Mother Courage in Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine

08/07/2014 12:43 pm ET | Updated Oct 07, 2014

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There's a disconnect between armies and ideologies and those who bear the burden of conflicts like those raging in Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine. This has always been true and it's true now. The German writer W.G. Sebald wrote of the massive trauma the vanquished German population suffered in the wake of World War II, a subject that may have been passed over due to the lack of sympathy for a population that was deemed to have colluded with the Nazis. Daniel Goldhagen wrote a book entitled Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. But there are always people living their lives and then politicians and agitators with agendas to be accomplished, often with little regard for the individual suffering that might be incurred by ordinary people. The Times ran a story about a Gaza psychologist with a history of treating trauma victims who himself became one ("In Fatal Flash, Gaza Psychologist Switches Roles, Turning Into a Trauma Victim," NYT, 8/4/14). The Times quotes the psychologist, Dr. Hassan al-Zeyada thusly,

"You try to help the people with their suffering. It's totally different when you have the same experience. You lose six from your family--three brothers, your mom, one of your nephews, your sister-in-law. It's really...unexpected."

"He paused, red-eyed," is how the Times piece described the ellipsis at the end of the quote. Victims like Dr. Hassan, on both sides of the battles, constitute the real front lines of any armed struggle. Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children took place during the Thirty Years War, yet it tells the same story. War functions as the macrocosm. "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means," said the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz. You have the queen bees and then the rest of the hive, the microcosm. The hive are those who suffer during wars, who lose their homes, whose children are killed in battle, whose way of life is destroyed. Wars are usually fought over land and resources, but there are also millenarian objectives. Intellectuals are often pictured as doves, but they also often provide the ideological justifications which stoke the fires of military machines. An intellectual may achieve a promotion, as a result of war. And suddenly find himself a statesman! Meanwhile, MacArthur plan or not, the common man is left to clean up the mess.

German Democratic Republic Stamp of Berliner Ensemble Production of Mother Courage

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}