Childhood abuse and the role it plays in maintaining coercive power
In militaristic societies, abuse of children is institutionalized. Child abuse, in its various guises, is the means for "breaking" members of society to the rule of authority. Basically, it turns out to be hard to get happy people, the result of happy childhoods, to gratuitously kill on command.
by Herb Ruhs, MD, June 9, 2005
"It doesn't make sense that we are breaking the lives of our children," singer Nathalie Simard is quoted as saying as another celebrity child abuse scandal erupts.
While I do not doubt the sincerity of her words, she apparently fails to understand the overwhelming importance "breaking the lives of our children" has in dominator societies.
In these "conquest and rule" societies, the myths surrounding "childhood" serve the purpose of concealing the most important function of child-rearing in the militaristic society, in fact, the true lynchpin of their militarism.
In militaristic societies, abuse of children is institutionalized. Child abuse, in its various guises, is the means for "breaking" members of society to the rule of authority. Basically, it turns out to be hard to get happy people, the result of happy childhoods, to gratuitously kill on command. In fact, it is the express purpose of military training to so abuse new young recruits (children actually) that any results of kind childhoods are muted or destroyed (see Full Metal Jacket). Virtually all of us in the militarized societies, particularly in the West, are perseverating about our personal abuse histories. A whole industry has grown up around the need to "heal" adults who were abused as children.
But there is a missing piece that makes a true understanding of our experience impossible to achieve. Our abuse was not an "accident" of nature, the result of having a "bad" parent or even an essentially private and shameful thing. It was preordained, a part of the cultural script.
This perpetual uncertainty about whether or not we were truly and sincerely loved is what makes us so anxious and so easily controlled. The spectrum of such childhood maltreatment varies from the totally depraved at one extreme to mere emotional distance at the other. We are led to acknowledge only the extremes and ignore emotional abuse almost entirely.
Another misleading aspect of the myth making is that "child abuse" is something that occurs primarily in the home. Many of the child's harmful interactions with adults in militaristic societies that are so routine as to be outside of conscious awareness, are invisible. The effects of emotional maltreatment are cumulative, with frequent small insults to the stability of the child having the same influence as more isolated horrendous experiences such as Miss Simard's.
A "perfect home" with home schooling and "faultless child rearing" ("perfection" itself being a destructive concept) can not displace or repair the peripheral effects of a culture steeped in violence. There is no total escape for the child. However, healing can occur in adulthood, once awareness of the nature of the trauma is achieved.
The continuing influence of childhood maltreatment on the adult depends on the adult maintaining a false narrative about her history. Not understanding who you are, not knowing what influences contributed to your being who you are now, cuts us off, not only from self knowledge, but from a healthy emotional life. In this dark, unknowing place in ourselves, motivations that we deny cause us to act destructively and irrationally.
Many people have described this phenomena. Some refer to it as "the human shadow." This is the place where the unreasoning fears come from that fuel our irrational, and often cruel, behaviors.
There is hope for healing, but not without awareness. That awareness, as I am sure Simard can testify to, is a painful encounter, healing but painful. No Miss Simard, I am afraid it does make sense, from an admittedly depraved point of view, to "break the lives of children."
My initial understanding of this phenomena came to me in a flash one night when I was talking about "life in America" with my neighbors in my village in Viet Nam. I was just twenty-one and had been in Viet Nam for less than a year. In the absence of TV, chatting with the "American student" was a popular entertainment, as well as first rate language training for me.
One night it occurred to me to say that an American mother might say to her small child "don't do that or mommy won't love you anymore." After arguing with me for about a half hour that I must have misspoken, the group finally came to the understanding that I was accurately reporting that such a thing might actually happen. That it could ever happen was almost beyond comprehension for them. The experience was so shocking that I never again had the happy experience of talking with my fellow villagers about "life in America." It was as if either I was crazy, and best ignored (that would have been my take), or, worse, that what I said was real and God only knew what other horrors I had to tell that they didn't want to hear about.
Culture shock goes both ways sometimes. I bring this up now, for a largely American audience, because I firmly believe that we will not see the end of the insanity that threatens to engulf the world until each of us faces squarely the fact that we were ALL mistreated as small children by a society that consistently and insistently mistreats all its children both inside the home, and more importantly, outside the home.
When people ask me what book they can read to better understand the American War in Viet Nam, I refer them to two. Firstly, Catch 22, because it portrays the insanity of war-making, American style, better than any other source, and secondly, a small volume by the late, great Norman Mailer called Why We Are In Vietnam, that isn't about Viet Nam or the war at all. It is an allegory, but, ironically, it addresses the question more directly than the great, and increasing, pile of pig manure that passes for the literature about the war.
It could also be profitably read by anyone wishing to understand better why we are now in Iraq.
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