Beyond ‘thank you’
Yesterday I wrote in Point of View that connection is an act of peacemaking, that connection subverts the forces of war. Today I listened to Sebastian Junger speak about Why Soldiers Miss War. What he says in that talk calls my conclusion into question, or at least betrays it as the wistfulness of a civilian.
That soldiers miss war puzzles most of us who want nothing to do with it. I am uncomfortable still when Mark tells me that he misses the war. I accept it. On some level I think I “get” it – he misses the excitement, the sense of competency, the pride in doing a miserable job that no one in “the world” wants to do. All of those things make a repeated theme throughout the book he and I are working on. Sebastian Junger acknowledges those things but he brings it all down to something else, something Mark speaks of as well. Soldiers miss war because they miss the comradeship, the brotherhood, the sense of loving one’s companions more than one’s self. Soldiers miss connection.
After the sense of connection in war, nothing in civilian life compares and this is a problem. Connection in war includes all those other things – adventure, skill, adrenalin – so it is a particular kind of connection they miss, one forged in extreme circumstances and seared into the brain. Junger says that if we want to stop war, we will have to come to terms with this. We have to recognize it on an emotional, spiritual, and neurological level. Until we do, “thank you for your service” is trite and calling veterans “heroes” misses the point. We will know more about how to honor veterans if we listen to them, when we let them tell us what war is like, what it is like for them. Real listening; there is no better way to honor them.