Exile and the prophetic: Phantom pain and the cycle of atrocity

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

“Phantom pain” is a phenomenon that some amputee victims of the Boston Marathon bombing are experiencing.  Medically – psychologically – phantom-pain feels as if it is coming from a body part that is no longer there. 

Is such pain real?  The patients feel it.  Doctors can’t explain it.

I wonder if those who are not direct victims of terror feel that phantom pain, too. When violence strikes others, we feel loss.  Our sense of security is diminished.  All isn’t right with our world.

We shouldn’t cross the line of feigned indignity, as if those of us who aren’t physically scarred have the same experience of those who are.  That would be entering the Presidential Comforter-in-Chief realm. 

“We will be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere,” President Obama said yesterday as he comforted those who lost loved ones in the plant explosion in West, Texas.  President Obama said the same in Boston last week and in Aurora last July:  “We’re going to walk with the people whose lives have been upended, those who have lost loved ones. We’re going to walk with them every step of the way on the hard road ahead because that’s what we do as Americans.”

When the phantom pain phenomenon is transferred so routinely to the broader public the true victims become shrouded in remembrance-speak.  Remembrance-speak can become self-involved and self-congratulatory.  We lose our ability to relate to the real victims anymore.

This applies to historical events like the Holocaust and September 11th and those who claim to speak in the memory of the dead.  As years go by, evoking these tragedies become closer and closer to remembrance-speak.   It becomes a rote rendering that fewer and fewer people relate to. As the distance from the reality of suffering increases, those who invoke the Holocaust and September 11th beat the drums for war. Iraq, now Iran and North Korea, is there any end?

When the line between the reality and the purposeful imagining of pain is crossed, claiming phantom pain becomes the functional equivalent of war. 

Our memorializing culture demands a permanent war footing. This, as the drones of today and tomorrow further distance the powerful from the direct physical experience of pain they cause. 

As we memorialize, everything is at a distance.  Mourning becomes stylized.  Until it comes home.

Then, the fix-it mentality is there to overcome the phantom pain.  As if the phantom pain which comes from loss isn’t really loss at all.  In a few days or months or years, the victim, at least the ones that survives, will be better than ever.  That is how remembrance-speak, even about the real victims, handles it.

Who better to counsel the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing than military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan?

One video reported in the New York Times shows a meeting between Celeste Corcoran, who lost both her legs below her knees in the Boston Marathon bombing, and Sgt. Gabe Martinez, a Marine who lost his lower legs in combat.  To Corcoran’s statement that she “can’t do anything right now,” Martinez responds:  “Right now, yes.  But I’m telling you with all my heart, you are going to be more independent than you ever were.”

This video is found on a fund-raising page for Corcoran which prompts further questions.  Since we are promising to be with the victims of each tragedy – “That’s what we do as Americans” – why force the indignity of fund-raising on the wounded and their families?

Victims of violence are comforted by military veterans from wars of choice.  It’s a tragic irony that the need we have for medical advances has been created by our own warrior culture.  Now it is offered as healing to another round of victims.

Is this an act of generosity or a willful refusal to analyze the cycle of atrocity we enable?

Unasked is who comforts the victims of our reign of violence.  Few surviving victims of war in Iraq and Afghanistan can avail themselves of the advances in prosthetics we have developed.

Our ability to fix everything is an illusion.  To say to those who have lost limbs that “you are going to be more independent than you ever were” is an illusion. 

Illusions such as these can become a way of life.  They have become our remembrance-speak way of life.

Is this so we can sleep-walk through the carnage?

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

FYI as an aside for those who don’t know. ”Is such pain real? The patients feel it. Doctors can’t explain it.” Yea they can now. ..the pain is from the ‘severed nerves’….that continue to send distress signals about their missing extensions and disconnect injury to the brain….like a severed electrical cord that shoots out sparks ..those sparks toward what no longer exist are associated by the brain with the injured nerve looking for it’s missing… Read more »

People do ‘adapt’ …….but the thing is for the Boston victim and the vet is both were so unnecessary, wasteful….. yep the actual bombers are responsible but so are the forces and politicans and agendas that brought on the bombers…and they are never punished.

RE: “When the line between the reality and the purposeful imagining of pain is crossed, claiming phantom pain becomes the functional equivalent of war.” ~ Mar Ellis MY COMMENT: War without end, amen amen! The President looked in the camera today and these were the words that he said “we have sources of intelligence” but it’s clear that they’re not in his head He said that he’s praying for guidance to help him to do… Read more »

Americans are raised on a culture of violence, revenge, hubris/ethnocentricity, and material pursuit. Everything Americans do is defined by this limited experience. Their compassion is limited by the current enemy flavor and their unwillingness to be confronted with the brutal consequences of their reckless and ignorant behavior in addition to their short attention span. Reality is softened through the sanitized lens and distorted by ethnocentric perception. The only way to break free of the cycle… Read more »

Americans think they live in a vacuum. They believe that their actions are exclusively exempt of consequences. They consider consequences as solely driven by the hate of others, while they refuse to see that they are the ones generating those consequences with actions that are just as hateful and irrational. Only Americans think they can slaughter others with impunity. They answer to no one for the hundreds of thousands they kill every five to 10… Read more »