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Trauma Inflicted Upon Journalists in Country of my Skull

“We sleep between one and two hours a night. We live on chocolate and potato chips. After five years without cigarettes, I start smoking again” (Krog, 51).

This quote written by Krog is seen in chapter three of Country of my Skull as she explains the emotional conflict that journalists like her are forced to deal with throughout their careers reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The film, Long Night’s Journey Into Day did not address the emotional burden brought upon the reporters. This was something I had thought about; how it must be extremely difficult to put one’s emotions aside while having to film and interview innocent people who are experiencing a very painful level of grief. I was so glad that Krog touched upon this in Country of my Skull because it was something that really interested me. I am a particularly sensitive and empathetic person, so I do not see myself as fit for the role that Krog is able to fulfil, although she does struggle.

There is a sense of strength that such journalists are required to possess in order to perform their jobs efficiently. Krog was affected by the stories in such an extreme way that she was drawn to return to a past addiction portrays the severe emotional trauma that comes with being a journalist. Krog shows that the amount of emotional strength it takes to quit an addiction like smoking cigarettes can be easily lost when an emotional trauma of equal or greater force interferes.

Krog continues to write, “we develop techniques to lessen the impact. We no longer go into the halls where the hearings take place, because of the accumulated grief. We watch on the monitors provided. The moment someone starts crying, we start writing/scribbling/doodling” (Krog, 51). She shows readers that they are forced to come up with ways to deal with the trauma inflicted upon them. I thought it was very interesting that she also wrote that the journalists are, in a way, each other’s therapists; as they are going through the same thing, they are there for each other to ease the intense emotional burden.

The emotional burden of being a journalist and having to report on such sensitive cases is something I have not thought about prior to watching Long Night’s Journey Into Day and reading Country of my Skull. Learning about this actually gave me a much better appreciation for the work that these journalists do. Their careers are not just reciting information about cases; they are often faced with hardships and are forced to find their own ways of putting their emotions aside to lessen their own agony.

It’s not just black and white: Forgiveness in Long Night’s Journey into Day

Long Night’s journey into day is a story of truth, social justice, reconciliation, and undoubtedly forgiveness. For me, watching this documentary and seeing the awful things done and the pain the families faced was heartbreaking. I was angry watching the men put on trial for the things they did, as well as seeing the mothers wail and cry over their dead sons. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have the person that killed one of your family members sitting right in front of you asking to be set free. Although this film made me angry and heartbroken, it also gave me the ability to rethink the wrongs of others and my thoughts on vengeance. The families in this film were able to face the truth, the people who hurt them, and heal from it.

In the books we’ve been reading (Eichmann In Jerusalem, Death and the Maiden, etc.), we were faced with the ideas of revenge and retributive justice, but none of them mentioned forgiveness or restoration. Where retributive justice can be effective, I think letting the past be the past and restoring justice can build a stronger community. We want those who hurt us to pay but this documentary shows that forgiveness is the first step for healing and moving on. At the end of the documentary, one of the mothers who was talking to her son’s killer said, “forgive those who have sinned against you,” something this film has highlighted and something everyone can take notes on. 

The Tragedy of the TRC

Within the movie, Long Night’s Journey Into Day, we are taken through personal stories and actions during the Apartheid’s rule in South Africa which lasted from 1948-1994. This film is startling yet beautiful in the way it recounts the experience of real people with real emotions. This movie is raw and explicit, but then again, so was the Apartheid. This film follows the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the court-like body assembled in order to distribute justice after the end of the Apartheid.

As many people were put on “trial” for crimes they committed against the South African people, it was explained that it almost had seemed like the TRC was similar to the reenactment of an ancient tragic play. This was especially interesting as this association is unique when you look at the other traits of the film. “The audience actually plays the role of a chorus in [this] ancient tragic play (Long Night’s). The purpose of the chorus within ancient plays is to connect the audience deeper to the characters and play itself. As they reenact and retell the horrid stories of what happened to many innocent people, when the audience “squirms” naturally, so does the audience. Although the chorus of the TRC is a sensible and composed group of people, they are still people fighting for their freedom and justice.

In this presentation of justice you notice the audience, or the chorus, as one cohesive unit, fighting for what is right. One protester during this time is recorded saying that “when you kill [him] you create more enemies […] my family is becoming your enemy and my friends become your enemy” (Long Night’s). This reference of one united force, fighting for justice, this “tragedy”, to me, becomes a lot more of a battle cry for the citizens of South Africa.

When I first watched this movie and they brought up the connection of the play, I actually restarted the film in order to do my best to understand how they would display the trial and chorus. Although just a glance into the issues of the Apartheid, we get a close comparison of how the innocent people of this area were affected by such an actual real tragedy.

The ethical grey area of Robert McBride

The film, Long Night’s Journey into Day, and the first part of Antjie Krog’s novel Country of My Skull, have moved me profoundly. Both have made me cry, and both have forced me to think about things in ways I never have before. Trying to decipher out right from wrong in the world of post-apartheid South Africa is messy, but I generally have been able to keep my own moral compass straight. There have been lots of different kinds of villains presented, and numerous types of victims. I have wondered what evil truly is, and pondered the question of how guilt disperses between organizations and people. Right from wrong, though, I have not had to question–until Robert McBride.

McBride is the one figure in the movie that I still cannot come to terms with. It is hard to consider him good, but hard to consider him bad. He seems genuinely remorseful for killing, but he is blatantly unrepentant for his acts of violence. From his point of view, he was a soldier fighting a war, and civilians were caught in the crossfire. Thus, he can be sorry for such sad outcomes, and wish the deaths had never happened, but he cannot be held responsible for them. In his view, the deaths had to happen, because they sent a message to his opposing army. He even compared his having to take the stand and confess for the Truth Commission to an Ally soldier being judged on the same terms as a Nazi soldier. At first, I was taken aback by the gall of that, and I thought the two were completely uncomparable–then I started thinking, how far apart are they really? The Holocaust and apartheid were two completely different systems of oppression, obviously, but can one way of holding down an entire people be better or worse than another? And if we look at apartheid as a cruel and violent system which solely did harm for purposes of oppressing people based on racial lines-which we should-can we blame a young person for joining a fight to end it, no matter what lives were unintentionally lost in the crossfire? War is not pretty. I also think it is important to note his point that he has still never received an apology for what apartheid did to him. I think it is interesting that most of the people we saw apologize in the film were black, and I think it says something about the intended audience.

Contrast Between Personal and Humanitarian Justice

William Tradd Stover

Long Night’s Journey Into Day explores South Africa’s implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and tells four separate stories that piece together to form a rather emotional, complex narrative. Of the four stories, I was struck most by the first one about the Biehl family.

This story sort of introduces to the viewer what the TRC is and what it is meant to accomplish. The film as a whole forces its audience to think about life from all different perspectives, as there are many diverse backgrounds and experiences in South Africa. In this case, Amy Biehl is killed because of pure anger that the activists had for white people. At the time, they did not much care who this white person was, they only knew that they despised the horrors and prejudices of the Apartheid and needed to make themselves known. Little did they know, Amy was fighting for the same change that they were.

Amy’s parents’ response to the killing of their daughter is shocking and beautiful in a way. I would like to think that most people would be enraged if their child was murdered, especially while trying to do something good for others. Her parents, instead, chose to understand where that anger came from and react in the way that their daughter might have preferred. This plays into the complexity of how crimes are perceived in South Africa under Apartheid rule. Obviously, this murder was a crime onto the Biehl family, but the perpetrators’ entire lives had been filled with crimes committed against them by the system. Does that fact justify an act like this? I do not think there is really an answer to that question, and the movie shows this. The Biehls wanted amnesty for the people who took their daughter’s life. They chose to look at the bigger picture and to carry on Amy’s wish for change in South Africa. It could be understood, however, how the victim’s family in another case could want to deny the men’s amnesty.

I was surprised by this first ‘chapter’ of the film because of the nature and victim of the crime. I expected to see only the crimes that those affiliated with the Apartheid committed against those who they deemed lesser. We got those stories as well, but this one was the most effective for me. It alludes to the idea that many, not only those in South Africa, were ready to rid of the apartheid’s oppression. Overall, I see this film as wildly complex because of the nature of each individual circumstance. Can we blame an officer for doing his duty? Can we blame Amy Biehl’s killers for being red-eyed and violent? It is always difficult to ponder questions that have no direct answer.

Maternal Grief and the Role it Plays in Long Night’s Journey Into Day

In this film, the grief of mothers seems to take on a large portion of what the audience sees. This grief that the mothers express is different and varies from mother to mother. In a sense, it is a universal grief that all of the mothers who lost their children experience as whole, but these ways of grieving are different for each and every mother. These women are seen grappling and coming to terms with knowing the perpetrators of the killing of their sons. One woman in the crowd at the trial is struck by the footage of seeing her own son’s death and goes into complete hysterics. She cannot believe she is watching the life of her own child be taken away right before her eyes. She feels this sorrow and loss intensely and shows that intensity with her frantic and emotional state. Not opposed to this, but in a different setting, other mothers of the men who were shot sit down with the cop who took part in killing their sons and ask him questions. They are sad and angry, but they are also willing to forgive. This willingness to forgive the man who played a role in the death of their sons shows the importance of allowing another man the same age as their sons live out his life. He sacrificed telling the truth and telling the real story to these women and for that reason it seems they do not hate him. Hate is not in these mother’s hearts. Their hearts are full of sorrow, confusion, loss, and this element of forgiveness. These women are not vengeful toward a man they would have a right to be vengeful against. This forgiveness they have for him shows the power of motherhood and how they can allow themselves to come to terms and not hold on to a feeling of hatred and anger. This forgiveness shows courageousness from these mothers who are grieving.

The Graves of a Household

One group of victims shown in the Long Night’s Journey into Day film are a group of mothers who all have shared in the pain of losing their child to violence of South Africa’s police. Not only was the story of these mothers heart wrenching in its own right but in the larger context of the sheer number of similar stories all taking place around the same time is unfathomable and deeply distressing. The day-in-day-out, for lack of a better term, hell of life takes it toll. There is one thing that these mothers have though; the truth. Above all else they were able to get the truth and know that their boys were not really the “terrorists” the media portrayed them as. This reminded me of the importance of the truth – no matter how bitter, hard to swallow, or fresh the wound is the the truth set these mothers on a path to freedom. Immediately following their reaction to the videotape of their children one mother was seen being much chipper and happier. When asked if she was feeling okay she replied “[o]h, yes, very much better, because now I know so much more.” In this instance knowing more does help even if it is of this traumatic magnitude.

Hearing the stories of these mothers reminded me of a Romanticism poet by the name of Felicia Hemans. Hemans’ poem “The Graves of a Household” speaks volumes to the inverse scenario that these mothers could have faced had they never known the truth. A life of misery and want and wait for the children they raised to come home — never to know where or if they are alive. These five stanzas stand to highlight what I am writing about:

The same fond mother bent at night
O’er each fair sleeping brow;
She had each folded flower in sight,–
Where are those dreamers now?

One, midst the forests of the west,
By a dark stream is laid,–
The Indian knows his place of rest,
Far in the cedar shade.

The sea, the blue lone sea, hath one,
He lies where pearls lie deep;
He was the lov’d of all, yet none
O’er his low bed may weep.

One sleeps where southern vines are drest
Above the noble slain:
He wrapt his colours round his breast,
On a blood-red field of Spain.

And one–o’er her the myrtle showers
Its leaves, by soft winds fann’d;
She faded midst Italian flowers,–
The last of that bright band.

The truth these mother found was sharp, jagged, and painful. But it was a truth that most others do not ever have the opportunity to find. The TRC helped bring this truth to light, to set the record straight on who these mothers children were, and to bring the mothers some closure. It is not a good outcome, there cannot be a good outcome to something as violent and brutal as Apartheid. But it was a better outcome for these mothers than the mother in Hemans’ poem — a life of wanting, waiting, and wondering that never frees the mind.

Racism in “Long Night’s Journey Into Day”

Throughout the graphic historical documentary “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” there are many unimaginable moments where audiences find themselves feeling helpless. One scene in the beginning of the documentary where this is particularly prevalent is when the murder of Amy Biehl, a foreigner to South Africa, was being discussed. While she was innocently murdered, some of the South Africans felt as though white people were finally witnessing a fraction of what was happening to South Africans in their own country. One woman in particular said, “To be honest, I didn’t care much, because she’s a white lady. She’s white, she’s white. How many blacks have been died?” (0:05:53-0:05:59). This line portrays that with all of the racism, death, and hardships that some of the Africans have been through and dealt with, why should they care if one white woman died? This woman is stating that white people did not care when a plethora of Africans were murdered. However, when one white woman dies, there should be outrage. This is an example of racism, nationalism, and an extreme double standard. This woman is illuminating that in the eyes of the white community, white lives are shown to be more valuable than those of black lives, that because Amy Biehl was visiting from the Unites States, her death was of more importance than those that were native to South Africa, and that white and black people are not held to the same standards. When watching the documentary, the pain in the woman’s eyes was obvious and heartbreaking and the way she spoke showed that her patience had completely run out. Why should a white person be able to turn their backs on the deaths of many Africans; however, when one white person dies the black community is expected to mourn her death?

Emotional Vacancy

I went into this film not knowing what to expect and not really wanting to watch it. However, that quickly changed after the first 15 minutes of watching. All four of the stories caught my interest, but the last story really piqued my interest. There is one situation that I was able to pick out from the last story. This is how Mbelo was able to deal with killing the young men in the “Guguletu 7” and not feel anything afterwards.

Constable Mbelo was one of the 25+ officers, and one of the 3 black officers that were involved in this murder. This was interesting in two ways, one being the fact that there were 3 black men involved, and two being the fact that he was the only of the 3 to come forward and ask for amnesty. My first thought was, “Why would you kill your own people?” This was the same question one of the mothers asked him. From the mothers’ point of view, he had no answer. But, from his jobs point of view, he was able to give an answer that was very unempathetic for the mothers to hear.

Mbelo mentions that he and Bellingan were not there on the same mission, and this was very true. He has to be able to face his brothers and sisters after killing their children. He says that he was following orders and what he did was not a personal matter. But how can you set up, and aid in the killing of 7 young men who are also black? Yes, I understand that he had an order, and was obligated to fulfill it, but how were you able to do this deed, or kill people period, with no type of emotion? I was not shocked that he was granted amnesty, but I still can help but wonder if deep down, he still has no emotion for what he did.

Is Justice Black and White?

There were many parts of the film Long Night’s Journey Into Day that were extremely shocking and horrifyingly true. These accounts of violence during the fight against apartheid presents the question of whether or not the crimes committed during this violent period, on both sides, are capable of being forgiven. Something that I noticed during this film is that during this time of violence, both parties had the same basic mindset: it’s us or them, kill or be killed, black or white. What the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) did well, in my opinion, was provide an understanding environment for those accused of crimes, especially those fighting apartheid. Whether or not justice was served by the commission is questionable, as seen through the hearings of those seeking amnesty and the interviews of the families who lost someone dear to them. The film left a strange, unsettling feeling as the answer is not clear. Justice is not clear cut, not black and white, rather it is a spectrum that depends on the parties involved and the crimes committed. As a side note, one thing I thought was particularly interesting was the statistic that out of the many people who applied for amnesty, 80% of those were black, which was such a jarring statistic to me since the white people in South Africa were the ones in power and they were the ones facilitating the large scale oppression of the majority population.