From the moment a soldier enters basic training to the day he takes off the uniform, he is taught that to admit weakness is to invite ridicule. In The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien noted how the fear of embarrassment is the greatest motivator of valor. He focused on the negative. Certainly, a hunger for admiration can also enable bravery. But they both center on a certain primal desire for respect we all retain. When I was scared in combat, I knew that I could not shrink from danger, for I would never be able to stand in front of my men again with credibility. So I stood and fought.
We soldiers have been conditioned to never, ever admit we are hurt or suffering. But dealing with the aftermath of war, when you are no longer surrounded by the men who fought with you, when you are no longer working for a chain of command that can give you feedback from a position of authority, when you are alone -- is a battle that far too many of us lose. When some of the bravest guys that I know can't admit weakness, or do admit weakness, and then are subject to ridicule, then I posit that the narrative for the "after," for the persistent battle that we veterans fight for the rest of our lives, should be distinct and separate from the Army's normative weakness -- ridicule relationship that is appropriate for combat.
When you go to sleep tonight, eighteen more veterans will be gone by their own hand. Many more will lay their heads down without shelter, because they have lost their way. The thought that one day David and Jonathan could join their ranks is more than I can bear.
Veterans need to know that it is okay to admit weakness after dealing with the trauma of war. They need to know that they won't be judged for opening up about their pain. They need to know that Americans care.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Required reading by guest columnist Blake Hall at Thomas Ricks blog The Best Defense: