“If a war fails to achieve its stated objectives—as Vietnam did—it can make the reasons for killing even harder to accept. Some recent vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, said the psychiatrist, are already asking, “What was it all for?”
This is not to cast troops who kill in combat as victims. They shouldcarry the weight of what they did. But they should not be forced to carry it alone. Their leadership, from the company level all the way to the Chief of Staff, is part of every killing that’s carried out. So too are the civilian architects of these wars. And the rest of us bear some responsibility as well. The killing a country does through its soldiers is part of its fabric and identity. The less it is examined, the less a country will know about itself, its impulses, and the impact of what it has trained and dispatched its sons and daughters to do.
A more honest conversation about what war is and what war does is a good place to start. Those now calling for boots on the ground in Iraq, Syria, or anywhere else, should be first to have it. They should understand and explain exactly what it will mean if troops are deployed, and they should press the military to give its charges tools that not only help them kill when they should, but also how to live with the killing they’ve done later in life. More counseling must be made available as well, as part of the broader overhaul of the VA, and steps taken to remove the stigma that still exists around seeking help for the psychological wounds of war. And no one should ask a veteran if he or she has killed anybody unless they really want to hear the answer—and are prepared to listen.”