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Multi-Sited Ethnography Project:

Finding War and Hoping Peace

By Caroline Park


            The history of the human race is marked by unending conflict for territory, resources and also for the dominance of political ideals and ideology.  Political institutions and governments often plunge their state into warfare with little thought of the consequences for the common people, and even at times declare war against their very citizens in order to control them through terror and fear.          

            Throughout my travels with Semester at Sea, I have encountered many countries whose people still live with the memories and remnants of terrible wars, and countries that still struggle to make sense of a senseless destruction that swept their land and people into extended periods of darkness, hate, and death.  While visiting specific sites in these countries that showcases the memories of the conflicts and while speaking to the people that experienced the turmoil of war, instability and intolerance both firsthand and secondhand, it dawned on me how much of the story of humans involves conflict rather than peace, hate and intolerance rather than acceptance, and fear rather than comfort and security. 

            As I met these people and experienced their countries, the same question kept arising in my mind: will the human race ever learn to live in peace and with respect for each others’ differences?  Even as I am writing this at this moment, somewhere in the world, a gun is being shot at another, a bomb is being detonated to damage someone’s property or even to kill, and people are living in fear for their loved ones and their own livelihood.  I do not attempt to answer the question in this paper (could it ever really be answered?) but will try to examine the past and legacy of war and oppression in some of the countries that I have been able to visit this semester.  By examining each site I hope to make a little more sense out of what I have seen and experienced and dare to hope that a peaceful and tolerant world is a possibility.


Vietnam: Lessons of the Cu Chi Tunnels

Burma: The Brave and the Faithful

Croatia: Croatian Time Bomb



            Initially, I had no interest in war sites or even in war stories as our travels began.  I wanted to see and experience the best of what each country had to offer, not the depressing wreckages and memories of past wars or scars of hate and oppression that they held.  However, as our travels advanced, I began to see a specific strain of commonality in most of the countries on our itinerary.  As George Marcus asserts in “Multi-Sited Ethnography” in which he seeks to explain this new method of research in the discipline of anthropology, “multi-sited ethnography is constructed in terms of the specific constructions and discourses appearing within a number of […] arenas […]” (Marcus 103).  As we learned and visited each country, I discovered a discourse appearing in every country’s history.  Without exception, each of them were marred by some role of war and conflict.  In some countries it was more visible and recent whereas in others, the memories were well hidden behind the glamour of economic development and globalization.  But I realized how pervasive and real war and conflict is the history of mankind. 

            In Vietnam, the vestiges of war were displayed as tourist attractions.  It was astonishing to witness this “genre of travel that sells memory, history, tragedy, and entertainment bundled into compelling package tours to visit former battlegrounds” (Christina Schwenkel, "Recombinant History" 4).  The Cu Chi Tunnels (which I wrote about), the War Remnant Museum, and even the night club “Apocalypse Now,” which many of the SAS students went to, were all targeted towards those who were driven by the desire to see, and understand destruction and violence as well as to reconcile with a painful past.  Although many of these war sites served as a commercial attraction to lure tourist dollars, they also served another purpose.  They were reminders of what people can do to other people and what nations can do to other nations for reasons that are hard to justify.  It is my hope that through these sites, those who have experienced the deadliness of war firsthand (such as the veterans) as well as those who have not will gain a better understanding of the atrocious effects of warfare and seek to find healthier means of resolving differences.

            One method, as I learned in Burma from a Burmese-Indian Christian, would be to inform others of what is wrong and what needs to be done, for the role of awareness in inducing action cannot be undermined.  Instead of picking up a gun and shooting those he was opposed to (granted that he might not have the resources to, if he wished to do so), this man I met in Burma chose to work harder to better the lives of those he loved and to produce change by talking to those who would listen, so that they may also participate in bringing awareness to others towards gradual change.  This is a painfully slow process in bringing about change but most times, things that are brought on gradually have the resilience to make permanent change.  Just think about the example of losing weight.  A person who loses ten pounds in two weeks by quick weight loss pills have a higher chance of gaining it back than a person who slowly and gradually works those ten pounds off in the course of two months through discipline.  This may sound like a silly and irrelevant example but what it tries to depict can be found in many arenas of our life from economic policies to public policies.

            When there is a conflict in interests, we need more people who are willing to shun the quicker way out (from throwing a fist to warfare) and who are willing to take the risk of criticism in the short run, to affect longer lasting peace and compromise.


            In his article “Lessons from the Field” George Gmelch describes the beneficial lessons his students gain from living immersed in a Barbados village for several months.  In it he says, “As the world’s economies intertwine and its societies move closer to becoming a ‘global village,’ it is more imperative than ever that we seek to understand other peoples and cultures.  Without understanding there can be neither respect, mutual prosperity, nor lasting peace.” (Gmelch 19).  I agree.  The effort to understand others and respect their differences will decide whether our world will continue to fragment into pieces under intolerance and war or advance towards peace.  I dare to hope for the latter.

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