Remembering Sacrifice

November 12, 2013

On a day intended to recognize and pay homage to men and women who have served this country as members of the military, let us be conscious and aware enough to actually do it. I wonder how many people consider what we have asked and continue to ask of these men and women. It is easy to support ideals and grand objectives when we are able to be far removed from the direct impact. I support our troops and the families they leave behind more than I can communicate in words; however, I would be lying if I denied a second agenda. To me, the thought of putting war on a pedestal only glorifies the violence that accompanies it. Let's not forget what these men and women are having to do. They are trained to be weapons to fight for the greater good of our nation. But, what is the greater good? Are they fighting for principles and values, for the people back home, or for some interest deemed important by our elected officials? Well, when I've actually taken the time to ask soldiers and veterans, most tell me they initially thought they were fighting for something or someone back home, but have come to believe no one actually cares. They say they are fighting for the people next to them. A truly inspirational retired Captain, and dear friend once illustrated a vivid picture for me that I don't think most of us realize. Thanks to video games and moves, we are desensitized to the real images of war. Bullets run out. People don't respawn. The opposing soldiers and civilians actually die. He is known for following his training and using his keen intuition for getting his men out of an ambush in Afghanistan, all following a shot to the head. The little he shared with me about hurdles when he returned to the states triggered even more thought about what is asked of our military and their families, and what they are denied after their service is complete.

 

A less overt, but ever-growing issue is the psychological state and impact on family these returning soldiers experience. They are trained for combat in an environment that is unsafe and full of surprises that don't evoke a sense of thrill like a haunted house, but legitimate harm and death. They are conditioned to be on-guard and respond quickly to potential threat. After their time is done, they are reintroduced into a society that frowns upon differences and inadequacies. These survival skills that soldiers use daily are no longer the primary needs, but their conditioned responses remain. Our brains do not automatically decipher between real and imagined threat. We have to do quite a bit of work to get to that point. Being afraid due to a scary movie is quite different than walking down a dark alley in a war zone, but the emotional feeling can still trigger the same response. Without going into too much detail, soldiers with PTSD, as well as others, are responding to emotional memories. I feel the same as I did when I was in serious danger, therefore, I am conditioned to react the same way. Why are we not placing a focus on helping returning soldiers cope with the war on assimilation?... fighting the need to feel relevant again in a family that was forced to carry on without them. Learning to live in the present to know past threats are not here. Learning that one can be afraid and safe at the same time. Feeling validated for what they have done, that no one can know about. Letting go of the guilt that lurks covertly in their interpersonal interactions, due to the memories of their commanding officer's orders requiring them to do something they aren't proud of.

 

So, by all means, let's celebrate our troops and their families! However, let us try to separate honoring their sacrifices as real people who have feelings, families, and lives from glorifying war and the actions that are required to survive. My grandfather, a truly wise man was invited to speak to an elementary school class several years ago. He told me that he noticed an attitude of heroism and glorification when discussing war, which inspired him to be honest in an age-appropriate way with these influential minds that absorb the words of older populations like an experiential sponge. My grandfather explained that war is a dangerous and undesirable thing. People get hurt. What I notice about my grandfather, and many like him from his generation, is that he doesn't speak much about  his experiences in attempt to not glorify anything. He does not accept the title hero, nor does he consider his decision to join the military to be anything outside of what anyone would do in his time. He says that there was a need, so he did what he could to meet it. The dark side to not talking about anything is the emotional repression that followed. By not bringing attention to what was happening emotionally for these men and women, there was no perceived need for services to help them. Then, in the generation following, our nation poorly received soldiers returning from a gruesome experience, b/c they did talk, sharing what they saw, what they were forced to do, and how they felt about it. We are on the right track with helping, but only at the beginning. I hope we can remember to do our part by insisting that the politicians who send our people to war also provide what is needed for them when they return.

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