|PTSD FROM DESERT STORM
A Desert Storm veteran spent a decade training in the military for war and then went to war. He had become accustomed to seeing and smelling the burned bodies from the destroyed Iraqi tank sites on the advance into Iraq but could tolerate it because they were getting rid of the second coming of Hitler and freeing the Kuwaiti people. At one bunker complex he had his squad search the complex and he got into a hand to hand fight with a hidden enemy who lurched out at him. The fight became primitive and went on for ten minutes which seemed like an eternity until he managed to get at his knife and cut the enemy’s throat. He was tired and sat down to smoke a cigarette and then noticed his bloody hands and uniform and saw the blood on his cigarette. He vomited and began to think of the dead man’s family and that they would never know what happened to him.
(Spiritual Comments): This really gets down to the trauma of warriors where it is the most personal it can get, taking the life of another combatant and the ensuing memories of the incident. Personally, I killed no one in my war, however, I was originally bitter and asked the question, “Why me for my amputations?” Eventually the wisdom I achieved was that I was a triple volunteer, West Point, Vietnam, Special Forces. I put myself in harm’s way. Reality therapy in a larger sense is that most of us in the military are volunteers. We submit ourselves to the risks of killing or being killed.
Dr. Bobby Welch, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2004-2006 was a warrior in Vietnam where he was wounded and decorated for valor. In his book You the Warrior Leader he wrote this:
“It is hard to imagine what it is like to be face to face in close quarters with another madman who is trying-just like you- to kill to live. There is no room for rifles – just bare hands, teeth, knives, or whatever weapon is handy. In just a minute it is all over. But the person who killed to live is now smothering and drowning, surrounded by the smell of gun powder, spit, sweat, blood, and body fluids. He wants out of that situation as quickly as possible. He’s gasping for fresh air to confirm that he is still alive.” (page 223)
Dr. Welsh was shot in the chest by an enemy at very close range and almost died. He was medevacked by helicopter off the battlefield, but he lived.
Previously he stood over the body of a dead soldier and he describes the experience:
“At that instant my eyes focused on a small picture all mashed up in the bottom of the pouch. It was damp, cracked, and crumpled. When I unfolded it, I felt the sting in my gut and eyes at the same time. It was a picture of this young man and his wife on their wedding day, both with big happy smiles. I was also a young, recently married soldier with a picture of my dear wife in my pocket.
Suddenly the reality of war hit me harder than ever before. This could be me on the ground dead. This unknown enemy could be standing over my body with my wife’s picture. But I was extremely glad it was this way – him dead and me alive. Now I knew why warriors of old often stood over the bodies of their foe and shouted victoriously. They were glad they were still alive. Right there I renewed my vow to live – This is not going to happen to me! Never ever!” (Page 202)
The better of the two consequences in close combat could not have been expressed any more succinctly than by Dr. Welch.
One of my Vietnam war Marine brothers survived the siege at Khe Sanh in 1968. Part of his PTSD was related to the guilt of killing the enemy. Eventually he received his comfort and healing on this issue by having a minister differentiate for him the contrast between murder and killing.
A very simple contrast is found at the website Bible.com in an analysis written by Betty Miller in a section titled “What Does the Bible Say About…War?” She writes about the bible definition of murder this way:
“God knew when He created men with free wills that not all would follow and obey Him. However, He also knew that many would want to love and serve Him. In giving men free will, He also had to establish laws for men to live by. When we look at the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, we can see that these laws were given for the good of mankind. One of these laws is in verse 13: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ You may wonder if God said ‘do not kill’, why He would then decree that governments could send men to war to kill other men. The reason is that the Hebrew meaning of the word translated as ‘kill’ actually means ‘murder’ or ‘to slay someone in a violent manner unjustly’. So, in the Ten Commandments God is saying, ‘Thou shalt not murder’. Unjust premeditated killing with the wrong motives of hatred, vengeance, greed, jealousy, etc. is murder. Killing in self defense to protect oneself is not murder… The very founders of this nation were known to carry a Bible in one hand and a musket in the other in order to defend the freedom they sought here. The freedom to worship God was one of those freedoms they fought for and died for.”
Our warriors who took other combatant’s lives in hand-to-hand combat may be volunteers and may know they killed, and did not murder, but they still live with the horrible memories and the guilt. For the soldier in the anecdote above he will never be the same. It is part of the burden he carries and our tapes of the blood spilled and the horror and the intrusive thoughts will always be there. For me I cannot erase the memories of the loss of my legs, the pain, or the sorrow and the soldier who kills in hand-to-hand combat cannot erase and play the tape over. The best we can do is to be grateful we returned and to live each day in God’s world as a day bequeathed to us to have lived and returned. We must feel the pride in doing our duty in the endeavor in which we placed ourselves by choices and realize for the warriors that it was better that the family of the killed grieve than our own.