Healing from War:
What Are We Doing and Why?

War is the most irrational societal action carried out by human beings. Fighting a war requires organizing enormous resources, convincing or coercing people to risk their lives to kill other human beings, and convincing others to support the war. The deaths, injuries, terror, bombing raids, and destruction of homes and land have an enormous effect on people. Sometimes war includes genocide, ethnic cleansing, refugees, population exchanges, deportation, and prison and death camps. It often leads to voluntary or forced immigration. Immigrants face the challenges of living in a new culture, learning a new language, and often confronting oppressive attitudes in their new location. The end of a war may result in boundary changes and economic and political agreements that cause hardships for many people and lead to new conflicts. In addition, the cost of war, the waste of resources that could be used for the benefit of people, the pollution and other destruction of the environment have severe effects on both present and future generations.

In this article I offer a review of what we as Co-Counselors have done toward healing from war, what we have learned, and our plan.

MY STORY

I am a Jew, born in 1941 in New York City (USA). I grew up in a Gentile neighborhood where my friends treated me well. I knew a little about World War II because some of my relatives were in the military. My mother volunteered at a veterans’ hospital. My father was not in the military because he had a glass eye and a damaged heart from a childhood disease. He was in the civil defense.1 We never talked about the Holocaust in our family, and I did not understand what happened until I was about nine years old. I also did not understand that my parents’ distress recordings had anything to do with the war, the Holocaust, or anti-Jewish oppression. Two of my cousins who fought in the war never spoke to me about it, and I never asked, even after I was in RC. I did notice that one cousin, who had been a U.S. marine, had difficulties in his relationships with women and struggled with alcohol. But he was kind to me, and I did not relate his difficulties to his being in combat.

From the beginning of my RC leadership I noticed that the distresses caused by war were important, but it took me a long time to understand how damaging they were and that they affected our lives even in areas apparently not connected to war.

When I led educational change workshops and did demonstrations with people on their challenges as learners and teachers, their early distresses were sometimes from war. Two demonstrations from the 1970s still stand out in my mind. One was with a teacher whose fear about teaching at a school for boys went back to growing up in Nazi-ruled Germany. The other was with a German Co-Counselor whose difficulty in learning English went back to when she was a young person on her parents’ farm. When the bombers flew overhead, the adults would repeatedly yell, “The English are coming,” and everyone had to run and hide in the bomb shelters.

In the 1970s some U.S. veterans joined the RC Community. They had fought with the U.S. military in Vietnam in what USers call the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese call the American War. Most of them soon left RC. I did not understand then why they left. Now I understand that there was not enough attention for them to discharge about what they had seen and done in the war.

When I led educational change workshops outside of the United States, I began to learn about the effects of U.S. imperialism on people in other countries. I learned about and began to discharge on patterns we USers have, such as thinking we know best and are smarter and more capable, and tending to dominate discussions. I also began to understand better how nationalism, anti-Jewish oppression, World War II, and the Holocaust affect people.

In 1997 I became the International Commonality Reference Person for Wide World Change. At wide-world-change workshops, I presented my goal—a world where the resources are shared equally and the essential ones preserved forever. People started discharging about their and their families’ past experiences with war and other violence, and about their anti-war activities.

In 2001 a French and a German Co-Counselor suggested that I lead a workshop on healing from World War II for the European RC Communities. I led the first Healing the Hurts of World War II Workshop in 2002 in Poland. In September 2013 I led this workshop for the twelfth time. I have also led workshops on healing from war in other countries, including three on the (1979 to 1992) civil war in El Salvador. The workshops in El Salvador helped me better understand the destructive role that U.S. imperialism plays in the world.

Other Co-Counselors have led Area2 and Regional3 workshops, support groups, gather-ins, and topic groups and tables on war or related subjects. Veterans healing from war is crucial for ending war. Veterans in RC have held a number of workshops—some just for themselves, and others with allies—and have drafted a veterans’ liberation policy. The policy and reports on their workshops have been published in Present Time.

As a result of the courage and honesty of the participants in these workshops and other activities, we have learned a lot about the many issues related to healing from war, and how to counsel on them. And we have more to learn.

THE DAMAGE DONE BY WAR

It is hurtful for young people to realize that people fight wars. It causes or contributes to confusion about the nature of human beings. It installs recordings4 of hopelessness, discouragement, and terror. Experiencing war directly is devastating to both adults and young people. But even if it is experienced from afar, it installs distress recordings.

Because there was little attention available for discharging them, the distress recordings installed on our ancestors by war were passed on from generation to generation. Every human has distress recordings from war, even if we are not aware of what they are. Here are some of these recordings:

  • Hopelessness and discouragement
  • Fear about survival and genocide
  • Difficulty in trusting others
  • Addictions (to food, other substances, the accumulation of wealth)
  • Working too much
  • Recordings related to sex, including the use of pornography
  • Reluctance to oppose oppression as active and visible allies and difficulty putting attention on discharging oppressor distress
  • Not showing oneself and one’s true feelings
  • Lack of attention for veterans, especially combat veterans, and others who have personally experienced the horrors of war
  • Seeing other groups of humans as the enemy and accepting violence as a way of solving conflicts

Some people defend war by glorifying patriotism and nationalism or claiming to be fighting for freedom, democracy, or God. The underlying cause of war, however, is the global class society in which we live. War provides the opportunity for owning-class people to make greater profits than they can in times of peace. It allows nations to dominate other nations and exploit their people and natural resources.

The owning class also uses wars to suppress movements for change. War scares and divides people, which helps keep the oppressive society in place.

Healing from war is necessary for our own re-emergence and for the transformation of society. Humans can heal from war and end it.

SEXISM, RACISM, IMPERIALISM, GENOCIDE, AND WAR

In order to convince men (historically, mostly men have fought in wars) and more recently women to accept killing or being killed in war, society has to install distress recordings on them. One of these, which goes back to Roman times,5is that it is a great honor to fight and die for your country. Other recordings promote the “value” of accepting pain, being numb, not showing feelings. These recordings contribute to sexism and male domination and to racism, genocide, and colonialism.

Military personnel are killed and wounded (physically and emotionally) in war, and kill others. Women are raped or killed. In former times, after a war men enslaved women and took them as wives or sexual slaves. Combat veterans are pulled by their distresses to act out abusive behavior on themselves and their family. They may use addictive substances. The “mental health” system often targets combat veterans who show their distress. Suicide rates for combat veterans are high. Because of the hurts they have accumulated as men, combat veterans may act oppressively toward women and children—and hurtfully toward other adult men, especially men from oppressed groups. They may attack oppressed people in an attempt to find relief from their feelings. They may turn to prostitutes and pornography.

Since wars are often fought between people of different ethnic, racial, religious, and national groups, the military of one group must be made to feel that people in the other groups are less than they are. Being conditioned to kill or to fear people who look, speak, or believe in a certain way leaves distress recordings that get played out6 long after a war is over. Being told that certain people are inferior or evil “justifies” exploiting their resources through colonialism or imperialism and is used to justify genocide.

War also contributes to the exclusion of women from leadership. Female perspectives and values are judged inadequate for leadership, or even dangerous, during times of war.

Men and women have little attention for each other’s feelings and experiences in regard to war. If we are to end war and oppression, women and men will need to be allies, understand that mistakes will be made, and continually reach for one another.

A more complete report on recent work on sexism in healing from war can be found in two e-mails, “Women, Men, War, and Sexism, parts one and two,” that I posted on November 11 and 12, 2013, to the RC e-mail discussion lists for RC Community members and for leaders of wide world change. I hope that others and I will write more about the work being done on the relationship of war to genocide, racism, colonialism, and imperialism.

HEALING FROM WAR

Discharging the hurts caused by war is essential for us to be able to think clearly enough to end it. We can start with “telling our stories” about how war has affected us and our family. This contradicts the numbness, silence, and suppression of discharge about war.

When a war ends, the people who endured it try to continue with their lives as best they can. If they talk about their experiences in war, they will try to discharge. But because there is little attention for that, they mostly stop talking about it. The people who start or organize a war, contribute to its destructiveness, or act oppressively in their leadership also have little opportunity to discharge their hurts that influence them to make war.

Everyone in contact with modern society has a war story. If you think you do not have a story, or you don’t know your family’s story, that in itself is a story. It shows the silence that has been imposed on people. You may have read about war in books, heard about it in school, watched movies about it or seen it on television. You may have been active in an anti-war movement. As you tell your story and discharge, you will likely remember more of it.

Telling our stories increases our attention for others to tell us theirs. People will not counsel with us about war if they sense from our words, facial expression, or body language that we are tense or uncomfortable. We are usually unaware of how we show our lack of attention for listening about war.

In addition to telling our stories about war, it will help to have sessions about (1) the things we do not want to listen to and (2) the attention we did not receive as a young person when we were having a tough time.

People who have directly experienced war often do not expect others to want to listen attentively to their stories. So at the beginning, our counseling of them should be permissive. We should commit ourselves to listening relaxedly for a long time without giving directions. If we give directions before we know their story in full, then they7 may feel that we do not want to hear the details of their story, that it is easier for us if they discharge without telling us the details. This adds to the message “Don’t talk about what happened.” Respectful listening is the contradiction.8

THE WORKSHOPS IN POLAND

The workshops in Poland on healing from war have been central to developing our understanding of how the hurts caused by war affect us and are passed from generation to generation, and the benefits of discharging them.

The first few workshops focused entirely on healing from the hurts of World War II. All of the participants were from countries that had been deeply affected by that war. I proposed that our guiding principle be that we are all in this together—Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and descendants of Nazis; people from countries that fought against each other during World War II; people from the former Soviet Union and people from countries that were liberated by and then occupied by the Soviet Army; USers and people from countries dominated by U.S. imperialism; people of the global majority and white people; people who have experienced war directly and those who have not; people targeted by racism, genocide, and colonialism and people who have been oppressors to them; Jews and Gentiles; Eastern and Western Europeans; men and women; and so on.

The workshops are complex. They often have people from up to twenty nationalities, with twelve or more different first languages. People come from places and families with very different histories with regard to war. There are large differences in standards of living. Since trusting our Co-Counselors is necessary for discharging about our stories, we spend a lot of time building trust and alliances between members of the many constituencies attending. We have classes, topic groups, and discharge groups that deal with feelings about different national or ethnic groups. We have classes on imperialism, classism, anti-Jewish oppression, and racism. We talk and discharge about belief systems that say that one group of people is superior to others. (This was a central part of Nazi ideology.)

Having many different first languages at the workshops has challenged us to develop our thinking about (and attention for) language liberation. There is an interpretation coordinator, and throughout the workshop a team of interpreters take turns up in front interpreting into each language represented at the workshop. There is simultaneous whisper interpretation9 for everyone who needs it. There is an early-morning class on language liberation, a group of allies for the interpreters, and mealtime tables for the interpreters and for those needing interpreting. We talk about how people who do not understand each other’s language can connect and counsel with each other. I speak slowly (most of the time), and the interpretation coordinator can hold up a sign asking me to speak more slowly or clearly or to use words that are easier to translate. At each workshop I remind everyone that if someone speaks English, it does not mean they are more intelligent than a person who does not.

A few people have participated in all of the workshops in Poland. Many have come to five or more. There is a group of people from different nationalities, with different histories, who care about each other and are committed to doing this work together. And the group is growing.

As more Co-Counselors with experiences from more recent wars have attended the workshops, we have broadened the work to include healing from all wars. In 2014 the workshop title will be “Healing from War.” But we will continue to put a lot of attention on World War II, the Holocaust, and the “Cold War,” since they affected so many of our ancestors, they had such a big effect on our societies, and individuals are still dealing with the consequences.

It is important that Co-Counselors from the United States come to these workshops. It gives them opportunities to better understand how World War II and other wars have affected people outside the United States. It helps all the participants understand that RC is an international Community. However, I limit the number of U.S. participants to about fifteen percent of the workshop. I also limit their leadership (except, of course, that I am leading the workshop). This makes space for Co-Counselors from outside the United States to lead, which is one of my goals for the workshops. It gives us USers time to notice and discharge on the challenge of being in a workshop where we are not the majority. And it gives us the opportunity to experience the leadership of people from outside of the United States. I remind us USers to listen more than talk. This contradicts our patterns that push us to dominate conversations.

THE VISITS TO AUSCHWITZ AND BIRKENAU

As part of the work of healing from World War II, groups of up to sixty Co-Counselors visit the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, and death camp Birkenau, in Oświęcim, Poland. Going to Auschwitz and Birkenau helps both Jews and Gentiles understand and discharge on how the distress recordings of our ancestors were passed on to us. Some people face great fears in order to participate. At the visits, each person has a compa (a person with whom to stay close and exchange attention and support). We have found compas helpful in discharging our restimulation and not going numb or acting thoughtlessly. Some compas continue to discharge with each other after the visits, on the visits and on the hurts of the war.

We go to Auschwitz and Birkenau as Co-Counselors in order to deepen our understanding of what happened during the Holocaust, to see what oppressive distress recordings (in this case, mainly about Jews but also about other groups, such as Roma people,10 Slavic peoples, GLBTQ11 people, people with disabilities, people labeled inferior, religious groups, prisoners of war, people in certain political parties or resistance movements) can lead to when they are not challenged and discharged. We go there to challenge and discharge on our own oppressor recordings. We go there to use RC theory and practice to connect with and be close to each other in a very restimulating place. And we go there to celebrate that we are alive, and to remember that we have the knowledge to heal from how we were hurt and that we belong to a Community committed to the healing process.

THE PLAN

Our goal is to end war. Forever and completely!

The strategy is to keep discharging on our own distresses, strengthen our alliances, become better counselors in this area, develop leadership for healing from war, and see to it12 that the work of healing from war is happening in our Communities. This is the groundwork13 necessary for humanity to end war. Corita Kent (also known as Sister Corita), a U.S. graphic artist and activist, wrote on one of her works, “The groundwork doesn’t show till14 one day.”

Steps toward ending war might include the following: working to resolve particular conflicts; working to remove the profits from the armaments industry; legislating stricter controls on the armaments industry; working to end imperialism; informing people about the effects of war, genocide, colonialism, and imperialism; giving people who have experienced war opportunities to heal from their hurts;supporting wide-world movements for ending war or starting our own movement. Some of the Co-Counselors who have attended the Healing from War Workshops are working in some of these areas.

Ending war is a huge challenge and requires people to take leadership inside and outside of RC. It is important to stay focused on our goal—ending war forever and completely. This means not letting our upsets (about other Co-Counselors or about RC leaders or the RC Community, for example) interfere with our staying focused on doing the work of discharging our own hurts caused by war and helping others discharge theirs. The goal is too important to let our restimulations about each other or the Community, or our discouragement or hopelessness, interfere with our work. We can discharge these things.

The “plan” includes the following:

  • Organizing our sessions so that we are discharging regularly on war and its effects on human beings and the planet
  • Starting support groups in our Communities
  • Providing the tools of RC to peace activists and figuring out what would make the Communities attractive and welcoming to them
  • Discharging on all oppressions, with classism and racism (and in the case of World War II, anti-Jewish oppression) at the core, and helping people understand the relationship of oppression to war and genocide 
  • Helping people to realize that a world without war is possible
  • Increasing our attention for and commitment to combat veterans and to civilians who have experienced war directly, especially people of the global majority

If we do the emotional work in our sessions and take action in the wide world, we can help spread a vision of the possibility of a world without war. How sweet and fitting it will be for humans to end war. We can do it!

Julian Weissglass
International Commonality Reference 
Person for Wide World Change
Santa Barbara, California, USA 
and many others

 

I am grateful to everyone who has participated in and helped to lead this work, especially Jacek Strzemieczny, who organized the first twelve workshops, assisted by Iwona Odrowąż-Pieniążek (who will organize the workshops in 2014); Molnár Gabriella, who has organized all of the visits to Auschwitz and Birkenau; Jim Driscoll, for leading veterans; and the several workshop participants who read and made valuable suggestions for this article.

—Julian


1 The civil defense was an organized non-military effort to warn U.S. civilians about, and prepare  them for, a military attack.
2 An Area is a local RC Community.
3 A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of several Areas.
4 Distress recordings
5 “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” appears in a poem by the Roman poet Horace (65–8 BC).  One translation is “It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.”
6 “Played out” means acted out.
7 The author is using “they” and “their” as singular pronouns.
8 Contradiction to the distress
9 “Whisper interpretation” is an interpreter sitting next to a person, or several people, and interpreting for them in a soft voice.
10 Roma people are thought to have come from India and now live all over the world. In World War II the Nazis intended to exterminate them. The total number of Roma victims is estimated at between two hundred thousand and two million.
11 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer
12 “See to it” means make sure.
13 “Groundwork” means foundation.
14 “Till” means until.


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00