Like Royce Baker, I watched war’s ravages and have always been against it. Like Nathan Christensen, I knew untimely deaths of loved ones and felt that “a small hole had been irreplaceably ripped out of the universe.” Like all of us, I have inherited citizenship in a country that has participated in war to a degree that “incites revulsion.” In American wars and combat operations before and since World War II, our country has too often been the aggressor and perpetrator.
The tension between service to one’s country and protesting that service when it seems immoral creates a quagmire for everyone who comes of age during controversial and illegitimate wars. We wish patriotism and morality to be one. We become confused and may turn against those who serve in our name when we perceive that morality and patriotism are at odds.
The warrior’s ethical, spiritual, and cultural code is strictly this – to preserve, protect and defend his or her society and all that is most precious to it when there is immediate threat and no other option. Whenever the warrior does more or less than this code dictates, trauma results.
The task of society is to receive, support, tend and initiate the warrior upon return in gratitude for and honor toward the sacrifice made. Whenever society in any way rejects, neglects, dishonors or ignores its warriors, trauma results.
Millions of Americans who have served in recent wars are crippled with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder because they were compelled while in service to betray the warrior’s code and because society rejected them by refusing its tending tasks, blaming them for their war, and refusing collective responsibility.
Nathan and Royce have transformed their relationships to warriors and society by broadening their understanding of what a warrior is and what citizens’ responsibilities must be. Nathan “no longer places the blame” on those who fight in our name but realizes that “modern society puts those warriors in such dire circumstances” and that “their humanity is robbed too.” Royce affirms that “our soldiers fight battles in our name” and “agreeing with those battles makes no difference when it comes to being a patriotic citizen during wartime.”
Both men declare: we are all responsible for what is done in our name; we must all be disturbed and take positive actions during wartime; we must receive and tend our returnees; we must listen, listen, listen, opening ourselves to the pain our troops carry because it is our responsibility and belongs to all of us. When we take these critical actions as citizens, we help transform our warriors, as Royce says, “into guiding role models… who protect life rather than destroy it [and] can help lead our country even closer to world peace.”
Nathan and Royce now affirm there is no conflict between protesting war and supporting our troops who must fight. When we understand the purpose of warriorhood and the responsibility of citizens, we can embrace and practice war healing and peace making as one united effort.
Edward Tick, PdD, is author of War and the Soul and three other books. He has worked with veterans for three decades and is director and senior psychotherapist of Soldier's Heart Veteran's Safe Return Initiatives.
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