It is difficult to write about things which seem so unequivocally unjust and heinous, only to see them reoccur again and again. I think all the great historians experience that sort of dread; understanding the templates of oppression and resistance and watching them unfold before their eyes.
“All wars are civil wars,” wrote John Donne, “for all men are brothers.” Curiously, in intrastate conflicts which are often termed ‘civil,’ we refer to a select few as ‘dirty’ wars, as if regular war was not dirty enough. It seems that the distinction between a bomb and a ‘dirty bomb’ is of the same nature. Both kill indiscriminately. But for the dirty war, like the dirty bomb, the stain on its reputation constitutes a botched version of what could have been something higher, nobler, and cleaner. A government that protects its citizens rather than preying upon them is clean in much the same that way we can harness nuclear fission to generate electricity, rather than creating radioactive explosives. Dirty wars are characteristically one-sided, so much so that they could be considered less warfare and more violent, extended crackdowns. They are increasingly the face of violence around the world.
Examples are too numerous to easily count—though this work must be done—but the Arab Spring generated a few salient ones, most evidently Bahrain and Yemen, and to some extent the Syrian Civil War (its early years) and the Libyan Civil War. Sierra Leone’s civil conflict bears many of the same hallmarks; Eastern Europe has its own variety, revolving around Ukraine and Russia, and there are other historical cases in Myanmar, Cambodia, Morocco and Spain. When we wrote at the beginning of class about our goals for this course, I put down that I wanted to build an analytical framework to understand conflicts like these.
Then the Ayotzinapa 43 happened, just weeks into the course. It was not serendipity; just another flagrant act of violence by a government aimed at muzzling dissent, which took the form of forced disappearances. I felt the reverberations of Mexico 68, based on the response from citizens.
The avatar format not only helps to inform us of the daily challenges and lasting wounds that a state of fear instils in a populace, it also helps us confront the real powerlessness that people face, with powerful writing. It serves as the outlet for feelings that inevitably bubble up when we try to put ourselves in the place of instrumental torturer or torture victim. Neither is comfortable. Like all successful art, it should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, and it proves to be cathartic, valuable, and wholly new each time.