An Iraq War veteran, now in jail, shares what war really does to the mind of a man.
“In ancient times, a warrior returning from battle was not immediately allowed back into his tribe. He lived in a hut in solitude basically decompressing from the horror of war. His tribenen brought him food and conversation and news of the community. When he was ready, he would come home to a great celebration acknowledging the death of the soldier and the life of the man who was a son, a brother, a father and a friend. “
I told Karl this story. He was quiet for several minutes. Then he shared a story he had written when he first arrived in jail. He gave me permission to put his account in this blog. Here it is…word-for-word:
I died in Iraq. The old me left for Iraq and never came home. The man my wife married never came home. The father of my four children never came home. If I didn’t die, I don’t know what to call it. I liked the old me, the one who played guitar and laughed at dumb movies and loved to read for days on end. That me died…from a thousand blasts. Died covered in children’s blood. Died staring down my rifle barrel, a helpless woman in the crosshairs and my finger on the trigger. That me is gone.
The new me is frantic and can’t sit still. The new me didn’t laugh for a year. The new me cries while reading bedtime stories to my children. The new me plans to die tomorrow. The new me is on fast forward. The new me is crazy. The new me has a blown-up-swiss-cheese brain and doesn’t remember all of the old me but he remembers enough. Enough to be ashamed. Enough to miss the old me. Enough to resent the old me…resent the way everyone mourns him while I am standing right in front of them.
When you go to war and die, and come home crazy and with a ragged brain, you get to watch your family carry on without you.
Everyone longs for the old me. No one particularly wants to be with the new me…especially me.
I’ve read his mini-memoir three times, it does not get any easier. In fact, since I know Karl and I know what’s coming, it’s more difficult to re-read. I hope Karl can find a “hut” in which to let the soldier die and the man I like come out into the sunshine.In The Brothers Karamazov, there’s a passage that highlights our inhumanity:
People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and an insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of slaughtering people, even if he were able to do it.
I ask again…what is war good for??
Let’s end this time with a hopeful thought.
– Pema Chodron