"Arms alone can give the world no permanent peace, no confident security. Arms are solely for defense -- to protect from violent assault what we already have. They are only a costly insurance. They cannot add to human progress."
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Statler Hotel, Washington, DC, 4/21/56
The financial cost of this long war is staggering, and because it is fueled by Islamic hatred of the West, in particular the Judeo-Christian societies of Europe, America and Israel, it offers no near-term resolution. But dollars and debt are not the greatest cost we will pay in this war.
There is a slow realization among the military leadership of the terrible cost of conflict on the human spirit. I am not sure the civilian politicians can ever grasp the price this nation is paying with our future.
In past wars we sent our soldiers, sailors, airman, marines and coastguardsmen off to war, they fought until either the war or their service was over, they were led by a small cadre of professional officers and non-commissioned officers, but for the most part they were volunteers or conscripts. They historically fought as a unit, and were relieved as a unit. There were exceptions of course, and we saw in the Vietnam War the idea we could just send the draftees over for their term and abandon them back into society. What we didn’t know then, but should now, is the psychological trauma that war imparts on the survivors.
With this war we are sending our professional warriors back into the crucible time and time again. I guess the simplest analogy would be to compare the impacts to concussions in football that are so much in the news these days. We ask of our young men and woman unimaginable things, and they deliver time and time again. I was fortunate this weekend to listen to the stories of an Air Force Master Sargent, who has served as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal expert for 12 years, talk of his experiences during four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how he is dealing with the post traumatic stress from being blow up three or four times, watching his friends die, seeing young children torn apart by the bombs placed by the Islamic extremists that he could not safe, or blew up without realizing they were near by.
He talked about how we are just now realizing that skilled counselors, who can cut through the walls they build to protect themselves, can provide the tools to help understand and cope with the damage that has been done. He spoke of four pillars of resilience that form the basis for successfully coping with the trauma and horror they experience.
First comes the mental pillar, how can those who’ve seen so much find peace with the horrors? The critical concept centers on something I’ve understood for a long time. You have got to understand the demons, sort through what you can control and let go of what you can’t. We see this exact same concept summarized in the serenity prayer that forms the basis of recovery in Alcoholic’s Anonymous. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the tings I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. At the end of the day mental strength and recovery comes from an acceptance that only you can control your life and the hard choices must be yours and yours alone.
Next is the physical -- study after study shows that through proper diet and exercise the body improves and strengthens the chemical make up and supports the individual’s mental strength. There is a story of an extremely obese man who suffered from severe depression. His doctor had advised he was suffering from heart disease and he sought a way to commit suicide that would not be so obvious and affect the insurance payments to his wife and family. So he set out one day to run until he suffered a heart attack which he new he would surely bring on. Having no breath, he ran for about a mile before he collapsed in exhaustion and waited for the attack. It did not come, so he slowly walked home vowing to run harder the next day. Needless to say he ran so hard he collapsed again. He repeated this every day for a week, and all the sudden he realized he had lost weight, his breathing had improved, and his outlook towards the future was different. If we want a positive outcome in our lives we must start with care of ourselves.
Then comes the social aspect of resiliency. We need to value and accept our friends and family and not be afraid to look to them for the strength and compassion we need to make it though the rough spots. Those who are alone, or feel so alone they are not part of a larger group are the most likely to have problems in their recovery from PTSD. I would suspect, although I’ve not done the research, this is one of the biggest contributors to the large number of Vietnam Veterans who came home from the war, hating everything around them, who sought refuge in drugs and dropped out of society.
Finally, and certainly not the least important, is the concept of spirituality. The recognition that your life serves some higher purpose and power. If your choices are always about self-gratification then you will make increasingly poor choices. For you to make sense of life and society you must have something to anchor your moral compass to, to turn to when you have to release what you can’t control and to help balance your needs and those of the larger society.
Please keep these in mind if you see someone who seems to be lost and searching for a way to deal with the day. Don’t be afraid to talk with them, a small word at the right time can be the difference between a life well lived and a life tragically cut short.