Handbook on Building Cultures of Peace

Part of the series Peace Psychology Book Series pp 349-361

Community Reconciliation and Post-Conflict Reconstruction for Peace

  • Michael Wessells

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Contemporary armed conflicts are no longer fought on well-defined battlefields, but in and around communities (Machel 2001; Wessells 1998), which are targeted directly or subjected to terror tactics such as suicide bombings. As a result, communities suffer enormous physical damage, including losses of homes, schools, livelihoods, health facilities, and other infrastructure.

Although this damage transforms the physical landscape, war prompts an even greater transformation of social relations, creating a full-blown culture of war. At the societal level, war strengthens institutions such as armies and ministries of defense, heightens military spending, and creates an environment in which war propaganda and enemy images flourish. At the community level, war and violence become normalized and woven into the fabric of daily life. Not uncommonly, communities organize militias in hopes of protecting villagers against attacks, and markets and places of worship may become sites for recruitment. In addition, the mass displacement and hardships of war shatter communities, reducing people to a state of desperate competition over necessities such as food, water, and shelter. As social cohesion plummets and norms of law and order and other social controls weaken, the doors open ever wider to spreading violence and lawlessness.