Friday, May 21, 2010

" Civilians balk at recognizing that one of the most traumatic
things about combat is having to give it up. War is so obviously evil
and wrong that the idea there could be anything good to it almost
feels like profanity. And yet throughout history, men have come home
to find themselves desperately missing what should have been the
worst experience of their lives. To a combat Vet, the civilian world
can seem frivolous and dull, with very little at stake and all the
wrong people in power. These men come home and quickly find
themselves getting berated by a rear -based major who's never seen
combat or arguing with their girlfriend about some domestic issue
they don't even understand. When men say they miss combat, it's not
that they actually miss getting shot at---you'd have to be deranged---
it's that they miss being in a world where everything is important
and nothing is taken for granted. They miss being in a world where
human relations are entirely governed by whether you can trust the
other person with your life.
It's such a pure, clean standard and men can completely remake
themselves in war. You could be anything back home--shy, ugly, rich,
poor, unpopular---and it won't matter because it's of no consequence
in a firefight, and therefore of no consequence, period. The only
thing that matters is your level of dedication to the rest of the
group, and that is almost impossible to fake. That is why the men say
such impossibly vulgar things about each other's sisters and mothers.
Its one more way to prove nothing can break the bond between them;
it's one more way to prove they're not alone out there.
War is a big and sprawling word that brings a lot of human suffering
into the conversation, but combat is a different matter. Combat is
the smaller game that young men fall in love with, and any solution
to the human problem of war will have to take into account the
psyches of these young men. For some reason there is a profound and
mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect
another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only
situation in which that happens regularly. These hillsides of loose
shale and holly trees are where the men feel not most alive----that
you can get skydiving---but the most utilized. The most necessary.
The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get
that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again, but
they can't. So here sits Sergeant O'Byrne, one month before the end
of deployment, seriously contemplating signing back up.
" I prayed only once in Afghanistan," O'Byrne wrote me after it was
all over. " It was when Restrepo got shot, and I prayed to God to let
him live. But God, Allah, Jehovah, Zeus or whatever a person may call
God wasn't in that valley. Combat is a devil's game. God wanted no
part. That's why our prayers weren't answered: the only one listening
was Satan."

-Sebastian Junger


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