War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love, and Resilience by Kenneth E. Miller
Publisher: Larson Publications (October 17, 2016)
Category: Non-Fiction, PTSD, Current Events/World Affairs, Political Science: Genocide and War Crimes
Tour Date: Oct and Nov, 2016
Available in: Print, 296 Pages
With some 200 million people in more than forty countries affected by armed conflict or genocide, refugees are appearing in record numbers. War Torn is timely in how it brings us intimately into the lives of civilians who have survived wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Guatemala, and Sri Lanka.
Alongside stories that convey intimately the destruction and heartbreak of armed conflict, Miller captures the courage and resilience he calls “a remarkable kind of light,” an essential counterpoint to the grief and trauma that war creates. The stories in War Torn are powerful, heart-wrenching, and unforgettable.
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Advance Praise for War Torn by Kenneth E. Miller
“This is an eye-opening study. Psychologist Kenneth E. Miller and his wife Debbie began collecting data and teaching volunteers in refugee camps around the world back in 1991. In reality, there are almost 200 million people in over 40 countries impacted by war and genocide, living day to day exiled from their homes, families, and lifestyles. Kenneth Miller brings us their stories. This is a book I will read again, and share with my children. This is a worldwide problem we all need to understand, and address.”- Bonnye Reed, GoodReads Reviewer
“You could find no better guide than Ken Miller to illuminate this dark territory. A skilled story teller, he has an eye for nuance that is often missing in our cultural conversation about PTSD. I put down this book with a heart that was broken but also filled with hope. “-Ethan Watters, Author of Crazy Like Us and Co-founder of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.
“War Torn is an exceptional, gripping account of the impact of war—a must-read for anyone interested in how war profoundly touches and shapes people. Ken Miller merges the expressive writing of a novelist with compassion and the profound understanding of a seasoned mental health professional. This collection of personal experiences and mosaic of situations provides rich and unique insights into the complexities of war torn countries.”-Dr. Mark Jordans, King’s College London
“Ken Miller weaves together for us tragic stories of war, loss and injustice with tales of friendship, family, and laughter. Ken’s gift is the way he listens, which takes him and his readers beyond simple categories of war victim or trauma to the complex experiences people have in settings torn apart by violence. I’m grateful for the way he has captured the simultaneously disabling and inspiring coexistence of darkness and light in these places.” –Jeannie Annan, PhD, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Learning at the International Rescue Committee
This is quite lengthy, yet an easy read because of the many multiple stories which can be read one at a time if you can pull yourself away long enough!
The following quote summarizes the content of this book, “In wars fought today, the most common victim isn’t the soldier, but a child, a schoolteacher, a young mother, a grandparent…”. Although many of the stories of his experiences are in War Torn countries, some are also of those where he served within the Country.
I really enjoyed a quote he made, saying relief is found when sharing one’s “stories with others who listen without judgement, doubt or fear as we unburden , as the truth of our experiences is known and documented. In this process, it loses its destructive power.” I believe this to be very true. To often individuals do not simply listen to others without, judgement, lecture or ridicule.
Another section I felt in need of reference was when he talked of how, even professionals, take for granted and are unaware of the traumatic effects on others who work with those who have experienced extreme trauma, such as translators. Often the indirect impact on them is devastating as they do their job.
This part War Story, part memoir, covers victims from rape, abuse, to those who have witnessed genocide and torture. These are experiences he has had in foreign countries and within his own country. It tells of great love, resilience, courage, faith and endurance of many. Some situations are devastating and heart-wrenching and others are very inspiring and hopeful.
Unlike other non-fiction which can sometimes become monotonous, this account holds the readers interest and wanting to read more.
I offer a Five Stars rating.
^This book was sent as a gift and in no way does it affect my honest review.
Excerpt from War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love, and Resilience
“Sadness is for weak people.”
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I thought perhaps I’d misunderstood.
“Sadness is for weak people,” the woman said again with an odd smile. Off-camera, about ten feet away, her seventeen-year-old daughter Sharmali sat weeping.
“You lost your husband in the massacre, Sharmali lost her father. That seems terribly sad to me.”
“I don’t have any sadness about anyone. The Tigers attacked. We exist and then we don’t. We too will die someday. There’s no point in crying.”
“Your daughter is still very sad, your mother-in-law as well. She couldn’t even talk with us about the death of her son, she was crying so hard. Why do you think they feel still such grief?”
“It’s because they’re uneducated, they have attachments. When the Tigers attacked, even children were mutilated. It happened because they had karma. We didn’t have karma, so it didn’t happen to us. The Tigers held a gun to my chest and told us not to scream. If I had died it would have been over then. It’s because of karma that it happened, and that’s why I have no sadness about anybody.”
As she spoke, she quietly smashed a small piece of brick into the ground, crushing it into small shards and reddish-orange dust. She laughed quietly, for reasons I couldn’t begin to fathom.
Sharmali broke my heart. She had that effect on the whole crew. A shy teenager with long brown hair, a sweet smile and a gentle voice, she was still deeply pained about the loss of her father eight years earlier. Her grief seemed raw, unhealed. When the tears started to come, she reflexively tried to hold them back with a flickering smile. You could see her struggling to keep the sadness from overwhelming her.
“Over there, by the jackfruit tree,” she said, pointing across the yard. “That’s where we found him in the morning.”
She’d just recounted the night of terror, when a group of Tigers broke into her family’s home and took her father away at gunpoint. He’d been stabbed and left in the yard, bleeding heavily. He died the next day in the hospital.
Her family’s small house had the feel of death about it, dark and quiet, the walls unadorned by children’s drawings, photographs, anything at all. The biology of time was alive, of course; everyone had grown older, and Sharmali was no longer a ten-year-old girl trying to make sense of her father’s senseless death. But emotions have their own clock, and they can become unhinged from the rhythm and flow of time in the physical world. The violent death of a parent is overwhelming for most children; the feelings of terror and loss are too intense for them to manage on their own. But Sharmali had gotten no help with her grief. There’d been no space for that particular journey. Her mother’s intolerance for sadness had had the paradoxical effect of leaving it painfully alive in her daughter.
“My father,” Sharmali said, “he didn’t drink, he never yelled at us, and he took us to school in the morning. When Mom yells at me, I think of my father. I think if Dad were here he wouldn’t yell like that.”
She’d dropped out of school a few months earlier, and had no plans for the future, nothing that gave her pleasure, no moments of joy. There was a vocational school nearby, but she wasn’t allowed to attend. She was pretty, and her mother feared that boys would flirt with her and give her a bad reputation. So she spent her days at home, helping out around the house, going absolutely nowhere.
Non-attachment is a key Buddhist concept. The only constant in life is change, according to an old Buddhist adage, so attachments are inevitably a cause of suffering. Sharmali’s mother certainly grasped that.
But attachments are also a source of joy and meaning. They’re vital to our survival. Raise a monkey in isolation, you get a crazy monkey. Raise a child without love, without the chance to form healthy attachments, and you get rage, depression, anxiety, even death (a “failure to thrive,” in medical jargon). It’s the clinging, the insistence on unchanging permanence, that get us into trouble. Not attachment itself.
Sharmali’s mom didn’t see it that way.
But it wasn’t just her particular view of non-attachment that kept her from helping her daughter grieve. She’d cherry-picked her Buddhist tenets, ignoring the concept of compassion altogether. It’s at the core of the religion: compassion towards others and oneself, a gentle acceptance of whatever’s present, including grief. It doesn’t mean wallowing in sadness, just acknowledging it, allowing the feelings to rise and fall “like waves in the ocean,” in the words of Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfield.
Compassion can be a tough thing, though. It opens us up not only to the suffering of others, but to our own pain as well. It’s a bit trite, I know, but no less true for that. We often reject in others what we struggle to accept in ourselves. I can’t know what Sharmali’s mother might have felt about the death of husband, but I’d venture a guess that the grief she feared most was not her daughter’s.
Could be, who can say? Maybe she simply felt no sadness. If so, she was unique in the village, the only survivor of the massacre to walk away emotionally unscathed.
About Kenneth E. Miller
An international expert on the impact of armed conflict on civilians, psychologist Kenneth E. Miller has been working with war-affected communities since 1991 as a researcher, clinician, organizational consultant, and filmmaker. A professor of clinical and community psychology for much of his career (San Francisco State University, Pomona College), in 2015 he joined the Dutch NGO War Child Holland and is currently based in Amsterdam.
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