All through the literature and remembrances of conflict you'll find a denunciation of the official motivations for fighting. Specifically, soldiers reinforcing that why they fight is to support the guy on either side of them. That really has little to do with the aftermath of war though, of those things that we might actually gain and benefit from as a collective entity. This has nothing to do with winning and losing, building roads, defeating oppression, but has everything to do with what we learn about ourselves afterwards.
When this blog started a while back, my friend Josh wrote to me with a short succinct note, saying, "Understanding the deepest roots of conflict is part of the pathway to a more peaceful and enjoyable life and planet."
Josh looks (I would offer the compliment) the hippie and not the sort to support military intervention and so I was especially pleased by his observation.
[Recognizing that I should really stop quoting Restrapo, allow me the following]
"I haven’t figure out how to deal with it inside. The only hope I have right now is that eventually I’ll be able to process it differently. I’m never gonna forget it, I’m never even gonna let go of it. I don’t wanna not have that as a memory because that was one of the moments that makes me appreciate everything that I have."
- Sgt. Aron Hijar, interviewed in Restrapo
I'm somewhat struck by these competing yet complimentary statements. That on the one hand, only by understanding violence will we learn the mechanisms to avoid it, but also, by undergoing severe trauma we might learn the true greatness of the lives we are given. That the knowledge gleaned from trauma might be able to trump the weight of that trauma is the difficulty and, it seems, for so many soldiers, that weight bears too heavy.
For his birthday, my friend Luca was taken to an indoor range and got to shoot a semi-auto M4 (M16 chassis). He and I were talking about how once you've shot one, then watching them used in movies gives you a tangible connection to the act – you can feel the push of recoil in your shoulder when it happens in the narrative of an action film.
This is the difficulty. Watching Restrapo, or Armadillo or any other combat documentary, what seems relevant is a means by which the viewer can tangibly connect to the soldier's descriptions of loss.
I will call this post unfinished.