In America, after a decade of wars, there is, at long last, a real conversation happening about helping soldiers, Marines, airmen, and seamen who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan (or, in many cases, both), who fought in conflicts with no front lines and who had to learn to adapt to weaponry they'd never seen and an enemy who blended easily into the population at large. This conversation isn't as prominent or urgent as it should be, but it stems from a broader, if not new, recognition of what war does to people, how it can impact the mind, body, and soul long after the last shot is fired. It comes from recognizing the difficulty of transitioning from a war zone into one's home and community without time and space to quiet the hyperalert, battle-ready mind that helps a person survive in theater. It also comes from a more utilitarian understanding that the military and the country must take care of their fighting men and women if they want to have an army that can fight in the future.
People like Shirley Mangompia, however, are not yet part of this conversation. They've lived with war for long periods of time, but you don't hear much about what needs to be done to get them off a war footing. A growing number of NGOs run mental-health programs, and there's been a great deal of talk about "hearts and minds" campaigns, but I've seen few instances where the non-fighting veterans of war were factored sufficiently into policy and planning before, during, and after wars. Iraq and Afghanistan were only the most egregious examples of this sort of oversight.
The populations were expected to see things as Westerners would see them, regardless of their own particular experiences under Saddam Hussein or through decades of civil war. That they might have a different perspective shaped by what they'd lived through was apparently not considered. This was a failure of both empathy and imagination, and it had disastrous consequences for a great many people in both countries, as well as for the ability of the United States to achieve its stated goals.
One hopes that people are treated fairly and decently during and after combat, and that those who've suffered from extended, intimate exposure to the horrors of war do get some assistance in finding a sense of harmony and balance. But I'm not really talking about altruism. I'm talking about getting results, about crafting policies and approaches that can help countries move away from war and toward peace and progress.
Just as George W. Bush's administration should have considered the psychic toll decades of fighting had taken on the Afghan population, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, if they want this accord to work, should try to understand people like Shirley Mangompia and others who've lived under, if not by, the gun for far too long. Similarly, anyone talking about peace deals or road maps or post-conflict development in places like Gaza or Libya or Congo, or Iraq and Afghanistan and, one day, Syria, should take into account the fact that these are nations of veterans -- old and young, male and female, grieving and filled with rage -- whose sense of the future and whose willingness to follow their leadership will be determined by where they've been and what horror and violence has been visited upon them. But who never got a parade or a ribbon or a medal for their troubles.