I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how little first-hand experience I have with meeting, listening to or learning from individuals who’ve dedicated significant portions of their life to military service. So it was ironic to me that the Plain Dealer’s foreign-affairs columnist and editorial page associate editor, Elizabeth Sullivan’s column yesterday seemed to specifically address the need for people like me to engage with military personnel, in some way, at some level.
From her column:
Today, with all the bumper stickers for the troops and the atta-boys, with all the honor guards and huge community outpourings of grief when our military personnel don’t make it back alive, why is combat stress and PTSD as high — maybe even higher — than it was in the Vietnam era? Why are suicides the newest cause of death for our fighting men and women?
Could it be that, despite the atta-boys, most of us still don’t know how to speak of war, or listen or understand what it means to go to a war that is so remote, so “over there?” Is combat in Iraq and Afghanistan so beyond the ken of most of us as to become invisible?
I could not agree more with this notion that we lack the language to understand. I remember having this exact same flash just after 9/11, when newscasters and commentators kept referring to the attack as indescribable. Why? In part because we in America had no language for it – for what happened, for the impact, for the reactions. Countries that have endured terrorism and civil war have lexicons to match. We didn’t.
So this notion of not having the language to deploy to try and engage now too really resonates with me. As a result of reading Sullivan’s column, I spent an even longer time than usual with a particular neighbor at a local pool party today. Her son will be in his final year at West Point in the fall. And we talked a lot about the mindset and how difficult it can be to understand.
I don’t know a thing about the literature that exists to help people like myself understand what it means to be of a mind that prepares for military service, but I’ll take all suggestions, because, as Sullivan concludes:
Remembrance is not just about decorating the graves and flying the flag. It’s also about engagement with today’s fighting forces. It’s about paying attention to the details of the wars they’re fighting, and it’s also about listening. Just listening could mean a lot.
WCPN broadcast a wonderful first chance for listening this morning:
When soldiers return home from war, many cope with the aftermath of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. But it’s not just the soldier who suffers, parents, especially mothers, who have given up everything — their jobs, retirement savings, and plans for the future – often step in and care for their wounded children. On Memorial Day, we share a Public Radio Exchange program Picking Up the Pieces.
You can read more here. The program this morning was excellent, and involved just listening.