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Reconciliation and the pursuit of peace

February 25, 2013

Alex Bellamy in The Immanent Frame:


Today, at the beginning of 2013, the world is confronted by a bewildering array of protracted and new armed conflicts: Syria, Gaza, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar, Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Libya are just a few of the many parts of the world wracked by violent conflict. And, although some of the rhetoric about the burden of civilian suffering compared to military casualties in these so-called “new wars” may have been overblown (not least because civilians havealways paid a heavy cost in war), there is little doubting that non-combatants remain firmly in the firing line. The injustices of war are legion and extend to killing, torture, mutilation, sexual and gender based violence and abuse, forced displacement, and much else. For all that the world’s governments proclaim their commitment to the protection of civilians of armed conflict, and for all the writings on the moral and legal constraints introduced over the past three millennia or so, war always produces more than its fair share of injustice. Even “good wars” produce injustice: recall A. C. Grayling’s withering dissection of allied terror bombing in Germany during the Second World War.

Not without reason, then, Daniel Philpott starts from the assumption that war leaves behind wounds of injustice. These are not just physical bodily wounds—though they are paramount—but are wounds in the form of violations of human rights, wounds of ignorance about the source and circumstance of injustice, wounds derived from lack of acknowledgement, and what Philpott describes as “the standing victory of the wrongdoer’s political injustice.” Taking a somewhat Kantian line, Philpott notes that wrongdoers are also themselves wounded by their acts, a view that also finds strong resonance in the religious traditions that he examines.. Their wrongdoing creates a moral sickness that inhibits fulfilment and happiness. As Philpott reminds us, the technology of the gas chamber was first developed as a way of saving German firing squads from the trauma caused by their deeds. [More]

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