Sunday, May 26, 2013

Junger: Spend more time listening to vets

This Memorial Day, keep in mind that what our troops did over there, they bring back home with them.  Do we really want to want to share that burden with them?

But the obscenity of war is not diminished when that conflict is righteous or necessary or noble. And when soldiers come home spiritually polluted by the killing that they committed, or even just witnessed, many hope that their country will share the moral responsibility of such a grave event.

Their country doesn’t. Liberals often say that it’s not their problem because they opposed the war. Conservatives tend to call soldiers “heroes” and pat them on the back. Neither response is honest or helpful. Neither addresses the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder afflicting our veterans. 

Junger suggests we spend less time showing our admiration of veterans and more time listening to them:

Civilians tend to do things that make them, not the veterans, feel better. Yellow ribbons and parades do little to help with the emotional aftermath of combat. War has been part of human culture for tens of thousands of years, and most tribal societies were engaged in some form of warfare when encountered by Western explorers. It might be productive to study how some societies reintegrated their young fighters after the intimate carnage of Stone Age combat. It is striking, in fact, how rarely combat trauma is mentioned in ethnographic studies of cultures.

Typically, warriors were welcomed home by their entire community and underwent rituals to spiritually cleanse them of the effect of killing. Otherwise, they were considered too polluted to be around women and children. Often there was a celebration in which the fighters described the battle in great, bloody detail. Every man knew he was fighting for his community, and every person in the community knew that their lives depended on these young men. These gatherings must have been enormously cathartic for both the fighters and the people they were defending.

But I wonder if we really want to know what they did and saw over there?  It's easier for us to hang yellow ribbons and give them a pat on the back than to try and comprehend the terrible, gut-wrenching things they did and experienced in our name, at our orders, to defend us.

By Sebastian Junger
May 25, 2013 | Washington Post

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