And Memory” continuing from a pervious post “The Wars We Inherit (Part 1).”
For years Lori was haunted by her dreams, she wouldn’t sleep for days at a time; haunted by nightmares of her father she is constantly living in an insomniac blur. Before she begins the arduous journey of re-scripting and re-membering through her wicked dreamscapes, one night she is talking to her mom about he father. Her mother, having bad money problems, had once received Social Security benefits after the tragic death of her first husband, but Frank squandered most of it “to buy a boat and guns, paid for hunting and fishing trips with his friends.” When her mother shows her the old checks, Lori succumbs to a fit of crying. Still engraved into her mind is the fear that she had of Frank as a child—“learned fear.” Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and neuropsychiatrist, explained a phenomenon in his book “In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind” in which certain things—like a bunch of old Social Security checks—can become “powerful triggers of long-term emotional memories in people (48)” despite our consciousness of them.
The accumulation of all the fear and violence written into her life by Frank and other men, sustained by he reoccurring nightmares, she begins having what she could only describe as “skin shudders: The skin at the top of the skull contracts and cinches up the rest of the skin down my head, on my neck, across my shoulders, down to the small of my back” (52). Lori reminds us that there has been little research for “understanding or working with the kinds of nightmares that returns us to scenes of our childhood” (77). There is no study that explains the complexity of dreams that are constructed from childhood memories that are often incomplete, obscure, and translate into the dream-world as something even more confusing—“For years and years, my nightmares chased my sleep away. Although neuroscientists disagree about why the brain needs sleep to perform some of its vital functions, they do agree that sleep is important to both learning and survival” (78). This reminds me of The Binding Problem of the brain and consciousness: “the question of how the brain brings all the scattered fragments of sensory data and neural firing together into integrated images and generates a coherent understanding of self and world” (66).
My point—there is so much that we don’t understand about the inner machinations of the brain; so what is Lori to do about her nightmares that are draining her physically and mentally? Lori begins recording her dreams, giving herself a chance to imagine what she could have done differently, how she could re-script them—“I have lived so many years of my life with nightmares, and so many more with dreaming that seems to be freeing something up in me…clearly, there is an important work that my dreams are doing and an important work that I do with and through them” (79). Lori suggests that the reason this is so affective in healing her wounds of the past is that dreaming makes the work of mourning explicit (80). Dori Laub said that past events “become more and more distorted in their silent retention” and thus it is important to write it down—“To tell the stories of our pasts allows us to repossess our histories, to reclaim ownership of our own life stories” (83).
Dr. Amy describes the controversy of Abu Ghraib as “horrors that, perfectly visible to us, we choose not to see. And, when we do see them, we either numb ourselves, desensitized, nonresponsive to something far away, not fully real to us, or we deny the truth of the reports that seep through our commercialized, propagandized, nationalized media” (125). I particularly enjoy this quote because it is another instance and example of US citizens not bearing witness to the violence we are creating with this “war on terrorism.” One of Lori’s students had a husband in the war. Before leaving he had a kind, gentle, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly attitude, but when he returned he had a short fuse and often hit her (145). It is a mundane happenstance that normal—emotionally, mentally—men and women are going into the machine or war-training only to be spit out on the conveyer belt as a “soldier”; a robot built with degradation and humiliation. The machine of war breeds sadists not soldiers. “Enculturation into the military is designed to strip a person of individual identity, to make loyalty to the group, obedience to superiors, and duty the core of identity” (131). This reminds me of William Blake’s aphorism “Prison’s are built with stones of law, brothels with bricks of religion.” Has the institution of law itself created the necessity of prisons? Has the suppression of sex from most religious institutions created the necessity of brothels? I propose a third line to Blake’s pity saying “Violence is built by the cement-slabs of war”—all three are hard truths that many do not bear witness to.