Connecting Threads of Individual Pain with Societal Responsibility: From Northern Ireland, Chile and Kosovo Come Stories of the Struggle People Have in Healing from Terror and Torture When Political Accountability and Reconciliation Are Absent

Article excerpt

Jack Saul, a public health psychologist who works in New York City with survivors of political violence and torture refugees, introduced the panel "Speaking Horror: Truth, Accountability and Reconciliation," which explored telling the stories of trauma through public and private testimony in truth and reconciliation commissions and other forums. Saul's remarks and those of the three speakers addressing sociopolitical challenges in Northern Ireland, Chile and Kosovo appear as edited excerpts.

It's been researched that many trauma symptoms subside after going through the testimonial process. We also see that giving testimony in different kinds of contexts, whether legal, artistic or as an oral history, provides a reason for survivors to tell their story that they may not find so quickly in the therapeutic sessions. In fact, many of the survivors I've worked with want and seek this kind of public forum for the recognition and as a form of redress. We see now many situations such as truth and reconciliation commissions, testimonies, archives, different contexts in which people are telling their stories. It is not just individual narration that is being developed, but it is collective narration.

Seamus Kelters is assistant news editor with the BBC Northern Ireland. He covered Belfast for 20 years, 16 of them with the BBC. He co-authored "Lost Lives," chronicling the stories of men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles.

I and a lot of others grew up with a 40-year conflict with 3,700 people dead, 50,000 wounded, and at least 9,000 jailed. If that seems small-scale, it was. We received undue focus because we were white and spoke English. Conveniently on our doorsteps were television, print and radio newsrooms full of young journalists eager to cut their reporting teeth. Our Troubles, and that is what we called our conflict, received coverage, too.


People segregated for 400 years live at opposite ends of the same street. Along those fault lines of sectarian divide was always the angry noise of violence. When it spewed onto the streets again 40 years ago in August 1969, it was familiar to older people. We'd had our troubles before. Police shot my grandfather when he was 17 years old, and he was badly wounded. Another relative of mine was killed in Belfast in 1921 as he walked toward my grandmother; a sniper shot him in the head. I grew up with these stories.

The book, "Lost Lives," grew out of that family memory. The details of the shooting recorded in the only book on the subject were wrong. Working as a print journalist, and with official and unofficial records and communal knowledge weathering, I realized that no matter how many funerals and bodies we covered, the most recent troubles would not be adequately recorded.

"Lost Lives" was squarely a work of journalism. In close to a million words, we attempted to record not just the names, but the detail of each person's life and death to the fullest extent possible. Working chronologically, we recorded every fact we could test. We knew the work would cause pain. Although some credited "Lost Lives" with having contributed to the peace process, we never saw it as our job to make things better.

We cannot necessarily do justice to the dead. Ink isn't blood, but as journalists our first duty was to the record. We became almost obsessed with facts, reality and truth as far as we could find it. As important as what we said was the way we said it. David McKittriek, one of my coauthors, was born in the Loyalist Shankill Road heartland. I came from the fiercely Republican Falls Road and we did most of the writing between us. Five of us though were working across the material and we needed a style guide. So each entry starts with three introductory lines; in those three lines we list the age, the victim's name, date of death, marital status, number of children they had, religion and occupation. …