Is the Desire for War a Form of Collective Mental Illness?

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
Lyrics – Country Joe and the Fish

I went to see that movie American Sniper last night. It was a rather sobering experience. But how much more sober can you get than stone cold? Who knows? If you haven’t heard about this movie it’s based on the biography of Chris Kyle, a sniper who did 4 tours in Iraq. He is known as the most lethal sniper in American History with 160 confirmed kills. He made it home alive and was murdered by a troubled veteran he was trying to help.

I’m not even going to go into the nasty debate about whether he was a hero or a coward. My opinion is that he was a soldier doing what he thought was the right thing to do to protect his family and country. He didn’t start the war – he just did what he had to do.

That being said, I’ve been pondering the whole war conundrum. I laid awake much of last night thinking about it. In a way we treat our returning warriors the same way we treat people with mental illness. We sweep it under the rug and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

Those caught up in the war machine seem have the same mental kinks as people who are mentally ill and/or have mental illness or substance abuse problems. “Oh this is just affecting us, no one else has to deal with it, and we’re handling it just fine.” Hogwash!

As I look back over my life I can see that war has tainted my entire life. I was in my mid-teens when the Vietnam War was going on. I faced the fear that if it continued for a few more years that my brothers would have to go. I was the oldest in my family and female, but my girlfriends had older brothers that were sent off to Vietnam. They came home in a box. One of those brothers was the first boy I ever kissed. He kissed me the night before he went off to boot camp.

During that era teenage trouble making was a death sentence if you were boy from a blue collar family. The judge gave them a choice “jail or Vietnam.” Stupid boys chose Nam. I would have much rather they went to jail, but I was a 14 year old girl, my say didn’t matter much then. It probably doesn’t matter much more now. I just have a wider audience.

After my girlfriends lost their brothers, we three musketeers decided to wear black arm bands to school. We got in all kinds of trouble for it. Being teen aged innocents we didn’t know we were protesting, we just knew that our guys died and we were sad and very angry. We had to stay after school for detention every day that we wore those arm bands. Funny thing was no one ever tried to confiscate them. If this happened in the present they probably would have them confiscated. Can’t wear or carry anything to school that might offend someone nowadays. I don’t remember how long we wore them and when we stopped either. How odd. We drifted apart, life goes on I guess.

Fast forward to when I was 18 years old. I fell in love with a Vietnam vet who was one of those who made it home in body but not in mind. My mother hated him and knew he was trouble. She finally told me to not talk to her until I was finished with him. She was right in a way. He was trouble because he was troubled. When we walked down the street he was constantly scanning and looking around at trees, roof tops, alleyways. I thought he was just unusually alert. What did I know about soldiers and PTSD? My dead friends don’t talk about that. 6 months later he committed suicide by cop. Meaning they tried to arrest him, he said “you’re not taking me alive” and boom he’s dead.

So at the tender age of 14 I learned that I was not invincible. People die because of other people’s decisions, shit happens. Should children have to learn that? I don’t know but there are children all over the world in war zones learning this every day. Are we better for it? I don’t think so. But that’s just my opinion among billions of others.

8 responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the movie. I have not seen it and probably will not. The disservice we do to our troops when they come home is beyond sad. The soldiers need help and their families need to know how to cope. Funding is cut and they are left out to dry at a time when their need for services is at an all time high.

    1. Hi Marge, thanks for sharing.

  2. I don’t watch war movies anymore. When I was a kid growing up in the 80’s I coulnd’t get enough of them. I saw Viet Nam veterans as my heroes. I saw thier pain and sacrifice from Hollywood and looked for every new movie. My first experience of war was as a reservist during Desert Storm. Pretty clinical, easy and fast. Worst I got there was a really bad case of gastroenteritus that left me in a tent with 2 IVs rehydrating me for a week. That one I wasn’t on the front lines.

    Flashforward a few years. Did some time trying to like college and I hated it. Never finished my degree and despised the money mill it had become. I wanted to be a teacher, but then screaming 8th graders honestly did nothing for me. I figure if you weren’t there to learn then you wasted my time. Couple years later my life fell apart and I became homeless. Living under the I-5 bridge in downtown San Diego isnt very fun for long. Oh, it’s ok during spring or fall, but winter is a suck fest.

    Got my act together for awhile and decided to re-enlist. Why? I’m no hero. Not even close. Fact is, I needed a real income to pay my child support with my Ex and have a chance at a future. I’d already been through a short war, what could go wrong? I was just a working class Joe that wanted 3 hots and a cot. So I got to go into the infantry. Well didn’t have much of a choice, I didn’t want to be a tanker or a mechanic or cook. Wasn’t because I was stupid. Fact was I scored 120+ across the ASVAB. But openings were limited during the Clinton Administration. Anyway’s once child support was taken out, I usually had about $150 bucks a paycheck to blow on getting drunk, occasionally getting a girlfriend (they don’t last long when they see you are broke) and just getting by. Still, it was better than the streets, and while I hated Army food, I hated 3 day old chicken McNuggets from a garbage dump worse. Nope, no hero…just wanted a life.

    BOOM! OIF and OEF kick off! Yup gonna get them thar terrorists and hunt down Osama! After 4 deployments over there, I can tell you most people tried to do what was right for thier country. A few were deep end psychopaths. And war isn’t hell. Hell is where bad people go to. War is where IED’s blow some poor mother and her kids into a nasty red spray across a road because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. War is where two fighting ideoligies like to cut the heads off thier opponents and leave them as a roadside warning. War is corruption and hatred and vileness. And it is human nature to continously wage war. That will never change. Why? Greed. It isn’t a disease, it is greed and power and in no such way is there righteousness in it’s context.

    So, why am I still in? Honestly, it’s been a stable job, soon I’ll have a small retirement check which will at least assist in dealing with the economic mess we live in currently. I’m not a hero. I don’t hate my profession, but I am a realist about what war is and is not. Mercenary and greedy? Perhaps. A part of the military industrial machine? Hmm..let’s ask ourselves…who votes the congressmen and president into office? I think the people.

    Why all of this? Well, I really enjoyed your post. It was thoughtful and real. Movies I find are propaganda machines for political ideologies for what ever left or right leaning flavor of the day is popular. So, I don’t watch war movies anymore. Most don’t really cover the reality anyhow.

    Hey, my name is Keith and it’s a pleasure to meet ya!!

    1. Hi Keith, thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. Sorry it took so long to post your comment.

  3. Ed Helvey - The Professional Nomad | Reply

    Amen, from a Vietnam era (never in country) vet.

    1. It’s weird how long ago that was. Has anything really changed?

      1. Ed Helvey - The Professional Nomad | Reply

        Not much! War is still hell and inhumane. But, at least the public isn’t cursing at and spitting on our warriors this time.

        1. Thank God for small favors

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