Going Beyond the Particular of War

 

War sucks and nobody gets it. It’s not political - just reality. And yet, somehow we miss it.[i]

Though hostilities cease and life moves on, and though loved ones yearn for their healing, veterans often remain drenched in the imagery and emotion of war for decades and sometimes for their entire lives. For these survivors, every vital human characteristic that we attribute to the soul may be fundamentally reshaped. These traits include how we perceive; how our minds are organized and function; how we love and relate; what we believe, expect, and value; what we feel and refuse to feel; and what we judge as good or evil, right or wrong. Though the affliction that today we call post-traumatic stress disorder has had many names over the centuries, it is always the result of the way war invades, wounds, and transforms our spirit.
— Edward Tick, War and The Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, p. 1

This statement lends significant imagery to the reality veterans face when they return home from combat. The essence of who they are is fundamentally altered by the experience. It’s no wonder that many, who haven’t endured this crucible, struggle to understand why their loved ones come back from a deployment as different people.

Tick also begins to extrapolate a key rationale for why so many veterans struggle to integrate into “normal” life when they return home. The essence of their identity has changed. Not only that, they are also forced to complete a jarring transition in who they spend time with. After having been surrounded by those who have experienced and who understand the horrors of war, veterans returning home often feel alone in a sea of strangers.

“Healing PTSD with Mind Body Medicine.” Sydney Holistic Medicine: Healing from Within. http://sydneyholisticmedicine.com.au/ptsd-and-mind-body-medicine/

“Healing PTSD with Mind Body Medicine.” Sydney Holistic Medicine: Healing from Within. http://sydneyholisticmedicine.com.au/ptsd-and-mind-body-medicine/

Some recent statistics put this in context:

Approximately 1.64 million U.S. troops have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which includes Afghanistan. Over 1 million active duty forces and over 400,000 reservists have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan specifically. Our volunteer military is half the size of the military during the Vietnam era. As a result, active duty forces are spent. Men and women who serve have seen their tours extended (a process known as stop-loss), or they return home only to find they are expected to serve multiple tours. The Army has taken the brunt of the hit simply because it constitutes 75 percent of the “boots on the ground” in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Many U.S. troops (67 percent) have deployed to OIF and OEF, and a recent report from the RAND corporation reveals that almost half of those deployed have served two tours, and approximately 9,000 troops have been redeployed four or more times. National Guard units and reservists have been called up in numbers not seen since World War II.
— Lori Holyfield. Veteran’s Journeys Home: Life after Afghanistan and Iraq, p. 13-14.

Not only are veterans experiencing soul-altering experiences during their service to our nation, they are doing so at a pace that puts greater strain on them and their families than we’ve seen in the past. 

Zachary, Rachel. “Psychological Disorders: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” https://www.emaze.com/@ALOQQCIL/PTSD

Zachary, Rachel. “Psychological Disorders: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” https://www.emaze.com/@ALOQQCIL/PTSD

Many veterans process these challenges by writing about their experiences. Putting events from military service onto paper is a genuinely therapeutic experience for many people, including myself.

Some significant challenges with this coping mechanism is that it doesn’t always deal with the underlying issues at hand, nor is it always accessible for the surrounding community. The civilian populace needs to be made aware of returning veterans’ mindsets if they are to successfully interact with these service men and women after the fact. Veterans need to be able to be made aware of underpinning issues regarding their experiences if they’re going to make significant progress moving forward in dealing with what happened.

We need a good starting point looking forward if we’re going to resolve these problems. Providing insight on this, Edward Tick says,

One of the first things I learned is that we do not even know how to think about war. To be sure, the politics, economics, and history of particular conflicts are extensively documented. And it is true, as Abraham Lincoln said, that ‘we cannot escape history.’ But we can also become lost in it. In order to help our veterans, we need to go beyond the particular and understand what war is and how it works in all times and places.
— Edward Tick, War and The Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, p. 3.

In order to help us “go beyond the particular and understand what war is and how it works,” Operation Climb On has put together a team of writers that is going to address the deeper experiences of war. Our medium will be weekly blog posts addressing topics such as demographic changes in the veteran population over time; an inside look into the mind of a veteran living with PTSD; rites and rituals surrounding combat as a rite of passage; the challenge veterans face trying to fit in to the civilian population; the evaluation of interactions between civilians and veterans. 

Our writers represent diverse experiences with the military and will be able to provide deeper insight into the underlying nature of the war experience on both the veteran and civilian side of the table. Our objective is to provide a place for veterans and civilians alike to come together and find understanding and healing from the challenges of a nation at war. We’re not trying to make political statements - we’re simply hoping to change how we view the world of the warrior.

We’d love to hear from you. If you have ideas of topics to address or viewpoints that you feel are underrepresented, please get in touch with the OCO team. This project isn’t about us - it’s about helping those who have served our nation and the loved ones that support them on the home front.


[i] Junger, Sebastian. 2014. “Why Veterans Miss War.” TED Salon NY2014. https://www.ted.com/talks/sebastian_junger_why_veterans_miss_war?language=en