The world needs reconciliation centres

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 76 – August 20, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Crotian version here.

 

“Do you remember Kim, the 9-year old Vietnamese girl, running as she was hit by napalm from U.S. warplanes in 1972? That picture haunted John Plummer for 24 years; he’d been a helicopter pilot and helped organise the napalm raid.

His marriage crashed, he isolated himself and took to drinking; he eventually became a Methodist pastor in Virginia. In 1996, Kim and John met and he says: ‘Kim saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow…She held out her arms to me and embraced me. All I could say was ‘I’m sorry; I’m sorry – over and over again. And at the same time she was saying, ‘It’s all right, I forgive you.’ They are now good friends, and call each other regularly.*

This may be a unique story, but how can we talk about restoring peace after wars’ hurt and harm without paying attention to the human aspects of conflicts in general and that of forgiveness and reconciliation in particular?” asks TFF director Jan Oberg. “I think we need to make forgiveness and reconciliation a central objective: in research and studies, in training and education and, above all, we should empower every civilian and military – and every international organisation engaged in war-torn societies – to work for it with the locals.

“Take a look at Bosnia and Croatia since 1995, look at Kosovo now, or Somalia, or…Have people really held out their arms or said ‘I forgive you’? Come together in trust? Have they learnt how to deal with the past, not in order to forget it or to blame each other, but to acknowledge what happened and find ways to avoid it ever happening again? Can that even be said about South Africa?

It is easy to repair houses and infrastructure, it’s easy to throw money around and talk about human rights? But what if people deep down keep on hating each other and won’t even dream about doing what Kim and John did? Will they themselves ever be happy and at peace with themselves? Will their children? What kind of society will it be if we cannot also, so to speak, repair souls and help create tolerance, co-existence, even cooperation and love?”

Jan Oberg continues, “One of the most moving experiences in my life was when, together with TFF team members, we helped a few Croats and Serbs in Eastern Slavonia, Croatia, come together: young boys and girls as well as the parent generation who were permitted for the first time to talk face-to-face about what had happened – but to stick to facts only and ‘I language’ and avoid blaming. Many cried, successively many laughed together – some now are friends and some do projects together – and, yes, some have left or lost hope again. TFF keeps working there today.

It made me understand how neglected the whole issue of ‘soul reconstruction’ is – and how vain everything else will be without it. You can pour any amount of dollars into Kosovo – it will not create peace unless we also, in deep respect and cooperation with the locals on all side, do something that can not be measured in money terms. [Read more…]

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