It should be no secret that soldiers are as vulnerable to mental damage as they are physical. This is obvious from the mental illness and drug addiction so rife in returning soldiers. My late-husband was a veteran. Always a voluble guy, he told compelling tales of his past, of growing up in England, his travels, the movie and music business of which he was also a veteran, yet he rarely spoke about his time as a 17-20 year old British soldier in the 70s. Like most over the past decades, the battles his government sent him into were dubious ones – even secret – and he lived with the resulting nightmares of terrible violence and shame with uncharacteristic silence. And ultimately, he paid the price as we, his family did.
This excerpt is from the memoir I am working on:
I used to wonder why veterans are reticent to talk about their war experience. They flinch at the thoughtless question, “Did you ever kill anyone?” yet put them in a room with other soldiers, even former enemies, and in hushed tones their stories flow. Soldiers believe their experiences are too terrible to repeat to civilians. Ian did.
Can anyone who inflicted and suffered terrible violence ever really experience peace again? Maybe only those who see at least a glimmer of possibility through the demons of their past, manage to survive. Perhaps the veterans of war keep their terrible memories locked away in the hope they will eventually disappear. And maybe I need to tell mine so they won’t.
This nod of a named-day or a float in a parade, a bumper sticker — none of these are enough. Soldiers, are claimed as points of righteous patriotism and used as political batting rams. They return home from ostensibly protecting their country, their people — and are left with little support of the kind that can make a difference. Instead, after being feted with parties or a parade, they are expected to return to their roles of parents, children, brother, sister and friend. To carry on. Instead, an increasing number are so damaged and without support, they kill themselves and sometimes, awfully, their own families. Something is wrong. Silence is a killer and must be broken to save these lives tasked by governments with the notion of protecting ours.