This video might be visually tough at times, but its method is right on. It reveals so much about why there is often such a great distance between the differing realities of combat veterans and the civilian population.
The norms common to life here at home, that are the “reality” that most people know, and the “norms” common to combat veterans have no relation to one another. The differences are so great that they are nigh-on-to-impossible to explain.
Combat veterans will look at this and silently nod their heads in complete understanding. They have seen and been affected by what is arguably the worst of human behaviors and conditions. They have been given a terrible glimpse into the dark corners of human frailty and depravity. They have stared death in the face. They know its sounds, its smells, hell, even its taste.
Most people back home have never seen, nor will they ever see such soul-searing and mind-bending things in their entire lives. Thank God for that. And thank God that there are those among us who are willing to sacrifice in this way so that most of us do not have to experience what they have.
The video will give the observant viewer a sense of why it is so tough for so many of our combat veterans to “come home” without being utterly changed. It is why we sometimes find it hard to “fit back in” with the norms of “home.” Our eyes have seen too much. Our memories are, in many cases, too searing to be shared with anyone but those who have “been there” too.
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If we seem quieter, more introspective, less willing to participate in what our friends back in the world consider “cool” or normal, every-day-things, there are reasons. We may not be able to articulate them to you, because in so many ways, they are beyond being able to be put into words. At least words that would make sense to you.
This may be because we are still in the throes of what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress, or it may be that because of our time in the chaos and insanity of combat we see life in more subtle tones than most of our peers. Our views have been shaped after all by the crucible of that combat.
This video addresses some of that in its images and its text. If our behavior or our silence seems incomprehensible, there are reasons. We need time to come out of the darkness. Be patient with us when we react in ways that are not the “norm” for you. Let us know that, though you may not understand, you care. If we do not want to share our stories, trust that there are good reasons why.
Time will heal much of our suffering, or at least it will round off the sharpest edges of it.
As one who has been there who came home to a society torn apart by the war I fought in, who experienced the rejection, the dismissal and the hatred that “welcomed” my generation of combat veterans home, I can attest to the healing effects of time and family support and my own inner resources and faith.
Our service, our sacrifices, our losses meant something.
Most of us found ways not just to cope but to thrive in our lives after our combat experiences. Our greatest asset was that we knew that there would be very few things in life that would overwhelm us. Life had already thrown us its worst fears, the fear of our own, or our friend’s violent death far away from home and loved ones, but we faced those fears and we overcame them then, in the midst of that hell. We took that courage into the rest of our lives. And so it will be with the newest of our combat veterans.
The most effective, healing thing that can be given to a combat veteran is a simple, sincere, “Welcome Home” and your caring patience. If you cannot honor the war, if your arguments against it are honest and reasonable, at least honor those who voluntarily and willingly served in those difficult times.
They did so honorably and with great dedication to duty to us and to their brothers and sisters who served with them on the fields of battle. They did what the nation asked them to do. And they did it with uncommon valor.
They have more to offer us in the rest of their lives as well.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.