Movie Tropes and Military PTSD – Hollywood Needs to Start Getting This Right

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for veterans of war isn’t a real disease. It’s a profitable movie trope.

Vets

This is going to be a very serious post. To be clear, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disease that affects many veterans who have taken part in combat and even non-combat operations in warfare, as well as many civilians who have experienced fatal car accidents, work in emergency medicine, and many other people who have experiences which put them in stressful situations beyond the expectations of what a normal person should expect in their lifetime. The disease can affect the way people live their lives, resulting in follow-on social dysfunctional disorders, depression, and for some, result in suicide.

That said, to not dilute the level of frustration other veterans and myself feel, Hollywood is not treating this disease as a problem which deserves understanding and respect. They’ve turned it into a plot device to add drama and communicate a story they wish to tell, depicting their own biases towards the military, the wars they fight, or the politicians that sent them to this unfortunate fate, with the “innocent veteran victim” now serving as the medium for their message. Masked in a story about “the real heroes and the struggles they face” these narrative mechanics boil down to little more than money making engines and good publicity for film creators by exploiting people who want to identify with veterans and their needs, but can’t. We aren’t part of that world. So their best opportunity years after they decided not to serve, and now maybe don’t feel so good about that, is a two hour war movie which is billed as coming from their point of view.

Movies like the Hurt Locker and Brothers are the worst of these. They tell the story of how warfare will always leave people broken, charred remnants of what used to be happy and productive human beings. Please understand that most of us are just normal people. We went to war. Then we came home and did other things. We enjoy going to our jobs where we add valuable experience and promote cultures of work ethic. We enjoy running on the track with our dogs, and we enjoy spending evenings with our families watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 and playing Mario Kart or Skyrim. However, when I see people who have done the things I have done in movies, and see the way they are depicted as I live today, it really breaks my heart. I’ve experienced prejudice, fear, and even been denied opportunities because I was a veteran of Iraq. What’s more, millions more like me have suffered far worse. Many have faced social ostracism, been denied jobs, and accosted publically for their role in an unpopular war. I just want people to understand, if that sort of treatment happens to you, it would mess you up in the head. People need to feel appreciated, loved, or at least not hated for doing something which they did for all the right reasons. Forget that the war even happened to these people. If you were to be treated as many returning vets were and are still today, you would not come out of it psychologically for the better.

This isn’t just something that sucks. It has been shown to affect how often veterans are hired in civilian positions after leaving the military. Did you know that veterans are discriminated against in hiring decisions because of the assumption that veterans have PTSD and may bring violence to the workplace? It has actually been measured that because of the negative bias created by these types of media, military veterans suffer unfair stereotyping and bias in hiring practices. This phenomena began making headlines when USA Today put out an article calling attention to it. Often, managers will look at a resume and say that, “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD. He might one day snap and shoot up the office.” The veteran is not hired because of an unfair stereotype no more accurate or just than not hiring an African American or Latino man because he was probably at one time part of a gang. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or personal tragedy) it is assumed by many people that most veterans have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease.

Researchers from the Center for New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, interviewed executives of 69 leading corporations, including Bank of America, Target, Wal-Mart, Procter and Gamble, and Raytheon. All said hiring veterans can be good for business, but more than half acknowledged harboring a negative image of veterans because of how popular media — from news coverage to films — portray PTSD. [1]

About one in three employers consider post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. [2]
This in spite of the fact that military veterans are less prone to violence than all the other population groups when matched with their own age cohorts [3] and that the presence of non-active duty veterans alone has prevented dozens of criminal acts including bank robberies, muggings, and even acts of terrorism [4]. Still though, veterans are considered potential risk factors by employers when work places say they won’t hire “our kind [5]” and continue to experience higher unemployment rates in spite of more training and more experience than other potential candidates [6].

Hopefully, this example will show that there is a link between the incorrect assumptions formed by media and actual real world civilian perceptions which are affecting veterans’ lives. Perhaps it isn’t that, though. Maybe all vets really do just suck. Well, maybe, but all anyone really has to do is watch the climactic ending to Brothers to understand that Hollywood is pushing an image of veterans that frightens people. Even if you’ve seen the movie, please watch this scene again to really get a feel for how frighteningly people like me are portrayed.

Look, movies have power. The words they say have power. The words said in movies echo over and over and over in the minds of people who see it. The specifics of a guy put into an impossible situation, (literally the premise of Brothers was beyond plausible) are lost as the audience over time forgets the details. Eventually they start to generalize, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy. As I said, it isn’t just “some guy who came back from the war.”  The “do you know what I did to come back to you?” reference in the clip was of a Marine Corps Captain captured and forced to murder another Marine by his terrorist captors  to buy himself more time in detention before he could be rescued. Anyone would be psychologically damaged from that, however it is a work of complete fiction. There are no stories like that of any actual people who came back from Iraq or Afghanistan. It is complete fiction for the point of adding drama, but that fact is lost. A few months later, people who watched the film only remember, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy.” When they see a vet a month after that, and find out he was in the war, what framework are they working under? Do you think they are aware that the only reference they had was a movie that wasn’t even possible, which also sort of aligns with vague news reports they weren’t really listening to about veterans and mental illness, and that they already have an incredibly loaded bias behind this person they are now talking to? As I said, it isn’t just, “some guy who came back from the war.” Brothers is a work of fiction, and no one should have to prove themselves against it, but now we do.

Even movies which got a lot right made this unnecessary tangent into depicting veterans as war ravaged husks. Consider the “unfortunate dog scene” from American Sniper.

That was unfortunate because, according to the book, nothing like that was ever mentioned. There was a situation where Kyle killed a dog, but not like the movie. In fact, not even in the United States. In the book American Sniper, on a night before one of Kyle’s overwatch missions, one where he considered his role to be providing security and ensuring the lives of Marines and fellow SEALs under him, there was a dog barking outside his tent. He warned the owner to shut up the dog. The dog kept barking. Deprived of sleep and needing to rest for his responsibilities the next day, he warned the owner again. The dog kept barking. Kyle shot the dog. Given that context, is that anything like what was depicted in the movie? Given the true context of being literally in the middle of a war, doesn’t that kind of sound like something a responsible person might do? Asking another question, what possible reason existed for adding the numerous hints that Chris Kyle had developed PTSD over his numerous tours in Iraq, all the while in spite of no real world evidence existing that the actual person depicted in the film ever had come under the hold of the disease? Was his life not good enough without the extra drama?

In a couple of  interviews [7][8], Clint Eastwood said that the film was meant to be “anti-war”.

“I just wonder . . . does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t. So each time we get in these conflicts, it deserves a lot of thought before we go wading in or wading out. Going in or coming out. It needs a better thought process, I think.”

While the point is valid, the medium he used was to display a falsified narrative about Kyle, and by extension, all others like him who deployed to the war.

“the biggest antiwar statement any film” can make is to show “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did.”
While I agree in practice, I have a problem with Eastwood’s decision to use mental destabilization and broken families as the “facts” that “family and the people who have to go back into civilian life” go through. That sort of experience isn’t universal and it isn’t even common, despite what they say in the movies.

I’m sure from a perspective of cinematography these movies probably pushed the industry forward somehow, but as far as communicating one of the most important social issues of our time, not to mention an ongoing conflict at the time, they have failed miserably. Many have set veterans’ issues back ten years. If we look at how much actually is known about PTSD, much of it discovered through studying and counseling done for combatants of the Vietnam war, and the mysterious black hole of mystery surrounding it now, one might question if the narrative of “a disease we still know so little about,” has set us back even further.

I want people to look at it this way. We have seen LGBT rights and issues get a lot of press and people are now trying very hard to see things from their perspective. It’s not acceptable anymore to portray them as the wildly stereotypical, flamboyant clowns circa the era of Robin Williams’ The Birdcage. No matter your beliefs, (I actually think The Birdcage was meant to help them, somehow…) we all agree that they’re people who deserve respect and to be portrayed in a realistic manner. However, the veteran population is allowed to be portrayed in any manner in which the world pleases to fulfill their narrative, and ironically, is considered a violation of 1st Amendment privileges to argue the practice, where a modern release of The Birdcage might be considered something between criminally insensitive or even a hate crime. These veteran depictions vary from bloodthirsty murderers (Battle for Haditha), psychologically scarred societal dangers (Brothers), impossible killing machines, but incapable husbands while in (American Sniper) unstable love interests, addicted to pills (Parenthood), and everything about the Hurt Locker. In fact, the Hurt Locker was so hurtful to the soldier it was beyond a reasonable doubt depicting, that he sued the filmmakers for his portrayal. Even consider the movie Max, about a dog who goes to Iraq and develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even a freaking dog who goes to war will come back mentally damaged. Where does it end? What is the overriding theme that Hollywood movies and television are trying to present? Basically, once a person goes to war, he is from then on, on the cusp of losing control and murdering everyone around him if the door slams too loudly. That’s what people seem to think is happening. Now, why is it that I brought the LGBT stance into this? Because, frankly, veterans outnumber the estimated homosexual population in the United States by at least 2:1. Why is it that one group of so many people is allowed to be so egregiously stereotyped, when the others aren’t? Furthermore, being gay isn’t a choice, but serving is. Whether you agree with their mentality, or what they did or didn’t do, they chose to serve their nation, which includes many reading this, in the best way they knew how. They deserve more respect than to become plot devices to the profit of people who neither cared about them, nor bothered getting to know and understand them.

I’ll leave you with this, Hollywood has power. It has the substantial power to mold the way that the average person identifies with experiences they have never had. Unfortunately, we live in an age where fewer and fewer people serve in the military. This is true as a percentage of the population and in real terms. We have fewer members of the military today than we did prior to World War II, and when the United States itself is twice as large. For that reason, for many, the movies are the only place they will experience the military, its veterans, or the struggles they face. When movies collectively paint only on the lines of a particular damaging movie narrative, it has a drastic impact on the lives of those it is thoughtlessly depicting. And it isn’t just the Hurt Lockers and the Brothers responsible for this. It echoes in the “artwork” of people who know even less, but who use these same devices in a downward spiral of our depiction. Below is an excerpt from an “incredibly powerful” short film by a college student for Project Greenlight entitled The Present Trauma.

This hurts me to see, not for the message it is trying to tell, but for the abuse on the character of those same individuals. It’s images like this which make a friend of mine tell me that when her husband finally came from Iraq, her friends asked her, “Do you feel safe?” It’s a childish attempt to do some good, more for creators than for the subjects, through the obvious manipulation, veterans as victims clickbait, but actually slapping the face of the plain old vet sitting at home, wondering why no one will hire him. Of course, the echo shows up in darker forms, where we are nothing more than, to use the words of Muse, “Fucking Psychos”.
I can’t help but agree with the rage of one anonymous writer in his visceral reaction to the propaganda layden depiction of veterans in Muse’s Psycho. It’s disgusting, and against no other minority would this sort of ignorance, callousness, and blind hatred be acceptable. But to the military, it is. It hurts us. We feel the sting of words, and this hurts us. Of course, I doubt this filth would have ever seen the light of day if not for a particular idea being so prevalent in our culture … that veterans are fucking psychos, something Hollywood is, in my opinion, doing the most harm in causing and the least good fixing.

Wow… all of a sudden I understand why 22 veterans kill themselves every day. It had nothing to do with Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s coming home to a place that treats them like this.


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Facts and Misconceptions about what is a Wounded Warrior.

Approximately what percentage of veterans have a service level disability?

USMC Cpl. Raymond Hennagir looks to pass the ball, during a wounded warriors practice inside the Karen Wagner Sports Center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to prepare for the Warrior Games.  For The News & Messenger
USMC Cpl. Raymond Hennagir looks to pass the ball, during a wounded warriors practice inside the Karen Wagner Sports Center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to prepare for the Warrior Games. For The News & Messenger

It’s really high, but not for the obvious reasons people suspect. The reason for this isn’t because we all suffered from some car bombing, like a few of the warriors pictured above. Those numbers are actually quite low relatively speaking. The reason is more connected with day-to-day type work environment disabilities. For most, it is simply the chronic bodily maltreatment over the course several years in the military.

Take my example. I am about as average as a Marine deployed to Iraq probably gets. I am not yet thirty, but I have to see a chiropractor regularly like I was fifty. My back issues started literally weeks after my second deployment to Iraq. We traced the cause to wearing an eighty pound flak jacket, supported entirely on my shoulders, for eight hours a day, seven days a week. Turns out, in the bullet proof vest industry, you have to have a balance between ergonomics and ballistic protection. In a risk/reward scenario, I prefer back pain. That injury rated me 10% service connected disability.

Another one came from hearing damage I suffered from being a rifle and pistol coach for two years, literally standing inches from weapons going off all day. We had hearing protection, but there is only so much the 25 cent softies can do.

That is realistically what happens to most of the military injured. The jobs are just hard on the body. That isn’t to say that all people are as lucky as I was. The records are very clear in that in the wars, so far, there have been 6,845 dead, and 52,300 wounded. That being said, what doesn’t help anyone is the almost criminal misrepresentation by news agencies such as the Huffington post, making numerous posts saying that because of injuries like this, a million troops are now counted as “wounded from combat” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Huffington has taken an extremely liberal definition of the word “wounded” by misquoting this definition from the International Business times:

“All that can be said with any certainty is that as of last December more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

VA Stops Releasing Data On Injured Vets As Total Reaches Grim Milestone [EXCLUSIVE]

To be clear, if I were to break my leg tomorrow for something that happened six years after leaving the military, and go to a VA hospital to see if there is anything they could do to help me, I could count in this number. However, in the Huffington Post article: 6,845 Americans Died and 900,000 Were Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Say ‘No’ to Obama’s War., an article with the seemingly intended purpose of arguing against intervention against the ISIS ( the Islamic terrorist nation and their murderous tirade through the Middle East) based on half truths and misinformation. The writer, H. A. Goodman, blatantly links this figure of 900,000 wounded with the Pentagon quote that more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been victims of IED explosions” implying that upwards of 400,000 to 600,000 people were wounded by roadside bombings. Being that the actual figure of people wounded by roadside bombs is somewhere closer to maybe 20,000, as a veteran, I’m appalled by the way Huffington Post is misrepresenting us.

The reason for this rant on the HP is because they are doing a severe disservice to actual veterans by misrepresenting what is going on with us through their politically agenda layden postings. In other articles, they’ve expounded on this figure, stating that everything from a single episode of dizziness to actually being shot counts as being “wounded in action”. Meanwhile, public perception of ailments such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) has turned into something that makes people so aware of the problem, that instead of understanding the diseases and the realistic numbers behind them, people just assume we are all broken from the neck up. Also, being that somewhere around only two million deployments of individuals occurred in either Iraq or Afghanistan, this 1 million wounded number that keeps being brought up gives the illusion that fully half of all veterans nearly died or are seriously messed up from going to Iraq or Afghanistan. Since these veterans, in reality, faced less than a 1% chance of ever being injured in the war, it doesn’t help me if I go in for a job and have to face the silent prejudice of “probably has PTSD” because of poor reporting like this. This is the disservice that selective, agenda based reporting like this is doing.

Shame on you Huffington Post. Be better.


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How do I deal with the bitterness that has been festering inside of me since I’ve returned from the Middle East?

A question was asked on the social media website Quora. Another veteran expressed his frustration over trying to rejoin society after his combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. I deeply sympathized with his frustrations and felt the need to reach out.

The Question:

How do I deal with the bitterness that has been festering inside of me since I’ve returned from the Middle East? How do I stomach listening to ‘patriots’ who talk about things they know nothing of? How will I ever fit back in to our society after hiding in my apartment for the 5 years since I’ve returned from my final deployment? How do I deal with being so lost? How can I live with this anger for my countrymen who sent me to two wars and then refuse to pay thier taxes while carrying so much debt? All while watching American Idol and wearing a “I support the Troops” Tshirt, what does that even mean anyway?

The Answer:

Welcome to the club.

I’ve been where you are now and there are many of us who are frustrated. After four years in the Marines and two tours in Iraq followed by my biggest challenge, going to college with my 18 year old counterparts, I decided something: I hate Americans. That feeling isn’t really as severe anymore because I eventually mellowed out, but I do feel for you.

During this period I wrote these answers that might help you see that you’re not alone. Read them, see if they make you feel better.

In them you’ll see a unique amalgam of intense pride, disillusionment, patriotism, shame, self-sacrifice, self-righteousness, arrogance, entitlement, and an ounce of old fashioned chivalry. Sound familiar?

Warning: People who have never served in the United States Military will notappreciate the rest of this answer. Don’t get pissy. I warned you. Having said that, there are a few things the person asking the question should let go of if you want to move on.

1) How do I stomach listening to ‘patriots’ who talk about things they know nothing of?

Did you ever have that one E-3 in your unit who just thought he was really smart? So smart in fact that he tried to recreate a scenario he read in The Darwin Awards because he just knew that he could make it work? These are called idiots. You remember, the ID-10T’s. They are morons on a good day and in their best day all they do is talk. The political ones you will run into on the outside are no different. Most of them are just self-righteous know-it-alls who really love their country. Maybe, or maybe they just hate all the people who see the world in a different way. Fundamentalists don’t just wear turbans and the sooner you realize that the better. They all say the same thing, “I really wanted to serve, but my [ random pissant disability ] wouldn’t let me in.” And for some reason, seem to think that entitles them to some sort of glorified status among veterans. I don’t get it either. Stop trying. Just avoid eye contact. Smile and nod. Walk away.

2) How will I ever fit back into our society after hiding in my apartment for the 5 years since I’ve returned from my final deployment?

You won’t. Society isn’t all that great anyway. I went through a recluse phase, too. It isn’t productive. The best advice I have is to try to find a veterans group where you can vent your frustrations with an equally annoyed bunch of old farts, so that you heal in safe way among a fraternity of people who understand you. It really does help to talk it out with people who have been there. Even if they didn’t exactly go through what you did, they have experienced stuff like it or at least have thought about it far more than a healthy person should. You’ll need their experience and their wisdom. Your friends won’t get you. Your family won’t even get you. All they can offer are cliches and Dr. Phil nonsense advice. I wish I had done it sooner. I stayed angry for way too long and it cost dearly in the relationships I could have made as well as in my career.

Besides that, what you need to do is realize that you aren’t supposed to “fit back in”. You’re special and not in that Barney the Dinosaur sort of way. People respect you because you have done stuff that blows their minds, or at least their stereotypes of you blows their freaking minds. In some circles, you can walk in and command a room just with your presence alone. Warning though, eventually they get to know you and you don’t live up to their stereotypes, so they get bored and will want to throw you away because you somehow failed to live up to their impossible expectations. Sorry about that. This paragraph was supposed to be uplifting.

That said, you do have a lot of skills that most people don’t. You have a lot of character traits that others don’t. Values, ethics, ideals and expectations; the whole shabang. Your problem is that you suck at dealing with people, certain kinds of people anyway, and I am sorry to say, those certain kinds of people are everywhere. You are going to need at least, in my experience, two years to learn how to fill in the personality gaps between you now and normal for the rest of humanity before you can fake it well enough to happily work at a job with people.

3) How do I deal with being so lost?

Veterans of Foreign Wars – They have a waiting list that’s a year shorter than seeking counseling through the VA. It is a sad joke, because it is true. You should try to talk to people. Old vets are cool because you just hang out and they don’t mind being there when stuff gets real. If you start crying, civilians want to label you and run for the door. Old vets, just remembered when they cried. Sometimes they give you a hug. Sometimes they tell you to suck it up. They also know how you feel and can relate in a way that reminds you, “That’s right, I’m normal. I just went through a really crappy time in my life.” At the point where you seem to be, you might need to get started on the process to talk to a professional. I had a friend who was really messed-up after Iraq and it really helped him. It just takes dropping the macho, “I’m too tough to speak to anyone about my head problems.” or “There are people worse off than me,” or “I didn’t really experience anything actually traumatic.” It’s only your life you’re wasting if you don’t.

4) How can I live with this anger for my countrymen who sent me to two wars and then refuse to pay their taxes while carrying so much debt?

There is something that I really want you to realize and it will help you get through a lot. Your countrymen never sent you to Iraq or Afghanistan. You did. The United States is an all volunteer service. There is no draft. There is no obligatory service and there is no conscription. No one forced you to go to MEPS and no one held your hand up while you swore the Oath. Judging by the time frame, you also probably knew there was a war going on already. From that point until your DD-214 you gave your word that whatever happened, you would fulfill your promise to serve the Commander-in-Chief, the chosen representative of the combined will of these fifty states according the Constitution of the United States.  If war was going to happen, it wasn’t the fault of any one of them, not even all of them. If you feel that you suffered from war, you have to remember that it was because you chose to go. I’m sorry to be real like that, but you have be responsible for that part or you are just going to get more and more bitter about what others did to you, when really, it wasn’t “others'” fault.

As for the “and then refuse to pay their taxes while carrying so much debt?” have you ever read the book Starship Troopers? It’s a really great military sci-fi for military folk. It was written by a former Naval officer who really seemed to capture the feel of people in the service… four hundred years from now, anyway. One part I remember most is that, in that world, the only people who can vote are the veterans. It isn’t that they are the smartest or even the most qualified. The reason they are the only group allowed to vote is that they, alone, have proven the one trait that should be a requirement of citizenship, the willingness to sacrifice for their society. They don’t make poor choices which are self serving because they, alone, have actually invested real skin and blood into their society and they won’t break it with a black hole entitlement programs, an unproductive criminal corrections system, forgiveness for the chronically ineffective, and enabling hand out programs.  No other group, by virtue of their existence, has proven they have a vested interest in the future of their society, which they are willing to defend, besides the veterans. We don’t live in that world, but I understand what Heinlein was trying to say. You’re going to have to accept that there are just so, so very many people out there who are complete and utter leeches on society who have a vote no less powerful than yours. That is because we live in a democracy where merit, ability, education, and social mobility are traits that don’t really matter, just how many friends you have. Perhaps I should have said that democracy was based off of the belief of the fundamental equality inherent to all God’s children. Alas, I didn’t and I am sure your know why. Until the day when Heinlein’s fascist utopia/draconian nightmare (depending on your point view) becomes real, we are just going to have to accept this fact, too; worthless people matter just as much as the greatest in a democracy. For better or worse, this is how it will be in any sort of perceivable future. As yet though, this has been the most successful setup for self governance, so far, so it can’t be that bad. As I have already said, you also volunteered because, at one point, either because you were naive or really, really idealistic, you believed that that democracy was worth defending. If you still value it, you have to let go of the anger toward the idiots that also get to vote even though the have never and likely will never contribute anything but deficit to our society.

5) All while watching American Idol and wearing a “I support the Troops” T-shirt, what does that even mean anyway?

Americans, in general, are pretty self-centered creatures happy to sit on a couch and wait for, or even demand, whatever in the world there is to entertain them. Many will live their whole lives without progressing the human race forward one inch. That really terrifies me, but they have different values than you do. That’s why you joined the military; to do something heroic, or something important, something adventurous or just something different, or whatever, but they didn’t. Many of them are just worthless blobs demanding more intake of whatever gives them their individual fix. Call it American Idol, heroin, weed, sex, politics, money, work, or whatever. They just need whatever it is that makes them happy and that is all they will ever know.

That’s why when they faced the risk of their blissful happiness and their precious ability to consume entertainment at a breakneck pace was blown out of the water for the first time in sixty years, all anyone could do was thank a Marine for going out and doing the nasty stuff that kept their right to a 50″ surround sound maintained. That is seriously the only reason that many of them do it. They got scared of living in a world not as blissful as America in the 1990’s and the military suddenly seemed like the only group of people who would make that happen again.

And then what happens? They watch the news and hear that we are at war. They know a guy who went to war. Well, they know someone whose brother is in the war. Or maybe he is just in the Air Force. They don’t really remember, but they sure do feel like they are at war. No they aren’t rationing. No they aren’t planting victory gardens. No they aren’t recycling pig fat, panty hose, or iron shaving. No they aren’t buying war bonds or even enduring any sort of increased taxation to pay for this war, but they sure do feel the effects of that war, goshdarnit.

The fact is that many are simply saying “We support our troops” because you went to war and they didn’t have to. Others are simply just saying it because of social obligation. Nobody wants to be that guy who doesn’t support the troops, you know, like the entire country after Vietnam. They sure didn’t in that war, when absolutely no one thought it was important. Then veterans were spit upon when they came home. At least my generation still gets handshakes, social prestige and from time to time a real, true to life thankful person will buy me a coke after they find out what I did.

I do want to go on record to say that most people aren’t really the problem. The problem is a minority. There are about 10% of the people, of no particular race, religion, creed, or color, who come together as individuals to form a collection of the most loathsome, despicable, and worthless human beings imaginable. Not to themselves, of course. To themselves, they are the most magnanimous human beings on the face of the planet and worthy of all that was given to them, and so much more. It is only people who see things through your point of view that they are so horrible. (Me too, by the way.) You have to realize though, that they are a minority, a small number of people who command a massive amount of your attention because you feel very passionately about certain things which you have given so much for and have a certain set of values which many do not truly appreciate or even fathom. Once you learn to adjust your blinders during times when you don’t want to deal with those kinds of people which bug the crap out of you, you’ll start appreciating a lot of other people around that aren’t such oxygen thieves.

Summary

Wars are going to happen. Sometimes they will happen for reasons we say are good because the alternatives are probably worse. Other times, incompetent officials elected by incompetent voters will start them. At those times men and women who are willing to do whatever their leaders ask of them, in service of a country they are really proud of, will have to carry out the acted will of the United States. You already did that. As someone else who did, I am sincerely thankful for you doing that and I am very sorry that you are going through “the suck” right now. But you owe it to yourself, and to the rest of us veterans, to get better. There is a festering horde of worthless no-goods out there becoming more and more dependent upon the almighty “They” for absolutely everything in their world. You really are one of the few people out there with unique skill and value set, buried underneath all that pent up frustration and angst which we all share. Get some help and go talk to someone. You really are blowing the best years of your life being pissed off and it isn’t doing anyone any good, at all. Once you correct yourself, you’ll be happy you did. I promise.

-Semper Fi
Sgt Jon Davis (inactive since 2008)

Blues


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Quora Answers: How Do Military Veterans Feel When They Return Home From Combat?

Jonathan Kirk Davis, Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps

It is an experience that is incredibly difficult to understand and describe.

I will try to describe the emotional/psychological process that I and many other fellow Marines (soldiers, sailors, etc) experienced.

Before you understand what a returning Marine/soldier/sailor/etc experiences when they come home, you have to know what they really go through when they are over there.

What we all experience, combat or none, is a very, very long period of extended absence from comfort, security, our families, and breaks. The Marines spend seven months on deployment. Army is about twice that, but they don’t go as often. That means months where you deal with the same people day, after day, after day. There is no change and no break. You work with them, you eat with them, and you live with them. If you can’t stand them, oh well. If your boss is a jerk or psycho, there isn’t even the escape of going home at the end of the day or having a weekend. Now you need to consider the war side of things. In the best case scenario, you are under the constant threat of surprise attack. Car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, mortars. Looking at people everywhere who you can see absolutely hate you. In the worst case scenario, you actually fight. You might kill people. You might lose friends. But I won’t get into what it’s like for those cases, they are pretty tough to nail down and can vary wildly. But whatever picture I drew, don’t think about how it sucks for a few short periods of intense violence; imagine it sucking for months and months of a slow drone and a psychological beating.

And then you come home. Everything is fine now right? Not really …

First, we are absolutely elated to come home, see our families, go to our bars, women … This is a high that can’t really be expressed very accurately. In a way, you are doing things that you have done many times before, but it has been so long that it feels completely foreign to you. When you see your wife, she is unfamiliar to you. When you first see her, you get the smell of her hair and her embrace, but there are subtle differences that make you feel as if things are different somehow. Her hair has changed or she has new interests. It kind of feels like a first date for a few weeks as you try to remember how you fit together again … figuratively speaking. This “second first date” is the same with all the things you do, hanging out with your old friends, going to favorite hangouts. But don’t get me wrong. Even if we are quiet about it and act like it is no big deal, these are some of the happiest days we have ever had.

Second, there is residual stress that carries over from a combat deployment. While on deployment, military people deal with each other in ways that are not normal in civilian America. We are harsh with each other and don’t often act with kindness and gentleness with one another. Add this to natural combat stress, the constant concern that you may get attacked, the wondering if a vehicle near you is going to blow up, always seeing in the eye of every local that they want to kill you.  You are suspicious, tightly wound, and easily angered. I remember several times waking up in my bed even a few months after deployment and panicking because I couldn’t find my weapon. You also don’t mesh well with your families. They do things you don’t understand. They do things you don’t understand, mostly because they have grown very independent of you. Many confuse this for a feeling that you are unwanted or unneeded, and this makes the returning person very irritable. Combine all these, and you have an explanation as to why so many men returning from “over there” come back angry and beat their wives. It is difficult to transition between two worlds and some, especially those who experience combat, don’t cope well. It isn’t right, but it happens.

Third, there is a long phase where you try to adjust to having your life back. To be honest, it is never the same as before you left. You are changed by the experience of a combat deployment, even after the first. Every time you go, you change. And so does everyone else that you care about. Everyone matures naturally, but independent of each other, and you have to reintegrate into each other’s lives again. Young Marines often have a hard time keeping control; husbands fight with wives, and fathers can’t communicate with kids (and don’t be naive, this is different from those people who think it is the same as having teenagers). It takes time before everything settles down emotionally. Most people make it through this phase OK, but unfortunately, many don’t.

This is the part of coming home most people don’t really talk about.

This question originally appeared on Quora.

As a special bonus, this post was also published on Forbes.com.