When serving in the armed forces, soldiers experience suffering, pain, and dejection to an extreme degree. The phenomenons they go through affect them for the rest of their lives. In many cases, they do not particularly like to talk about their experiences. If it comes up in conversation, they change the subject. If a person asks them a question about war or what they experienced, they simply do not answer. In the novel Flags of Our Fathers, author James Bradley details the experiences and personal thoughts of the soldiers of Iwo Jima. This battle was arguably one of the most gruesome battles throughout the duration of World War II. After reading this novel, I am curious as to why do our soldiers not like to talk about their experiences?
During their time spent fighting on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, the young men of the Marine Corps encountered more danger and suffering than they could have ever prepared themselves or their fellow freedom fighters for. They saw other soldiers drop dead in front of their very eyes. Rene Gagnon, a Corporal in the Marines at Iwo Jima recalls “…facing a lone Japanese soldier with his rifle aimed at them. As he told his son, Rene junior, he had a blinding thought in the split second that followed: “We all have mothers. We’re all human. Why does this have to be?” The enemy soldier fired first. Rene’s buddy dropped dead” (Bradley 134). Little did Gagnon know at the time, his experiences like those described above would be the easy part of the war. The hard part? Getting out. According to Vincent ‘Rocco’ Vargas, an Afghanistan Veteran saw his best friend die in the line of duty, says many, but not all, soldiers coming home from war experience self-pity. That is, they feel guilty being alive since so many of their fellow brothers in arms got killed in battle. In order to cope with their sadness and guilt, most take to drinking. They take a certain day, say the anniversary of their friend’s death, to go out and get drunk. They feel somewhat responsible for his or her death and need a way to make their suffering go away. In their minds, they tell themselves they could have done more to stop it (Vargas).
Sebastian Junger is a journalist who spent a year in 2007 embedded with American soldiers at an army outpost that saw some of the heaviest fighting in the Afghanistan war. According to him, the high rates of PTSD and emotional distress are attributed not to what happens on the battlefield. Rather, the isolation and disconnect our soldiers experience when they arrive back on the United States homeland (Dickerson). Our soldiers desperately miss the camaraderie, togetherness, and tribal feeling that they experienced while serving in the armed forces (Walters). In fact, it has been reported by the Department of Veterinary Affairs that on average, twenty soldiers commit suicide every day in America. This is due to the fact that many are not able to recover from the traumatic experiences they witnessed while deployed (Wentling).
Another reason why our soldiers don’t like to share their personal experiences is that many believe that what they experience in war should not be told to people who did not endure the same struggle. As reported by David W. Peters, a veteran and priest who is well acquainted among various veteran groups, says that military veterans consider their stories and experiences to be too much for the average civilian to handle (Peters). To be specific, Peters says, “Many times we feel the story would be “too much” for their loved one to hear. Stories about blood and death are kept secret for this reason (Peters). This is especially pertinent in Flags of Our Fathers when the author, James Bradley, does not recall his father, John Bradley, telling him about his experiences when serving in Iwo Jima. What puzzles James the most is that in a letter from his father to his parents, he described the flag raising on Iwo Jima to be the “happiest moment” of his life. If it was so joyous and happy, why did he never talk about what it was like to serve on Iwo Jima? James would not know the answer to that question until later in his life when he found out what his dad really had gone through. That is, immeasurable pain and personal suffering experienced by himself and his dear friends in the armed forces. They fought with bones sticking out of their bodies, blood crawling out of their hands, and many body parts missing due to direct combat. They endured this all while trying to complete one not so simple task: win the battle of Iwo Jima.
All in all, whether or not soldiers like to talk about their personal experiences in war can be based on a number of reasons. It could be they don’t think the people hearing the story will be able to handle it, plain and simple. They do not want to scare or scar their loved ones by putting those repugnant images in their heads. Or maybe it is because it brings back memories that they tried to erase from their mind. Memories of their closest friends being tortured to death. Nevertheless, whatever the reason may be, what our soldiers undergo while in battle is something they have to live with for the rest of their lives.
Bradley, James. Flags of Our Fathers. Bantam Books, 2000.
Dickerson, Kelly. “Soldiers Returning Home Are Faced with a Heartbreaking Problem Most People Don’t Understand.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 11 Nov. 2015, www.businessinsider.com/veterans-face-a-huge-problem-most-people-dont-understand-2015-11.
Peters, David W. “Here’s Why Veterans Don’t Talk About It.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Jan. 2015, www.huffingtonpost.com/david-w-peters/heres-why-veterans-dont-t_b_6129896.html.
Vargas, Vincent. “After the War: A Soldier’s Struggle to Come Home.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/news/after-the-war-a-soldiers-struggle-to-come-home.
Walters, Helen. “Why It’s so Hard to Come Home from War.” Ideas.ted.com, 1 Jan. 2016, ideas.ted.com/what-war-feels-like/.
Wentling, Nikki. “VA Reveals Its Veteran Suicide Statistic Included Active-Duty Troops.” Stars and Stripes, www.stripes.com/news/us/va-reveals-its-veteran-suicide-statistic-included-active-duty-troops-1.533992.
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