Read below the reflections of Paul Chappell, Peace Week 2013 speaker, regarding his experience in Northern Uganda.
“By working toward peace, justice, and reconciliation, Uganda can become an inspiring example to the rest of the world. ”
A year before visiting Uganda, an American woman told me, “I have visited Africa several times, and Africans don’t suffer trauma from war and violence. War trauma is a western phenomenon. When Africans experience a war, a ceremony is performed and everyone is healed.”
Her statement sounded very odd to me, because it contradicted what I had learned in the military. In the West, the idea that war causes trauma has become so non-controversial that even the advocates of war now say, “War is hell.” The U.S. military has recognized that all people in combat are vulnerable to trauma, especially if the combat is intense and extended over a long period of time. Roy Swank and Walter Marchand, who both served as medical doctors in the military during World War II, conducted a study during the war that concluded ninety-eight percent of soldiers became psychological casualties after sixty days of sustained day and night combat.
According to their study on combat trauma, the two percent who were not driven insane by war seem to have already been insane. Swank and Marchand said, “All normal men eventually suffer combat exhaustion [also known as “psychological injury”] in prolonged continuous and severe combat. The exception to this rule are psychotic soldiers, and a number of examples of this have been observed.”
When I told Fr. Jino about this person’s statement (that Africans don’t suffer trauma from war and violence), he seemed partially offended and partially amused. He said, “This is a problem with some Western people who visit Africa and suddenly think they are experts.”
Visiting Uganda was a life-changing experience for reasons that are difficult to express in words. Although I still have much to learn about Uganda and its people, I have spent my life studying human nature and what it means to be human. I have paid my dues in my journey to understand my own humanity, and this has empowered me to see our shared humanity despite differences in culture, language, country of origin, and the many other distinctions that often divide members of our global human family. In Uganda, I saw our shared humanity in the eyes and spirit of the many people I met. I also saw our shared humanity in the serious problems they are facing, problems such as injustice, corruption, war, and the struggle for peace and reconciliation.
When discussing one of the goals for the University of the Sacred Heart, Father Callisto told me, “People’s minds are imprisoned in the trauma from their past, and we want to help liberate their minds from trauma. A traumatic experience is like a plane that flies overhead. After the plane has passed, you still hear the sound.”
At the Memorial Museum in Kitgum District, this quote was painted on the wall: “Ka lyeccci aryo tye ka lweny, lum ayee deno can.” Below these words the English translation was also written: “When two elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers.” Since World War II, the majority of people killed in wars have been innocent civilians, and the same is true in Uganda. Innocent civilians also suffer from the harmful effects of injustice and dehumanization. America has had to confront these problems in the past and work toward reconciliation, because African Americans lived under slavery and segregation for hundreds of years.
What can the Ugandan people learn from peaceful campaigns such as the civil rights movement in America? And just as important, what can the world learn from Uganda? By working toward peace, justice, and reconciliation, Uganda can become an inspiring example to the rest of the world. This will be a significant struggle, and I am so grateful to Gulu Help for their work to further the mission of peace in Uganda. I plan to support this mission to the best of my ability, because creating peace is a mission that we as human beings must all work on together.