The Impact of The Wars We Inherit

In this blog entry, Lori Amy, author of The Wars We Inherit, asks, How much of our identities come from the “enemy” against which we define ourselves?

I was finishing the revisions to The Wars We Inherit as I was beginning research for my next book in Albania.

When I posted a picture on Facebook of the view from my apartment, my sister, Zane, immediately replied: “That looks just like East Berlin before the wall came down. I know. I was there.” It’s not just the view from my balcony that brings back the divided Germany. To enter Albania is to enter the still bleeding, raw wounds of the Cold War – wounds that are simultaneously bound up with the “War on Terror.” Tied up like this: Albania has stockpiles of cold-war guns and ammunitions — hundreds of thousands of tons, mostly Russian and Chinese. Two years ago, a fire at the factory that was supposed to be “dismantling” the explosives caused a series of explosions; for miles in all directions, houses burned, windows were blown out of cars and buildings. Following the death and destruction of the explosion, investigations revealed that an American Arms dealer was selling Albanian stock piles to the US Military for use in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently, Efraim Diveroli, a 24 year old Miami arms dealer who was a player in the arms deals, was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison – for defrauding the US Government by passing off banned Chinese ammunition as Albanian-made.

Of all of the crimes that led up to this explosion, in exchange for all of the lives lost and ruined, a conviction for “defrauding the US government” is what counts as justice? Why am I having flashbacks to Oliver North, the fall guy in the Iran-Contra affair? But, of course, North is no longer a part of American cultural consciousness. Nor is the cold war. In 1985, finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii, I watched commercials featuring a Russian bear, stalking Americans, posing the threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union. After invoking the audience’s fear, the commercial asked: isn’t it better to be prepared? Just six years later – only 2 years after the Berlin wall came down – I watched as America created a new enemy to replace the cold war bear we had lost: the Islamic “terrorist,” the “muslim threat,” the “Arab.” In barely a generation, we have lost the memory of the “cold war” bear that mobilized our fantasies, funded our military, gave us meaning. But we did not lose – we could not afford to lose – an “enemy.”

How much of our identities come from the “enemy” against which we define ourselves? The same year I watched commercials about the Russian Bear, I interviewed men on nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers stationed in Honolulu Hawaii. (Those interviews are the basis of the chapter “The Work of War” in the The Wars We Inherit.) From those Hawaii days, I learned a few things about how we teach average young men and women to fear others, how we use fear to grow hatred, and how our fear and our hatred allow us to kill the other that we define as “enemy.” (From my interviews, I also learned more than I care to know about the intertwining of war and sex – this is the basis for the Interlude “On the Violence of Nations in the Violence of Homes.”) Now, in Albania, I find myself, uncannily, tracing, still, the trajectory of the cold war into which I was born. And this is not just “my” history: this is the unarticulated, disavowed history of our present age of warfare. Our challenge, now, is to find a way to work through our legacy of violence.

The Wars We Inherit is my contribution to this project.

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