Among the lessons I learned from Grossman’s book, On Combat, is that the bond I felt for the men fighting next to me, the strongest bond I’ve ever known, is universal. As Grossman puts it, “Warriors do not fight for medals, they do it for their partners, buddies, and friends.”
That bond made the deaths I witnessed on the battlefield more searing. I grieve as much today for the men who died beside me as I did the day it happened. That, as Grossman makes clear, makes me like every other man who goes through combat.
I learned that we all weep. Grossman speaks of it as the taste of tears. So my shame at the unmanly act of crying over the men I saw killed is nothing to be ashamed of. The best of us do it.
Grossman stresses that overcoming Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) is learning to cope. It comforted me to know that all combatants are profoundly affected by their experiences. We all have to learn how to deal with our memories.
A technique that Grossman recommends for PTSI is “delinking the memory from the emotions.” He describes exactly the technique I have used for years to train my feelings to stay in check when confronted with the unbearable memories of combat.
“Critical incident debriefing,” Grossman says, can help the combatant to come to terms with the horror of combat. He tells of the practice, among police and firefighting units, of requiring those who have been through brutal experiences to talk about them immediately afterwards. This is a technique I’ve never been able to use. I’ve never spoken to others about my experiences in a setting like the one that Grossman describes. But I have found two practices that work as well or better: writing down what happened and telling others about my memories in presentations before audiences.
The latter is particularly painful for me. In an earlier blog, I told of getting tears in my eyes every time I talk to audiences about some events from my past in Vietnam. It still hurts to tell what happened. But that telling has added immeasurably to my inner peace.