[November 8, 2019] Earlier this week, I was invited to a local High School in an open forum. The idea was to give young students a chance to ask questions about military veterans. I’ve done this before and given speeches on veteran issues. To my surprise, a young teenager asked me a question that I’d never encountered; she asked, “Do you miss war?“
Nine veterans were present, and I do believe the question was for me. Every vet looked in my direction, and I presume they were thinking “How to answer that question?” Of course, I don’t miss war. Death and destruction, the physical and mental strain, and the fear, pain, and intensity are a venomous brew of why war is not a likable event.
What the question did, however, was to force me to distinguish between the emotional high (some call it the “action junkie” effect) with the intense downside to combat. I had just spoken about the attraction of the camaraderie of those who fight beside you, how camaraderie is like a lifetime friendship but stronger and more primitive.
My answer was simple. I missed the camaraderie of those in my unit, our intense shared experiences, and the devotion to one another. The strength of the emotion would drive me to go to the aid of a fallen comrade regardless of the risk to myself. What I do not miss was all the bad parts of war. In my mind, I can still smell the stench of broken sewers, remember the deafening roar of the artillery, and the little children without parents. These things are not what I miss in war.
I believe that camaraderie is from intense experiences, usually bad or difficult circumstances. Those friends we had since childhood are close to us, but our comrades are much closer despite knowing them for a shorter time. I gave the example of a childhood friend “Wilson” who lives in Washington, D.C. (3 hours driving time) and “John” from one-year combat in Iraq (8.5 hours driving time to his house).
When Wilson calls to ask that I visit him, I get out my appointment book and schedule a time next week to drive down and see him. If John calls, I’m in my car early the next morning. Is it true the difference is something deep in our psyche? Is it primordial? Frankly, I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter because the emotional connection to comrades is more attractive than anything I’ve ever known. The “connection” is why one soldier will willingly risk his own life to save another soldier.
The young student seemed to understand. But, unless you have the emotional bond of a soldier (or any military experience from intense hardship), it is impossible to explain fully.