Quotes from Shadows of War, by Carolyn Nordstrom

- ‘This book is dedicated to collecting stories of war, peace, and illicit economies across people’s lives, and across zones of war and peace in different countries and on different continents.’ (3)
- ‘Media and literary accounts had taught me to think of communal violence as consisting only of ‘rioters’ and ‘victims,’ and of riots as being explosive one-day events. These accounts did not convey the fact that there is no escaping the riots – for anyone. It never occurred to me before this time that riots involved looking for nonexistent food and medicines long since burned and looted; that people ‘of the rioters’ side’ risked their lives to protect people ‘on the other side’; that young children were caught in the violence, standing with eyes open too wide, wondering what to do and what was happening to their world – and that all these experiences were as much the meat of political violence as the rioters attacking the victims.’ (29-30)
- ‘During the time I was in the midst of this communal violence that took thousands of lives, few people were taking notes and most people were taking sides. Many ‘official’ political versions of the riots were based on vested interests. Most researchers who wrote on the violence did so by flying and conducting interviews after the aggression had abated and relative order was restored. It is a cliché to note that people involved in aggression clean up their stories of violence after the fact. Few admit they firebombed a neighbor’s house or stabbed an unarmed person. The victims themselves often hide the truth for fear of retaliation.’ (30)
- ‘Senseless violence is generally associated with rioting: Freud’s mob theory of the eternal child – humans reduced to their lowest common denominator, willing to do anything, however irrational, for a father-like figure – is widely accepted in general society. The problem with the story of my neighbor is that reasonable, economically comfortable, schooled people are not supposed to give in to these primal emotions: it is the poor and uneducated, the marginal, and the criminal who are blamed for irrational violence. It is the poor three-wheeler driver street tough who is supposed to fuel the flames of mob violence, not the nice schoolboy or the respected doctor.’ (31)
- ‘In the wars of the world today most casualties are civilian. This fact has become fairly obvious in recent years, though it has become no less palatable, and perhaps for this reason it is often overpowered by the myth that war equals solider equals male. Despite the fact that some 90 percent of all casualties today are civilians, that more children die in war than soldiers, and that the front lines run through average citizens’ homes and livelihoods, texts on war, museums, military novels, art, and statues all help reinforce the idea and the idea that war is about male soldiering.’ (33)
- ‘People who are harmed and killed in war often die unnecessarily gruesome deaths, often at the hands of those in uniforms. This plays hell with the notions of integrity and honor that underscore the key justifications of militaries worldwide.’ (33)
- ‘No matter who shoots whom, certain power elites make a profit.’ (33)
- ‘Just as there is a popular image of ‘war,’ so too is there an image of ‘the clandestine’; a young adult male dressed in dark colors and a leather jacket – someone apart from the normal workaday world, not someone who holds a regular nine-to-five job and wears a dress or a suit. One of the most pervasive of myths is that two things can’t exist in one place at the same time. This myth confounds understandings of war, and it helps to keep the shadows invisible.’ (35)
- ‘…the old German adage Things whose existence is not morally possible cannot exist.’ (38)
- ‘Wars today are longer in duration, deadlier, and kill higher percentages of civilians than wars of preceding centuries.’ (43)
- ‘While military power is instrumental in crafting national security ideology and action, a caveat attaches to this. The idea circulates in popular culture that interviewing political and military representatives in their offices (that is, away from the front lines) represents an accurate portrayal of the events taking place.’ (47)
- ‘Wars don’t occur in isolation from other tragedies of human existence. Indeed, they often provoke them. Under normal circumstances, the impact of a drought can be lethal to humans and livestock alike. But in war, resources are often channeled away from civilian support and into the war effort.’ (49)
- ‘Today, even though 90 percent of war’s casualties across the world are civilians and battles rage across people’s hometowns, the practice of studying soldiers and the immediate carnage of battles continues. And this shapes our understanding of violence. There remains a tendency to see a soldier shooting at another soldier as constituting war’s violence, while the shooting of a civilian, or the rape of a women as a soldier returns to the barracks, is seen as peripheral – an accident, an anomaly. The civilian casualty and the rape are understood as different orders of violence situated along a continuum that demarcates both severity and im/morality. It would seem as if a hierarchy of violence is invoked in war, with harm against soldiers and the actions of those in uniform seen as greater acts of war than harm against civilians.’ (58-59)
- ‘Rape stands as a powerful example of physical assaults that are intended to carry deeper, supraphysical, impacts. I have listened to hundreds of accounts of rape, and few focus primarily on the physical pain .it is the emotional trauma, the social shame, and the violation of humanity that is conveyed most strongly in these accounts. What makes rape so grievous an act isn’t just the assault against the body, but the attacks against family, dignity, self-worth, and future. I have seen women suffer tremendously, even die, in difficult childbirths. I have seen devastating vaginal infections women have carried for months, even years, on front lines devoid of medicines. The physical pain involved in these is often as severe as that suffered in rape, and the grief over the deceased and the infirm as great as any war casualty. But these don’t invoke the horror of rape and the intent that underlies such aggression.’ (63)
- ‘Do you think these soldiers would commit these atrocities if they had any sense of a tomorrow? No. The war works to kill this very notion of a tomorrow in soldiers. If they thought about the fact that one day the war would end, that they would have to face the families of the people they harmed – or worse, that they would have to face their consciences, account for their deeds, build lives in peacetime in the recognition of all they had done, would they do these things? No. But war, very precisely, kills their sense of the future. It is a kind of living death.’ Angolan woman (66)
- ‘I saw the ridiculousness of dirty-war strategies that assume terror-warfare will cow a population into acquiescence.’ (69)
- ‘The story of war is the story of power. Power, in its most basic terms, is the ability to exercise one’s will over others.’ (72)
- ‘The front lines are a veritable cornucopia of human endeavor. Many activities other than warring occupy a soldier’s time. Stand in any battlezone: you are likely to see soldiers selling military stores out of their tanks like convenience stores; as likely to see soldiers turn their guns on civilians to extract food, money, goods, labor, or compliance as to see them turn against other armed forces; as likely to see soldiers help rebuild damaged homes and schools and read to sick children.’ (77)
- ‘The soldier clearly gains the legitimization (power) to act and continue acting by his or her association within a recognized set of political and military institutions. Without this legitimization a person’s aggressive actions would be decried as individual banditry or crime. Yet if soldiers bring their own ideals, ignorances, and interests to the fore of their actions, and if these play out in the actual context of the war among others with their own personalities, traditions, and vested interests – they are essentially constructing the reality of power’s expression and the enactment of war.’ (78-79)
- ‘At the epicenters of conflict, emergency relief cargo planes play a host of roles. They are a lifeline of essential foods, services, and goods; they afford the opportunity to travel free from political affiliations, and, as will become clear, they may well straddle numerous extra/state divisions. Often, outside of military transport, they are the only travel resources available to the front lines of conflict, especially given the large-scale land mining of roadways.’ (87)
- ‘Transport flights operate on commodity and service circuits, and in the world of business, a weapon, a diamond, a Mercedes, and a bag of rice are all valuable commodities. Drawing distinct lines between business and war supplies become impossible. Distinguishing between ‘businesspeople,’ ‘military,’ and ‘political officials’ is equally difficult.’ (89)
- ‘Armaments must be purchased with hard currency. Many wars are fought in states whose currencies don’t trade on the world market, so luxury items and key commodities become the equivalent of hard currency. These goods may be tangential to the running of states, such as drugs, or they may be central to the world’s monies, such as gold.’ (93)
- ‘Legal or illegal, the oil and germs (or timber, or minerals) smuggled out of southern Africa to pay for military supplies boost the arms industries of the world’s industrial centers, the most successful of which correspond to the major UN power blocks.’ (94)
- ‘In war zones, currencies often collapse, and ‘street’ currency exchanges are the norm. Those who control the black-market money exchanges thus control key exchange rates. These change daily, the product of complex monetary calculations. ‘Street rates’ are extra-state calculations. They don’t run through the banks and the government institutions of the country, yet they are more powerful than formal institutions: they set the ‘true’ currency prices for an entire nation. These currency markets are very international. Businesspeople are calculating money indices based not only on internal conditions but on a host of global market factors that range from the accessibility of goods and their worth to international exchange rates for hard currencies.’ (95-96)
- ‘We assume that high-profile goods like drugs, weapons, and gems bring in the most money. But these often ride along with daily necessities, and the latter may well give the ‘sexy’ commodities a run for their money. In Angola today, a chicken and a bag of tomatoes are often more scarce, and more precious than automatic weapons.’ (98)
- ‘Drugs are good illustrations of the complex interplay of legal, illicit, and survival economies. The term ‘drugs’ tends to elicit images of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin linked with callous trade practices and immense profits. But along warzones, through collapsed economies, and on the streets of daily life, a whole different economy of drugs exists. Here, it is not the dreams of an addict that beckon, but the burdens of illness. Some of the most important ‘drug dealers’ today are flogging antibiotics, cancer drugs, AIDS treatments, birth control pills, dialysis machines, and surgical equipment. It is here that the links between licit and illicit economies, state and non-state practices, and local and multinational industries intersect in the most fundamental ways.’ (101)
- ‘The more formal nature of state-based systems is vulnerable to bureaucratic gridlock, while non-formal systems can more easily and flexibly meet demands.’ (103)
- ‘Shadows, as I define them, refer to the complex sets of cross-state economic and political linkages that move outside formally recognized state-based channels. I use the terms shadows (rather than ‘criminal’ or ‘illegal’) because the transactions defining these networks aren’t confined solely to criminal, illicit, or illegal activities, but cross various divides between legal, quasi-legal, and downright illegal activities.’ (106)
- ‘Extra-state phenomena are not marginal to the world’s economies and politics, but central to them. Scant in-depth work exists estimating the amount of money generated per year through extra-state activities, but initial inquiries place it in the trillions.’ (108)
- ‘As much as 20 percent of the world’s financial deposits are located in unregulated banks and offshore locations. The United Nations estimates the annual value of illicit drug traffic at $500 billion. The illicit arms industry is estimated to be of comparable size. Human trafficking, considered to be the third-largest illicit activity after arms and drugs, brings in hundreds of billions of unregulated dollars a year. Of comparable size is the empire of gain from the unregulated sex trade and pornography industries.’ (108)
- ‘South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings showed the world that taxes often cover little of a government’s expenses, especially in financially demanding wartimes. The apartheid South African government was involved in such extra-state activities as gem, gold, ivory, and arms smuggling – and even bank robbery.’ (109)
- ‘We are discussing a series of power grids that shape the fundamental econo-political dynamics of the world today. If all these industries were to collapse overnight, the world’s economies would be in chaos.’ (110)
- ‘These intersections of power, il/legality, (questionable) legitimacy, and non/formal are characteristic of shadow networks.’ (112)
- ‘In Luanda in 1998, senior UN and World Bank economists told me that Angola’s economy was about 90 percent informal. Given the fact that the country had been enmeshed in continuing cycles of political violence and war, and that its economy had collapsed, this may not seem a surprising figure.’ (113)
- ‘The example of Angola raises another point about extra-state transactions: they are fundamental, and possibly necessary, to development in devastated communities. This turns conventional wisdom on its head. Such wisdom views extra-state transactions as undesirable, generally because of the associations with illicit goods, criminal networks, and a failure to produce state revenues. As Clement Jackson, a senior United Nations Development Program (UNDP) economist, explained: ‘The whole point of development is to move economies into formal state-based frameworks and stop nonformal activities.’ But it would be virtually impossible for countries like Angola to piece together a society and economy from its war-torn legacy without relying heavily on non-state-based development.’ (113)
- ‘Statistics place Italy’s extra-state economy at up to 50 percent of its gross domestic product, and the United States extra-state economy as high as 30 percent.’ (114)
- ‘If protection rackets represent organized crime at its smoothest, then war making and state making – quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy – qualify as our largest examples of organized.’ Charles Tilly (114)
- ‘Tilly argues that war making, extraction, and capital accumulation interacted in shaping the development of the European state, and asserts that ‘banditry, piracy, gangland rivalry, policing, and war making all belong on the same continuum’ in this state-making process. Distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate force are of little importance in this process. States seek to monopolize the use of force over all others – and what, Tilly asks, distinguishes the violence employed by states from the violence produced by anyone else?’ (115)
- ‘A country’s political institutions – and the ideologies shaping them – must support the cause of political control by removing distinctions between in/formal policies and il/legal actions when it is politically and militarily expedient to do so. Hence extra-state and criminal activities become embedded in the everyday functioning of a country’s governing institutions. This isn’t to say everyone is implicated; they are not. Nor is it to say that the institutions are fundamentally criminal; they are not.’ (115)
- ‘Profiteers, smugglers, and black-market merchants are not isolated actors loosely linked into a web of profit. The very term smuggler conjures up notions of young adult males with dark demeanors, dark clothes, and a potential for dark violence. They are alone, or with others of their ilk. But in truth, the farmers who plant drug-related crops and the miners who harvest gems have families and children they must provide for, from paying mortgages to celebrating birthdays. Truckers who transport illicit goods need tires and tune-ups for their trucks and dental work for themselves and their families the same as if they were ferrying Post Toasties cereal.’ (125)
- ‘At the front lines, where the resources are extracted and the weapons fired, smuggling is what the powerful and the elite do; the rest is survival.’ (128)
- ‘Many people I have spoken to about this respond that the system works because if it does not, people are simply killed. That may or may not be true: the fact is, it is an assumption; people have not collected representative data. We simply don’t know how these vast billion- to trillion-dollar systems function on a day-to-day basis.’ (129)
- ‘Organized crime is more organized than the state.’ Justin Wylie (133)
- ‘The vast wealth that is made on the drug money must be laundered – non-formal cash is useless on global markets. These days, one popular way to launder such cash is by developing the tourist industry. This industry can bring in substantial business revenues, but in the case of Mozambique, it was entirely destroyed during the country’s war. In developing tourist resorts and infrastructure, illicit drug money is laundered in a way that provides jobs, services, and infrastructure for Mozambicans.’ (137)
- ‘When a war ends, it makes less difference than we might think. No alchemy exists whereby state and society ‘naturally’ revert to prewar realities with the declaration of peace.’ (144)
- ‘It is sheer naiveté to think these vast interrelated systems of  governance and industry – these entrenched bureaucracies – can be changed overnight with an election and a change of government. The bureaucracy that defines a country actually changes little with a change of government. The key officials may change, but the day-to-day running of the institutions – the people involved in the minutia of everyday political, security, legal, educational, and economic activities – remain largely unchanged, as do the habits and policies that guide them.’ (149)
- ‘South Africa is now suffering one of the highest crime rates in the world, partly as a result of the degree to which crime was institutionalized in the years of apartheid and political violence.’ (152)
- ‘For street children, a drain is its own natural security system, since a full-size man would not fit into it. Without taking the time to think, I squeezed down the drain after the child. In my mind’s eye, when I had heard about children living in the drains under the streets, I had visualized decaying, dirt-encrusted tunnels with children huddled in dismal conditions amid stagnant water and rats. Everyone I knew held the same idea. But when I entered the drain, I felt the world stop, existentially, for a moment – and my view of the human condition, in its most profound sense, expanded. In this drain the children had created a home and a community. It was spotlessly clean. I remember being surprised that there was no smell. The children had lined the walls with pictures from magazines, no small feat for children with no money for food and clothing, much less glue.’ (176)
- ‘If war starts long before the firing of the first bullet, peace is set into motion long before peace accords are engineered. In fact, peace starts at the epicenters of violence. This isn’t a metaphorical comment, or a philosophical statement on the human condition. It’s an observation born of fieldwork, an observation about the politics of power and change, and about how social transformations are effected.’ (177)
- ‘Observation of the human condition unrestrained by formal governing institutions is possible. In the massive destruction resulting from the lethal combination of modern technology and prolonged wars, the formal institutions of authority can essentially be bombed into rubble. Many wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been defined by sheer devastation, in which civilization is stripped of governing institutions, basic social services, croplands, trade and goods, and normalcy as people know it. And how to average civilians act in these conditions? From my vantage point, those with weapons wreak the destruction of societies, and those without basically rebuild them – a reverse of the enlightened elite versus teeming masses scenario.’ (178)
- ‘What do people do when they have lost everything that defines home, hearth, and community? Few turn to armed vengeance, I have found. In my experience, most try to find safe farmlands, open trade paths with other needy communities, set up health care centers treating both physical and psychic wounds, and open schools for children.’ (179)
- ‘There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist
who would paint the best picture of peace. Many
artists tried. The King looked at all the
pictures, but there were only two he really
liked and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect
mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all
around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy
white clouds. All who saw this picture thought
it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains too. But these were
rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from
which fain fell, and in which lightning played.
Down the side of the mountain tumbled a
foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful
at all. But when the King looked, he saw
behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a
crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had
built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry
water, sat the mother bird on her nest.

The King chose the second picture as the
winner. ‘Because,’ explained the King,
‘peace does not mean to be in a place where
there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace
means to be in the midst of all those things and still be
calm in your heart.
That is the real meaning of peace.’ ’ (180-181)
- ‘The purveyors of wars suddenly pull out daggers and slit throats, and then for the grand finale – peace – they attempt to show that no one really died, that no harm was really done, that no war-orphan street children exist.’ (182)
- ‘The Nigerian soldiers’ morale was low, they said. ‘Why fight for $150 a month?” But they continue to fight. Why? Duty, devotion, fear, obligation, and a lack of options are partial explanations for military duty.’ (188)
- ‘War perpetuates closed societies. In emergency situations, militaries and governments control air and transport routes, import and export sites. They oversee, and often control financially, the products that enter and are consumed in the areas under their jurisdiction. The militaries’ view is, ‘We have to close airports for security reasons, and only our planes can get in and out [of course, with the caveat that our planes carry the essentials of trade]….We don’t need to build hospitals because we have war – and wouldn’t you rather have us military around than the murderous enemy?’ These aren’t wars over resource, per se. Instead, war facilitates the looting of resources. And it isn’t just about controlling the diamond trade, for example, it’s about controlling the whole closed economy that supports and sustains the economy: soap, petrol, food, and so on.’ Christian Dietrich (192)
- ‘Classical economics states that business, speaking generally, flourishes in ordered, organized, and stable environments, and thus will naturally gravitate toward regions of stability. While this is true of many, and perhaps even most, businesses, there are numerous industries that find the frontier mentality and impaired legal systems of warzones their best medium for profit.’ (193)
- ‘The war caused massive floods of refugees fleeing the fighting, which of course took place in resource-rich areas. The political and military bigwigs then laid claim to the land. When the war ended and the refugees returned, they returned to find their homes and lands and businesses taken over by the powerful in the country. And gee, the government records office was burned during the war’s fighting. ‘You say, ‘Mr. Refugee, was this your land? Do you have any records that prove this? No?’ ’ But that’s not the end of it. For this whole thing to work, they need us foreigners to come in and develop the industries. So we partner with the business leaders to get access to these resources. We come in and set up the business and we hire these poor refugees whose land it was to begin with for fifty cents a day.’ Anonymous (193)
- ‘When formal governmental frameworks are in flux or decimated by political transition, these non-formal networks may be the only supply networks functioning. When the former Soviet Union broke into sovereign states, its economy broke into new patterns, too. As one formal economic reign ends, and before another formal one emerges to replace it, there is a void of formal structures….They should be expected by the negotiators of peace settlements and political transitions, rather than taking them by surprise.’ (210-211)
- ‘There is a profound irony in the observations I have made concerning shadow realities. The realm of the unregulated is a realm of possibility and danger, where great fortunes and great cruelty are possible. But it is also where the average person turns for survival in an unsure world.’ (211)
- ‘The street vendors gave directions on taking the drugs, much like pharmacists. In a matter of minutes (my transactions in the pharmacy had taken considerably longer), I left with everything I needed. The cost was ten times less than what I had paid in the pharmacy. The drug that cost me $50 in the formal market was available on the streets for $2. The children had said it was stupid of me to buy at the pharmacy; for most of the country’s citizens, it is simply impossible. As the children continued to get sick and need various medicines, from antibiotics to anti-malarials, and as I casually struck up conversations with ‘street pharmacists,’ the breadth and scope of the trade began to emerge. Four major distribution systems link a poor street child with a wound to a multi-billion-dollar global market in ‘drugs’…these perhaps as profitable as the trade in cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, but produced – if not distributed – legally.’ (213)
- ‘In many resource-rich and war-torn countries, the non-formal may provide more in-state resources than the formal economy.’ (218)
- ‘The whole educational system teaches young scholars that ‘research’ is going to the library. And slowly we come to accept that we don’t form our own opinions, but learn from others; we don’t start at the ground level, but with secondhand data and theory that others have published. It is what we in Germany call ‘pale theory’ – that what you think in your head as an intellectual is what counts, not what takes place in the world.’ Dirk Hansohm (231)
- ‘Ten thousand soldiers can’t control a million people unless those people accept the right of the militaries to control the means of violence and the rights to power. Thus, a great deal is invested in maintaining the illusion that governments and their militaries not only have the right to power, but indeed have power. If their millions of citizens simply refuse to recognize their right, and turn to other means of governance, a particular government simply ceases to have authority. It ceases to be. Regimes likewise fade, the way kingly rule was eclipsed by the modern state.’ (234)
- ‘In any scientific investigation, it would be unthinkable to render analyses and policies on the basis of a data set that was missing a significant portion of its data. But that is precisely what is taking place when classical economics disregards non-legal and non-transparent economic activity and the political power it encompasses.’ (237)
- ‘Outside of MSF, in 2001 [in Angola], there was only one resident doctor in the entire province, and she was away attending an extended training course. The MSF doctor performed about twenty major surgeries a day.’ (241)
- ‘When I say down to write each chapter for this book, I traveled back in my mind’s eye to revisit the people and places I wrote about. It is the only way I know how to write about war: being there. In some ways this kind of writing takes its toll: I cannot abstract the suffering of war nor delete the people from the front lines; but in this I hope people reading my work can, in some sense, visit places and meet people they otherwise might now. It is in this meeting that war comes to take definition. But Iraq is different. I have been asked to give interviews by the media, to speak at public venues, and to write on the Iraqi war. I find myself resisting, and I realize it is because I cannot enter the war in my mind’s eye to speak of it. I am not there; I am in a comfortable office experiential light years away.’ (245)
- ‘Looking at the history of extra-state groups defeating the colonial world, people have learned that the extra-state is the most powerful way of challenging the state and of combating a superpower.’ (249)

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