a situation where human beings are put in the context of perpetual real or anticipated violence. It is an atmosphere ripe with the potential for trauma. Perhaps the urge to war is routine for a fallen humanity but the actual war is nothing but routine.
In my service as a health care chaplain and completing Clinical Pastoral Education I did a study on post traumatic stress and medical and social disruption in the lives of men who had served in combat in WW2. The results were startling. There was not a single man who served in combat and was unaffected, many for decades.
Witness a story from that study. In the days just after D-Day a young soldier had fought his way into France and was critically wounded. As he lay on the ground another soldier found him and began to dig a hole in the ground so his comrade would be protected until help arrived. As the hole was completed he, too, was wounded and died, falling into the hole on top of the soldier he came to rescue. For many hours the two laid together in the hole, the wounded living man covered by his fallen comrade.
I cared for that man decades later. German metal was still in his leg and the memory of those days still creased his face with pain. He shook his head and said “I was never really able to be a civilian again when I came home…” Like many of his cohorts he used alcohol to medicate his struggles. This was the “good” war and the trauma never left.
Why should we be shocked, then, when a soldier in Afghanistan, after multiple tours in a very hostile environment bathed in violence, loses his bearings and goes on a murderous rampage? I’m not excusing the action but imagine the scars already on the soul of this man identified by his fellows as an ‘ideal soldier”.
Most of us sit at home a million miles away from all of this and have no idea. It’s like a movie to us but everyone actually in that movie is experiencing a reality we only touch on when someone breaks their silence and tells the real story or something, like what happened in Afghanistan, goes terribly wrong.
We don’t really know what we’re asking when we send our fellow citizens off to war so we should be very careful about doing it. We should think a second time, even a third time or more before we make that decision because once its made there’s no going back and we better be prepared to fix the wounded bodies and souls that return.