In “Collapse: Dreaming Another World,” a memoir by Minneapolis attorney-turned-Jungian-analyst Medora Woods, she reflects on whether catastrophic events of late are telling us a story we need to listen to.
“A giant freeway bridge collapses into a great American river. Jet airplanes fly into towering buildings, turning them into massive skyscrapers of smoke and fire and death. Our government makes wars that bring chaos and death to millions of people we don’t even know — and to our own.” Hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, drowned migrant children, droughts, fires, melting glaciers. Woods wonders: “Where must we strip away the veil of lies and unconsciousness about the world we have created?”
Woods writes that at some point after World War II, those in power opted to invest in a war machine, rather than infrastructure. This decision has led to a never-ending state of war for the U.S., as leaders of the “free world.”
Several books explore the tinder box that leads to war. Often anxiety and the dwindling of available resources leads to scapegoating of “others,” including neighbors, who are blamed for scarcity. The tinder collects, waiting for the spark that sets things ablaze.
After war is eventually “resolved,” what happens next? Virginia Page Fortna, a political science professor at Columbia University, has written “Peace Time: Cease-Fire Agreements and the Durability of Peace.” She analyzes civil wars that have taken place since the Cold War ended, and interviews government and rebel leaders in Sierra Leone, Mozambique, and Bangladesh.
In an earlier, related journal article, “Does Peacekeeping Work?” (International Studies Quarterly, 2004), Fortna says opponents of peacekeeping point to dramatic failures covered by mainstream news, without acknowledging the success stories that do not make headlines. “Peacekeepers rarely go where war has ended in a decisive outcome, but rather try to maintain peace where both sides have the capacity to disrupt it.”
According to Fortna, data shows the presence of peace-keeping personnel tends to make peace more likely to last, and to last longer.
Fortna’s research reveals that perspective can shift to stability and peace when conversation together alleviates fear and mistrust.
On an emotional level, Ellen La Motte offers a series of stories in a book titled “The Backwash of War.” It was published in 1916, based on her experience working in a French field hospital during World War I. Her true stories detail gruesome realities. La Motte’s detailed storytelling about the atrocities of war was banned in France, England, and the U.S., for being critical. Cynthia Wachtell has published a new edition of La Motte’s book, and described its contents in a recent article: “There is a soldier slowly dying from gas gangrene. Another suffers from syphilis, while one patient sobs and sobs because he does not want to die. A 10-year-old Belgian boy is fatally shot through the abdomen by a fragment of German artillery shell and bawls for his mother. War, to La Motte, is repugnant, repulsive, and nonsensical.”
I was struck by Medora Woods’s description about an image taken right after the Interstate 35W bridge catastrophe. “The empty, broken bridge in the just-before-dawn light speaks to me of two worlds. There is a bridge that needs to be (re)built — a bridge between the world coming to an end and a world yet to be, a bridge between the society we’ve become and the society we so desperately need.”
Woods offers what I consider an apt description of where women’s leadership in policy, negotiation, peace-building, reconciliation, healing, and shifted narratives can take us. “Everyone and everything is connected to everyone and everything else. We are between worlds, the old one in shadow, and the new one barely dawning.”