Where the Political and the Psychological Meet : Moral Disruption and Children’s Understanding of War

Sandra Rafman

McGill University Health Center-Montreal Children’s Hospital, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada

Key Words : armed conflict • children • moral development • mourning • narrative • parental death • political violence • post-traumatic stress disorder • trauma

I argue for the inclusion of a moral dimension in the study of children’s responses to loss and trauma in contexts of armed conflict and political violence. In my clinical and research studies, the disruption of a rule-governed moral universe is revealed in the symbolic and verbal representations of both community-based and clinically referred children whose parents have disappeared or been killed in contexts of political violence. Dilemmas related to good and evil, trust and betrayal, protection and aggression, are prevalent in war-affected children’s representations of their traumatic experiences. Not only should more attention be paid to children’s construction of moral narrative in the aftermath of political violence, but also this should be done in conjunction with an examination of the moral narratives embedded in national and cultural ideologies. Following political violence, the child’s search for meaning occurs at the same time that his or her relevant culture(s) or nation(s) are struggling to construct a collective narrative, often in the context of conflicting historical accounts, memories and narratives. Interventions and research addressing the recovery of war-affected children should recognize the interconnectedness of political, social, psychological and moral dimensions of armed conflict and political violence.

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