Ain’t No Love in War

Published 9:39am Friday, April 13, 2012

The business of homicide outside the wire and on civilians, while a gritty subject, was not the most compelling aspect of Hedge’s article to me. In his attempt to give the reader a sense of what soldiers might feel after months of hazardous duty he mentions boredom, emotional blunting,  over exposure to death, over stimulation, fear and group attitudes about nationalism and honor (which he considers to be attitudes that act as catalysts for the behavior). In passing he mentions that the individual soldier is put in the position of having no outlet for expressing “love” within the context of war. And this was the concept that became central to me in processing the article’s true value and meaning.
In my own experience, and from what I gleaned later in treating veterans, this lack of a way to express love while surrounded by aggression and death, smothers a part of the human spirit. The only instances of joy and caring that I saw in combat were those times when great harm had been inflicted on “the enemy” or when some daring rescue had been accomplished – both situations existed when violence permeated the moment. Thus, the only instances of shared joy and caring are a reinforcement of violence.
I have been privileged to know and speak intimately with many, many veterans in my life. I can not recall even one who would say that soldiers are not changed forever by war. But what is it that changes? I would suggest that exposure to the intensity of war lowers the individual’s ceiling for experiencing love. This is not to say that veterans don’t love at all, but rather that they are less likely to exhibit full expression of that emotion – they (we) have learned to hold back. Some of it is related to the losses we endured. Some of it is due to things we did or shared in doing. Some of it is due to what we’ve seen. Some of it is due to things we just heard about.

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