Three little words that can change your life… War is hell.

Sometimes the simplest little things can have big impact on our lives. In this series of posts I examine very short sentences (each just three words long) that can make a difference in your life. If you have a three word sentence that changed your life somehow, share it with me and I will share it with the world.

Today’s three little words were given to me by my ex-pastor (retired) Jack Freed, whose daily blog –Jack’s Winning Words often supplies me with inspiration for a post. Jack just returned from a brief stay in a local hospital and I wish him a speedy recovery. I missed his daily posts while he was there.

At first I was befuddled about what to do with those three words – War is hell. They certainly aren’t inspirational on the surface. Then I thought, why not write this from the perspective of trying to understand what the warriors that return from war have been through and what their needs might be. Most people have no idea what these brave men and women have been through and why it may take a while for them to assimilate back into what we call “normal” society. War is hell.

We see stories from time to time about wounded or disabled veterans returning from war and the trials that they go through. We have also had stories from time to time make the news of severe cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome. It used to be called “the fog of war.” Most people will never have an experience like going off to Afghanistan or Iraq or any of the earlier wars. That’s a good thing. Part of what the people who do go are fighting for is to make sure that others don’t have to go through a war. Some of the stories that we see and most of the stories that we never hear about come about because – War is hell.

Whether we call it the fog of war or post-traumatic stress syndrome, the effect that going off to war has on the lives of the soldiers who did go are hard for those left behind to understand. The best way I can describe it is to say that you never feel more alive, more scared, more brotherhood with those around you and more cut off from any other reality than you do when stationed in a war zone, whether it is Afghanistan or Iraq or Korea or Viet Nam or World War II. There is an old saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole. I suppose that would apply today to those out on patrol or riding in convoys in our current war zones. Nothing will get you praying faster than bullet whizzing by or mortar shells walking their way towards your position. War is hell.

So what happens to those who have been to the hell of war and back? We see the news stories about surprise homecomings, with screaming kids and a joyful wife rushing to embrace a returning soldier. Burt what happens when the cameras stop taping and the media all go away. Those who have been to war know that it is not so easy to come home. It is not easy to leave behind those brothers who had your back, like you had theirs.  It is not easy to sleep in a comfortable bed in quiet room when you are used to sleeping sitting up with the sounds of rounds going off around you. It is not easy to trust those around you and not scan around you looking for threats. You can’t just turn off what took you a year or more to get used to. War is hell.

It’s been over 50 years since I went off to my war in Viet Nam, yet I still have vivid memories from my time there. I also recall the bitterly divided nation that I returned to and the mixed feelings that I had at the time. Lots of water has flowed under the bridge and there has been a lot of change in how people think of that war, which has helped heal whatever mental wounds I had from that experience; but I still understand that War is hell.

It is important to understand and to be understanding with those returning from war, especially our youngest soldiers. We tend to pluck youth right from high school and hand them a rifle and send them off to war unprepared for what they are about to witness and be a part of. These are often youth whose biggest life decision before this was who to ask to the prom. Now they have to decide who to trust in a crowd, who they might have to shoot and who to kill. They learn that even the most innocent looking object next to the road may be a bomb ready to go off as they pass. They might encounter people ready to detonate explosives taped to their bodies; killing themselves and others. They might come face to face with death more than once themselves and they might watch their best friends get killed. Then we ship them home and tell them to be normal again. War is hell.

So be a little more understanding. Be a little more patient. Be a little more supportive. Be a lot more loving. Understand that he (or she) needs time to decompress and to suppress some of the things that have been driving their lives for the last year or so. It’s not funny to someone who’s been the target of IED attacks or gunfire when they duck for cover at the sound of loud car backfire. It might take a while for them to regain the comfort level at home with family and friends that they had with their buddies in the war zone. It’s not a testosterone thing; it’s a thing that comes from living on the edge all the time – the adrenalin high that comes from constant fear and action in a war zone – and the camaraderie that goes beyond being just friends, when you’re sharing that foxhole during a fire fight. Now that they’re back, the pleasure that you might  expect to come from going to their daughter’s concert at school is just not the same.  It will take time to adjust; and it will take lots of understanding and patience to help them find their way back.  War is hell.

Wars can be especially hard on the spouses who stay behind and try to kept things in the family together while their significant others are off in some strange foreign land. Spouses often just want things to be as they were before. That may not happen, because things aren’t the way they were before. For one thing a returning soldier has not been a part of the spouses’ life and frame of reference for a long time. They may have little in common to talk about for some time. The soldier is used to talking with his buddies about the latest skirmish or mission and not about the upcoming bake sale at school or whether to redecorate the house or not. Believe me that there is a significant difference between the vernacular they used in a war zone verse what they are expected to use at home. There may be a significant disconnect between you for some time. He may have to relearn how to enjoy just being with you again. Be patient and fight your way through that. Your soldier is trying to get back; he wants to get back; but, War is hell.

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