Myth and Experience of War

Sitting in the Flames, CHAPTER TWO: Immersed in the Myth and Experience of War
In the “Gripping Hands” section of the Spring 2015 issue of the West Point magazine, a brief article about a Class of 2004 graduate reads,
Captain William N. Eberle receives Distinguished Service Cross
For his courage and gallantry while in close combat with insurgent forces during an attack at Jalalabad Airfield in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, Captain William N. Eberle ’04, a commander with 3rd Special Forces Group, received the Distinguished Service Cross on February 10, 2015 at a ceremony held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Eberle, General Joseph Votel ’80, commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Command, said, “His actions that day epitomize determination to defeat an overwhelming enemy force, compassion for his teammates in harm’s way and valor for his courage to act in the face of danger.”
First awarded during World War I, the Distinguished Service Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.
Upon receiving the impressive honor, Eberle downplayed the attention saying, “This medal belongs to my team, and the honor for me is to represent the 3rd Special Forces Group”.
Que Son, Vietnam introduced the first hostile bullets that were directed my way: we were on a daylight patrol when two Viet Cong in black pajamas opened fire from our direct front. This was a fear laden encounter, survival instincts kicked-in and my head ducked automatically. However, this initial fear seemed to pass very quickly once there was awareness that the first burst of fire had been survived. The Viet Cong fled, and we neither saw nor heard from them during the remainder of the patrol.
Reflecting on this initial story about the reality of being a target for bullets, there are numerous stories one can tell about the experience of war; and each time a story is told, it is never the same because one’s experience of the times and places change. Who doesn’t want to be a hero? Who doesn’t want to have a “best seller”? My experience has been that the general content of the story remains fairly consistent; however, one’s emotional reaction to the circumstances seems to change because one’s current state of being is dynamic. Combat veterans may have a self-created “shadow side” and are at times said to create stories. Yes, experience suggests they do create stories and for myriad reasons: ego, fear, deluded knowledge, change, psychological transition and transformation, and any number of other reasons caused from not knowing the absolute truth that existed at the time an experience occurred. However, combat veterans have experienced the myth and the addiction of war, and their decorations and stories about their experiences may help future generations think straight about the perils of armed conflict and of the resolution of differences with armed violence. During a healing retreat for Vietnam War combat veterans, Thich Nhat Hanh stated,
You veterans are the light at the tip of the candle. You burn hot. You have the ability through your experience to help in the transformation of the world, to transform the violence, to transform the hate, to transform the despair. You need to talk…The non-veterans need to listen. The veterans deserve to be understood. To understand someone, you need to place yourself in his (her) skin. (Kotler, 1996, Engaged Buddhist Reader, Berkeley, CA. Paralax)
Sharing experiences of war does offer priceless information concerning the trauma of war, and these stories may help combat veterans, and others, become aware that war can be a heady narcotic, can be an addiction and a mistaken way to resolve differences. And yet, many of us may choose aggression to resolve differences because as human beings we may be fundamentally blinded by the tortures of fear, desire, envy, anger, pride and jealousy.

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