Monday 2 June 2008

I read the news today, oh boy

Sometimes I close my book while I'm on the train, I look out of the window and I think I've had enough now.  Enough of murder, genocide, rape and injustice.  It's not that I actually want to stop reading, it's just that sometimes the weight of horrors I could never have imagined in my wildest nightmares gets too much to bear.  And I need to sit and process the knowledge.

My interest in political history and injustice started in university, 15 years ago (in fact I am busy transcribing and updating a paper I wrote back then on interpersonal violence in South Africa).  But in recent times this interest has snowballed and I can't get enough of true-life accounts of war and genocide, mostly in Africa.

I'm reading this book at the moment:

The Bone Woman
by Clea Koff

Read more about this book...

Clea Koff is a forensic anthropologist who has worked on mass graves in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo investigating war crimes.  I think the book-closing moment was in her description of the bone evidence of a man who was beaten to death and how he tried to defend himself; this was compared to the earlier account of many people in a church in Kibuye who exhibited no defence wounds at all and who all had sharp- or blunt-force trauma to their heads.  (The author could not understand why they hadn't tried to defend themselves but I know many people only survived by playing dead and I think this is what happened here).  Anyway, the beating victim's story many my stomach turn.

This morning she began to tell the story of an investigation they were to begin into the matter of 8,000 missing men and boys from Srebrenica who had left on foot to go to Tuzla and had never made it.  What I read began to sink in - 8,000 human beings were murdered in one event - and I turned green.  I still cannot fathom it.  I can imagine monsters rounding up 4,000 people in a church and killing for days, only breaking to eat and sleep (only because I read about it in this book).  I can imagine train loads of human beings taken to death camps and killed day after day during the holocaust (because I have read so many books about it).  I just have a problem imagining 8,000 people (4 times the size of my high school) being murdered in one occasion.  With no living witnesses (one presumes as the men were up to that point regarded as 'missing' not murdered or presumed murdered, and there was no event to tie them to yet).

This is why I do it.  I might feel my eyes spontaneously fill with tears and elicit stares from my fellow train travellers, but this is why I ravenously devour any book on genocide and injustice.  It is because I need to know and I need to tell others and we need to stop it happening.



  1. Thanks for that last sentence in particular.

  2. Thank you Owen. I find it interesting to look back on my old posts and reflect on how this grew from an interest to an obsession to a way of life. I lost my way for a little bit at the end of last year and early this year but hopefully I can proceed with confidence now.


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