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America, Listen To Your Veterans
By Rick Harrienger
The statistic that another soldier will die in the hour I spend composing this letter, as in every hour before it, is to many adult readers, we "sophisticated" multitasking moguls of American life unfortunate we think, and tack on the dismissive rhetoric of each individual's responsibility for their actions. But, as a veteran these senseless casualties, these emotionally undeveloped youth we've thrown into the fray, our heroes, are as deserving of as many lines of type it takes to address the realities of these repeated the deployment's and the impact our soldiers suffer from hour after hour, day after day, year after year.
It's mechanized Russian Roulette.
Even that analogy fails to account for the rest of the convoy trapped in the kill zone of an ambush on narrow streets- adrenaline screaming through your body.
Our young warriors have become so radically changed by their repeated deployments re-integration into normal society is beyond them. We combat vets, so impacted by this daily diet of death, are closer to what addicts feel going through withdrawal. The consequence of a threat level such as they've endured, dramatically alters one's psyche; that once removed our dependence on the combat theater becomes apparent. The withdrawal from the combat zone, where equipped, armed, and trained for the realities of combat alters we soldiers so dramatically that psychologically, the prolonged exposure can't help but exacerbate that psychic dependence. We feel so conflicted, so dependent on what yesterday insured our survival we are addicted to war. Adjustment to civilian life difficult in the extreme.
I volunteered to return for a 2nd tour to Vietnam, justifying it as a sane alternative to the year I had remaining on my enlistment. I never told my family of my decision, though. I couldn't articulate that I'd become dependent on having a weapon in my hands and being a part of my squad, anything else was terrifying. the only place I felt safe was in combat. Such was my addiction to war. Like all addictions it had a tipping point. Halfway through my extension, I cracked so dramatically I was medevaced out of country. I lost the ability to distinguish who the enemy was, they all became the enemy. The logical conclusion to this emotional confusion, was to take my own life.
The military very effectively teaches us to dehumanize life. It's a short leap to de-humanizing your own.
When I compare the effects of my relatively short exposure to today's veterans, their repeated deployments compounds this psychic dependence. To survive combat is not enough; we must survive the "operational imperatives," that yesterday assured our survival. Alone, unaddressed, unexpressed, this flip-flop of realities will, for anyone with a shred of moral compass left, entertain self extinction. It becomes the combat vets "fix" to cure how deranged, how sick, how inappropriate they feel.
Hollywood depicted this addiction to death brilliantly in an old war movie. Three guards forced two POWs to play Russian roulette betting on the outcome. Slyly, one prisoner ups the ante offering to play with two bullets. His captors hungrily agreed. He then raised it to three. They were so intoxicated with the addiction to death, they failed to realize he now had one bullet for each of them. This story illustrates how intoxicating, and insidious this addiction to death has been and is today.
The emotional consequences of war is neither a familiar or easy topic to talk about, but ask any grieving widow, parent, or sibling what they regret the most, and that dialogue with their warrior didn't begin sooner, will be at the top of the list.
I suggest in your letters to those still abroad you discuss the horrible realities the "S" word is claiming here in the US. Don't content yourselves that the fluff we GI's put in correspondences home is how life really is. Discuss ways to improve honest frank conversations. Suggest keeping a journal for the veteran. For many of us writing was the only way to broach these powerful feelings. Insist on a regular dialogue with them when they return home. Study the way native American Indian communities assimilate returning warriors. Linking up with mentor figures is also beneficial. Regular dialogue with someone, on good days, makes contact on the bad days automatic. In that regard a principle I learned is "there's no such thing as a bad day, only bad moments that last all day." A vivid dream, a restless night unexpressed can color my entire day, but, if there is one person I trust enough to confide in, it lessens the power of those memories.
How long will this "reintegration" take? A parable that's fitting is, "if you walk 5 miles into the forest, and turn around today, it stands to reason its 5 miles back out." Another indicator might be when you're young warrior becomes a mentor themselves! One of the difficult variables with PTSD, is the "post" part. Historically, we who were in combat in 1967 started having complications that demanded addressing in 1977. "Lifers," or those whose civilian occupation is similar in trauma production may never exhibit what others do.
The only thing I can say with any conviction is, if I am to survive the challenges of tomorrow I must take action today.
Rick Harrienger began writing poetry as a way to "purge the demons of war" but continued, at the persistence of a muse to include his recovery from the results of "better living thru chemistry" and a indefatigable love of nature.