Damn, I wish there was a magic bullet. I really, really wish that. The times where that wish becomes most enduring is at about 2 am when I know I have a class to teach six hours later.
That's now my life, and the 2 am sweat ensoaked wake up is pretty much normal for me now. I'm intelligent enough to know that those wake ups are training induced - not the result of combat. The fearful feeling is the combat part.
I was terrified by combat. I was not Sgt. Rock. I was, however, a leader and it meant I had to do one thing above all else - suppress the obvious terror.
I had been through selection, and passed. I had been through leadership training and passed. I had been through endless exercises and received accolades for my tactical sense. None of that prepared me for real bullets coming downrange nor the need to put myself and my troops at risk to achieve the objective set out in an operation order.
The truth is the training, constant and consistent, kicked in and while I always had to adapt to any situation, I could go back to "wrote" for the basics. I did that a lot, and I suspect my superiors felt very good about that. They could read my manoeuvres, watch the actions of my formation and accept any losses based on some obscure formula to which I was never privy.
Except that I didn't have any losses. Wounded? Yes. Unable to fight? You must be fucking kidding. (That doesn't diminish the fact that those wounded men should have been medevaced out of the action).
I can share a lot with my fellow combatants. We connect. We can visualize what each other might have seen and felt at any given moment. We can accept the horror and the fear. We can feel the overwhelming urge to end everything by behaving stupidly (heroism to a politician). But I can never be exactly where my brothers-in-arms have been.
It may come as a surprise to many but each combat situation for every individual is personal. You can never be there for one simple and enduring reason. You weren't there.
That doesn't make you bad. It just means you can never understand.
So, why try? Why not just accept that, in a combat, killing situation, the whole event becomes something with a deep personal attachment?
It never goes away. It doesn't even fade.
I killed kids who should have been preparing for their first year of university or taking on an apprenticeship in a trade. At the time, it is what I had to do to stay alive. That will never give me a feeling that I contributed to the world. I denied the world of an otherwise good human being.
I'm OK with that to a limit. He was going to kill me, I thought then, and it was him or me. I was much better trained and, if I have to say this, I was a professional warrior.
I did it without really thinking about it.
The thinking came well after the fact. It haunts me to this day and not a day goes by where I don't think about it. As much as I was comfortable killing kids ten years younger than me in the desperate circumstances of combat, nothing can make me feel good about it now. I feel, for some perverse reason, that the world simply has to accept the personal struggle of knowing that I will never accept that the act of killing of my fellow man had any value.
I watched a missile move over the horizon and blow the living hell out of a ship that was our saviour throughout the night. They had saved us and they paid a huge price. I have had the counselling over that incident and not one of those professionals gets it. When it happened it took a few seconds; when I relive it, it happens in slow motion. They never, ever, get that.
Can I say that it pisses me off?
The shrinks were supposed to be our saviours. Nothing against the shrinks but, jebus H. christ, Doc, if you weren't there, you simply do not fucking know!
I feel a brotherhood with US Viet Nam veterans which the shrinks don't seem to get. It's not about the war, or the environment or, as we Brits at the time had to suffer, the politics. It's about regaining our humanity.
So few of us going to war were killers, yet we became that. So few of us actually intended to give our lives for a political dispute, but so many did.
Every single death in Afghanistan chewed a horrible hole in my consciousness. But in the darkness of my mind, I worried, and still worry, about the people who have had to do things which they will come to realize revolt them and will eventually attack them. That fear for them won't go away. Their feelings will grow.
PTSD is not about the physical wounds. Godammit, it's about making us do things we would never have done under normal circumstances. Seeing things we couldn never have believed possible. Watching others get maimed or killed.
It's not about me. It's about where we were and what happened all around us. It's about a corporal with a bleeding wound telling me he agrees with calling fire on our own position. It's about watching a dead comrade being hoisted out of the battlefield, feet first, and then carry on with the patrol. It's about watching an Exocet missile slam into a ship and knowing you have no time to warn them.
You cannot make that into a cartoon.
But, hell, you guys have done such a shitty job of it so far, give it a try. If it fails, you're 0 for ten and you've got nothing to lose.
And, I am not your fucking experiment.