I’ve been preparing a presentation on Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). That has led me to remember afresh how hideous combat is and how little Americans appreciate the long-term effects it has on the psyche. I recently came across a quote I remember from long ago from James Jones, the war novelist who died in 1977:
“I don’t think that combat has ever been written about truthfully; it has always been described in terms of bravery and cowardice. I won’t even accept these words as terms of human reference any more. And anyway, hell, they don’t even apply to what, in actual fact, modern warfare has become.”
It comforted me to see that another combat veteran, Jones, saw what I saw—that combat is rarely portrayed as the carnage it is.
The gruesome savagery of combat is why we have soldiers and Marines who suffer from PTSI. Combat inflicts a wound to the soul. Some fare better than others, but no one who has participated in it is unaffected.
We Americans don’t understand how gruesome combat is. A tiny fraction of one percent of currently living Americans have ever experienced it. On the battlefield, men are ripped to pieces, burned alive, shattered. Heads are torn off, innards splattered, limbs scattered.
Citizens of most other countries have clear memories of living through wars, but we haven’t had a war on our own territory since the civil war. One of my missions these days is to portray in my writing combat in all its ugliness so that Americans will understand what they are asking their young men and women to go through in time of war. I want us to think carefully the costs of war before we commit to it.