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Tags: ptsd, war, children

Acceptable collateral damage

Ghost

I can still feel the ghosts gathered around me like ancestors in reverse, where the children die and old warhorses get older in their place. (Elizabeth Bear, Worldwired)

I do not know why I do this to myself. At the end of the Vietnam War an estimate of over 3.5 million human beings on all sides were dead. Of those, 1.4 million were combatants. Of the remaining 2.1 million deaths, the majority were children. I cannot imagine how many non-combatant wounded there were. I do not want to know.

Whatever drives this nightmare will not let me sleep. I feel trapped, frightened of the dark. I cannot concentrate on reading. It sorrows me beyond sorrow to remember those warriors who did not come home and all those who come home broken. “All gave some, Some gave all” (Vietnam Veterans of America). Today’s warriors, along with all warriors, who have committed themselves to combat, haunt my nights. But it is not these warriors who haunt my daylight darkness. It remains the children.

This world is full of trouble. Without a logical explanation, there are the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the desperate, and the forgotten. An exceedingly large portion of which are children. Already ghost, living waiting to die, they do gather around me. Children of war never abandon me - I am never alone. I choose this, not to be without them. I know that with this choice comes the crushing guilt that drives my depression. I still choose, knowingly.

I have had one civilian and four VA counselors over the past 10 years. Besides the normal questions concerning my well-being, they all have asked me about anger. I know, as do they, that unresolved anger is the tool that digs the hole of depression. Yes, I am angry. I am angry with the current administration. I can do something about that anger. I vote.

I am also angry with the administration that sent me to Vietnam. There is little I can do about that anger. It is a historical fact of which I approved at the time. I did not know all the facts (do we ever?) I just have to accept that it did happen. I do, just as all warriors do. We deal with our own demons as best we can.

There is still a deeper anger. It is anger at myself that I was not able, and I am still not able, to abate the horror of war on those least responsible. Acceptable collateral damage is a fact of war regardless of the nature, time, or justifications of political itineraries. Acceptable collateral damage is not part nor parcel of my self-image - of whom I am, or of whom I would want others to see. This is the anger that I cannot resolve. Knowing that I participated in actions that produced collateral damage on a great number of non-combatants is totally unacceptable. I cannot reconcile this anger and I am not sure that I truly want reconciliation.

The psychiatrist who interviewed me for determination of my VA disability claim said that I was perfectly sane for crazy combat veteran. There is deeper meaning than just a flippant observation. I have buried too many younger than I. I detest the current conditions of the world in which I live. War, religious and racial intolerance, ecological destruction, lack of basic human needs, and disenfranchised societies only produces hopelessness for this world’s grandchildren. But what can I do? It just does not seem that helping one individual at a time over the last 40 years has been enough to assuage my self-anger nor provide solace for my self-imposed guilt. This is who I am. I cannot do otherwise. Is this sane? My ghosts are not good company, but I do know them.

Robert J Conway
2012.07.31

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