I recently picked up the book Redeployment by Phil Klay. It’s a collection of stories from the perspective of Marines engaged in Iraq. Klay’s a terrific storyteller. I’d consumed about three-quarters of the book when I began feeling I couldn’t go any further. I’ve been mulling over this unexpected reaction. Maybe it’s the sense that a lot of these guys feel something like “no one can possibly understand what I’ve been through and fuck ‘em all” that gets my back up. One chooses to heal – or not – as one chooses to enlist.
No question war fighting is ugly business. Young men, trained to kill and armed beyond belief with high-tech offensive and defensive gear, get thrown into situations deemed immune to diplomatic solutions. (It’s a man’s ‘game’ so talking serves only so far.) Most of the young guys that make it home alive arrive with disastrous bodily injuries and/or souls bedeviled with the darkest guilt, grief and rage. Veterans under 30 had a 44% increase in the rate of suicides. That’s roughly two a day taking their own lives, most just a few years after leaving the service. (Stars and Stripes, January 9, 2014)
Perhaps the better response to returning soldiers is not “Thank you for your service’ but “I’m sorry for your loss.” That could include friends, body parts, peace of mind, belief in humankind, hope.
Meanwhile, back in the lands destroyed by their handiwork, it’s mostly women who must pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild lives with the scraps of foreign aid that trickle down from corrupt governments propped up by the ‘victor’s’ allies. Nobody has won. This is the true nature of war.
I deploy in ‘what happens after’ land. These places inflict their own brand of damage on those who care to show up. But I believe that cynicism, fatalism, have no place in the work. People recover at their own pace. Some never make it back to anything resembling normal. But for most women, the driving incentive is their children. They will persist in their efforts to make life better, if only for the kids.
The bigger challenge for all of us is to imagine and create a world that does not have to resort to war. The current generation of women leaders tends to be constrained by the long entrenched men’s way of doing things. I place some hope in the younger generation of women leaders who will jar loose the prevailing system of ‘shoot and ask questions later.’
So, in this reflection, I’ve clarified another compelling reason for the proliferation of Women’s Centers. They are a vital path to reclaiming a future that all of us can embrace.