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Closing the Wounds of War




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She tells her students what she tells staffers on the Hill. She wants to save the world. Cyanne Loyle would paste the phrase to her mirror if she needed the reminder. Some would agree with her and say “yes, you must save the world,” and others would say ending war and genocide is out of her control. She believes both.

She knows she can’t save the world. But it’s her chief desire. She takes a quantum mechanics view. She thinks of herself as a fly on the wall that could alter the world’s progress as much as a fly can.

Loyle is at the front of a new research field: discovering how to end conflict through rule of law and justice. She is the only political scientist in recent memory at West Virginia University to receive support from the National Science Foundation so that she and a colleague with the Peace Research Institute Oslo could create what they hope is the “definitive global cross-national database on transitional justice,” Loyle says.

Transitional justice includes those processes that happen during war and after. When the victors exile the losers. When the victims receive reparations from their loved ones’ killers. When forgiveness is sought and truth uncovered.

Loyle tallies the types of solutions that have been used during and after war. They may not be meant to end conflict. They could just be revenge. But she lists them anyway. She wants to know if they work and how and why.

When she talks to US Department of State and USAID officials, they ask her what works. She can give them the probability that a justice measure will successfully bring about the end of a conflict. It’s real data that guides governments better than hope alone can. But she can’t say for certain of course. People are unpredictable that way.


Loyle was named for a color. Her father loved photography and he suggested as a baby name a feminized version of cyan, a mixture of blue and green.

As she talks about genocide, war, and justice, she doesn’t extinguish her irrepressible happiness. She laughs a lot and smiles. And she follows every sad story with words of hope for the future, including her future.

Her American upbringing in Linwood, New Jersey, had nothing to do with war or Africa, where much of her research has since taken her. Back then she took French and wanted to live in Paris.

In college, Loyle had settled on political science because it mixed people, history, culture, and language. In her last semester, she became consumed by conflict studies and genocide.

“I’m really trying to save the world. I don’t have a better answer for you than that.”

After earning a master’s degree, she went to Rwanda for six weeks. This was ten years after approximately one million people were slaughtered by their neighbors in the center of Africa. Within months, at least an eighth of the country’s population was dead.

Loyle began working for the Rwandan government, helping to create the National Genocide Memorial in Kigali. It was a research library, a mass grave, and a memorial. She ended up staying for two years in Africa on various projects. She left wanting to know how memorials and remembrances and everything else she participated in could stop future genocide.


That was when she started collecting stories. She uses broad phrases to describe genocide such as “bad doesn’t sum it up,” but it’s the details that tell the horror.

There was a schoolteacher, a “tragic figure,” she says.

“He could articulate that he bought into the propaganda, that he read the dehumanization material that was coming out in the newspapers, that he listened to the wrong radio station, that he followed his friends when he shouldn’t have,” Loyle said.

He was in prison separated from family and he didn’t even have anger to consume him like so many other perpetrators, she says. He knew exactly what he had done.

“He was astute enough and reflective enough to realize that he had made wrong choices that got him in prison. He was away from his family, and he had killed people and would live with that for the rest of his life,” she said. “That’s a hell to live with.”

He was just like the rest of us. And that’s the problem. We could all be a part of genocide. And when it’s gone, she says, it has so torn at society’s fabric that it leaves survivors in the gaps that are left.

And then there are the victims: the dead she exhumed from mass graves, and the living who are in a space someplace between the living and the dead.

One victim she interviewed during her PhD project had been sexually assaulted during the genocide, a common tactic. She was left with an HIV infection and a child who also had HIV. Loyle remembers the boy singing ABCs in English. He knew he was making mistakes and would constantly start again. She remembers the mother tensing when a passerby dropped a bucket outside the home.

“Her entire body just tensed up, and she just was going to be scared and hurt for the rest of her life, however long that life was going to be,” she said.

“I can’t help her. I’m not even sure she’s still alive … You just don’t want anybody else to be in that situation again.”

There’s a need to fill the holes left by war. But peace can be complicated, as she saw among the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland.

The women there had achieved so much and were able to connect over similarities. But there could be incredible tension among the rural quilting clubs of Northern Ireland.

“They’re not warm, fuzzy gatherings with tea, right,” she said. “These are women who have serious disagreements that go back for generations but they can at least start from the premise that OK, we actually do all like to quilt.”

All the work is done to humanize the enemy, with the hope that these women could lobby against destructive behavior that leads to killing.

Loyle laughs when she says she doesn’t see a grandiose vision for her future as if to say that she knows world peace is a pretty grandiose idea.

“I’m really trying to save the world,” she says. “I don’t have a better answer for you than that because I really think that I can do policy-relevant work and that this is exactly the type of research that we need into armed conflict and post-conflict to help us understand why it works and how to get it to stop.”