The Living Literature of WarRoundup
tags: military history, war on terror, war, Libya
Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University's Center for the United States and the Cold War. A paperback edition of his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books) was published earlier this year. His website is NickTurse.com.
In my line of work, I meet more amputees, war victims who are missing body parts, and terribly scarred individuals than the average American. There was the woman with bright white hair who survived a massacre by South Korean troops. Her left foot was nothing but a stump. No toes. Hardly a sole. Mostly just a heel. Her right foot was missing entirely. In its place, she had the functional equivalent of a tin can with a rubber disk at the bottom.
Then there was the six-year-old Congolese girl whose arm had been hacked off by a machete-wielding militiaman. And her aunt who lost both hands to the same attackers. And her great-aunt who lost several fingers.
In the same part of Congo, I met toddlers whose faces had been split by machetes. I met an elderly woman with a shattered arm who had been shot in the face with an arrow. And there was that man missing a chunk of his calf, which, he said, enraged militiamen had tried to force him to eat.
There was the South Sudanese man who had lost a leg after being shot by soldiers. And another who had lost an eye.
All of these people were civilians in the wrong place -- home -- at the wrong time. Abdul Hamid Frefer was not. At least, not entirely. A civilian at the dawn of 2011, by July he was a soldier of the revolution. Given the tremendous price paid by Libya’s rebels, he’s lucky to be alive.
Today, Libya is again -- or rather, still -- a country at war. For months now, Tripoli has been menaced by the self-styled Libyan National Army of warlord General Khalifa Haftar, a U.S. citizen, former CIA asset, and longtime resident of Virginia (who was lauded by President Donald Trump in an April phone call). Just as in Frefer’s war, the city of Misrata is still hemorrhaging young men. Its militias make up the bulk of the armed forces protecting the capital and the Government of National Accord, the U.N.-backed, internationally recognized government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj. (Two years ago, Mistrata’s militiamen also engaged in house-to-house fighting with Islamic State militants in the city of Sirte, as American drones and manned aircraft hunted those ISIS fighters from the skies.)
Frefer and I first ran into each other at his place of business, Misrata’s municipal offices. A member of the city council, he’s very much a man of his town. And both he and it bear the grim scars of that revolution. While the city itself hasn’t seen war since 2011, so much of it still bears battle scars. High-rise apartments pockmarked by thousands of machine-gun bullets sit empty. Other buildings still bear gaping holes from mortars and rockets. A warehouse remains largely roofless thanks to a NATO airstrike, in support of the revolutionaries, on a Gaddafi regime tank that had been parked inside. Almost a decade later, such urban landscapes like Abdul Hamid Frefer’s body, serve as an ongoing testament to war’s long legacy of destruction.
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