There has been a lot of talk the last few days about this. We are at the first anniversary, and I’ve come to understand I’m not alone in the trauma I felt when it happened.
The thing was, I didn’t understand it then, a year ago. How could I, a 49-year-old man, a veteran of multiple combat tours and numerous combat engagements, find myself sitting in my office with my head in my hands, crying about something I knew would happen ten years ago?
Like our Vietnam vet brothers before us who had to watch the fall of Saigon play out on television, we did the same with Kabul. But Saigon was almost 40 years ago. How could we be dealing with the same thing again? I didn’t understand how it could be affecting me as much as it was. We all knew it would happen. We knew it would happen when we were there. At some point, we weren’t going to hold that place anymore, and those people either didn’t want or couldn’t do it on their own.
When the trauma washed over me, I went to engage with people I knew, family, friends, etc., and they were non-plussed about the whole thing. That, as much as anything, caused me the most grief. How could the world not feel the same pain and anguish the few of us were? On some level, how could my family and friends not understand how important it was to me and that it was causing me so much pain and anguish? How could I explain to anyone if they didn’t feel it? I guess it somewhat drove home to me that the world didn’t understand and, maybe, more importantly, was incapable of understanding. There were some of us for whom it seemed to me the connection was obvious. We were there.
We gave up so much of our lives there. Our strength, our stability, our youth, our sanity. For too many, everything was left there. I’ve told myself for so long that the way we deal with trauma in America, and in the military has changed for the better. There is help for those who need it, and other things. On some level this is true, we arent facing the same issues that our brothers and sisters did when they came home 40 years ago.
I’ve known for a long time that people who haven’t been to war don’t want to hear your war stories. They want to listen to some dreadful gruesome things. They want to know on some level that you’ve killed people in terrible ways and other things they’ve seen in Clint Eastwood movies, but they don’t want to know what it’s like to be at war. It’s a funny mix of people who even ask you about it. You’ve got the dreamers, a group who “would have gone themselves but…”. You’ve got the “patriot warriors” who want to know how proud you were of America every time you pulled the trigger. Maybe the oddest group to me, the ones who “hate war” but ask you never-ending questions about it. I lump them in with the “true crime” crowd.
Regardless of their motivations and categories, these folks are all the same. They’ve read some books and seen some movies, but they have no idea about reality. Most significantly, they don’t want to know how you feel. Feelings about things like this aren’t simple. You can’t wrap them up into a little sound byte, making it hard for people to receive. Feelings confuse their patriotic hard-ons, their violence fetishes, and their belief that war is simple and should not exist.