War, he sung, is toil and trouble;
Honour, but an empty bubble;
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying:
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, O think it worth enjoying;
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the gods provide thee —
The war never seems to be over, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Reasons apparent for Dryden in describing the time of Alexander, and reasons for our time. The war that seems to last the longest isn't a physical war in any particular place, as the author alludes. Armistice, treaty, and peace will be in effect for decades and warriors will still be fighting it. You can find references to this throughout history and literature, but if you talk to any veterans, their families, or consume much recent media there are plenty of contemporary examples to source.
For many the pain they feel is legitimate, for some cultivated, and for a few it is outright fabricated. My experience dealing with each, including myself, has led me to some thoughts about what needs to happen, assuming we intend to end our wars. Before we start I wish to announce an important disclaimer: I am not nor have I ever been a mental health professional. Do not stop any prescribed or suggested treatments made from someone qualified based on something you read here. These are the thoughts of a random person on the Internet.
Tackling the hardest hit and first category- those that have the legitimate pain, we have a real task ahead. The recent wars left behind many people with experiences they can't or won't leave behind.
I want to dance very lightly here, but say that in many cases in many cases they should leave the things in their war behind. They cannot do this alone. To deal with these experiences they must seek help from family, friends, and professionals. This seeking of help, for whatever reason, seems exceptionally hard. Which is ironic considering that we all signed up for this trouble. But it is important to understand that your family likely has seen the change in you, and secretly want you to seek help. Your friends are either in the same mindset, or they shared your experiences too, and should encourage you. If you are suffering from your experiences in the war, seek help. There is no shame in it.
So I've said what has been said a million times, and I would be surprised to find veterans that don't know about the benefits of professional mental health services. What wouldn't surprise me? To hear the familiar reasons about why they are not needed. The same stupid bullshit that allows these people to suffer, because ironically the folks most often affected by the symptoms of post traumatic stress, moral injury, and survivor guilt are the least likely to find ways to assuage their anguish.
Unfortunately those selfsame people , those who don't seek out help, tend to abuse drugs or alcohol to cope instead of talk. This always exacerbates the problem. I have never seen or heard it to do anything else. Drugs are temporary escape and tend to bring their own trouble: problems with addiction, problems with the law, problems with work or family. And alcohol is a depressant, and is unfortunately too closely associated with military service and culture. Soldiers and other service members are trained from MEPs onward that a drink is their best friend, and too often that friendship spoils after some time, usually around a decade.
Besides seeking out help and avoiding drugs and alcohol, the next step is finding a mission. The success I've witnessed after the war usually was found in two areas of life, work and/or family. Work is sometimes hard after service, as it can seem like you are settling for a less important profession. I've heard many excuses about finding work because a person feels that service has put certain jobs beneath the veteran. Soldiers should remember that they had to pay dues before they became someone in the military, and that leaving the service is just entering a new branch- the civilian corp. In order to succeed there they must pay these dues again. Most often a career begins in a mail room, next to a conveyor belt, or carrying a waiting tray. You have to start over again, and anywhere is better than nowhere. The result is very often worth it. The success I've seen in others may be anecdotal, but I don't expect it to be true. And the failures I have seen are always due to a lack of help seeking, substance abuse, and failure to find a new mission.
Family is sometimes easy, sometimes very hard. The key is to understand that most of those you left behind had to go on with their lives while you were gone, and the ones you make family after you return, weren't there for when you went through the war. So either can't be made responsible or held accountable for anything that happened there. Do not make it their problem. If you can make a family and have children, it seems to do well in giving you a mission and a purpose. Most of you fecund animals don't need me to tell you how to do this.
The next category of veteran is hard to introduce, because it is impossible to say how many of those in the previous category are in this one, but I suspect it is quite a few and it included me for some time. This group is the primary and intended audience of this diatribe. If you were in the previous category of veteran described stop reading now, and close the tab. Talk about your problems to someone, anyone. Stop doing drugs. Find a mission.
This group of pretenders, you veterans who discarded a military issued uniform and put on the costume of veteran. We must talk. There are many of us I believe that want to cultivate certain feelings about the war. Maybe it is because you think you must to fit in, or because you think it is expected. It is some strange fulfillment of this new veteran uniform to struggle, cope, and mimic a struggle for a too willing audience. As mentioned earlier history, literature, modern media, as well as our current comrades in and out of arms all reinforce certain stereotypes. I feel like these go beyond patois, social habits, modes of dress, and other patterns of behavior. Sometimes it seems there is a checklist for being a war veteran that includes KIAs to mourn, things to hand wring, survivor guilts, moral injuries, and post traumatic stresses.
If these are legitimate then again I want you to move on uncriticized. Get help, stop substance abuse, find a new purpose. But if you are still reading you know who you are. You feel like you have professed a certain pain to accommodate or realize some cliché. I'm writing to you to tell you that it is possible to stop, and you should stop. Not only are you draining the resources of those around you, it is probably because you are attempting to mask some other pain or guilt you have for something else, like addiction or other childhood trauma. Addictions rampant in our culture. Childhood traumas that pushed us into dangerous professions and a need to belong somewhere. With or without the pain of the war you are likely to have begun to use drugs (prescribed and/or maybe legally purchased) recreationally, and I bet this has become a problem. The things you ran away from to join the war were waiting for you. Either way you tell people that you struggle from PTS or experiences from the war, when deep down you know it is something else entirely. But if you say it was the war you don't have to say what it really is, and can put off dealing with it. Because it hurts to do so.
This really has to stop. Not only are we perpetuating problems by mislabeling them, but we are passing down to a new generation of veterans foolish stereotypes they will themselves sustain for the next cohort. Veterans can and should stand by their services, but not feel the need to complete the outfit by pretending to suffer from banal shams.
There is no veteran requirement to suffer PTS, feel guilt for surviving, or be depressed. It isn't a part of the uniform. It can be possible to have served- experienced combat in all of it's horror, lost friends, and killed- and be entirely whole and normal for the rest of your days. Your country asked you to serve, you did, and now you can return home for a new mission and family without bringing baggage home.
That last group of fabricators is the easiest to dispense advice toward: stop it. There are a lot of strained resources attempting to heal hurt people, and pretending to have trouble that doesn't exist and never happened is wrong. Fuck off with your lying.
For all types of veterans I leave you with Herr Jünger:
Time only strengthens my conviction that it was a good and strenuous life, and that the war, for all its destructiveness, was an incomparable schooling of the heart.