Nathan Christensen, a student in Professor Sarah Zale's English course at Edmonds Community College in Edmonds, Washington, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country" by Edward Tick.
Writing prompt: Do you agree that all Americans share responsibility for the war in Iraq? What does that mean on an individual level? Even if you were against the war from the start, do you think you are responsible for helping returned soldiers heal? If not, who should take responsibility?
Read author Edward Tick's response to Nathan Christensen's essay here.
Read classmate Royce Baker's response to the article here.
By Nathan Christensen
I was an uncle. After two months, the title was technically stripped from me. My older sister gave birth to a boy named Abraham. I spent more time waiting by the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital for news, more time thinking about how Abe’s intestines had grown twisted, than actual time with him. Abe’s death was overpowering. Never before had someone I known died at such a young age (not even my cat). I felt as if a small hole had been irreplaceably ripped out of the universe, conveying to me how horrible such premature deaths are. This was the beginning of my aversion to loss of life and, consequently, to war. It is only recently that those memories faded to where I could redefine my anti-war perspective and understand that American citizens themselves are responsible for war and healing its soldiers.
That aversion reached a high point my freshman year in college when I studied World War II and its atrocities, specifically those between Russians and Germans. The topic incited a languorous revulsion in me. I skipped class once because I couldn’t bear to hear any more about trench warfare or mass starvation or fire bombings. I memorized that 300,000 Germans died every month in the first half of 1945. A complete disregard for the value of life was clear on that dark continent of Europe. I vowed that I would never cause the end of a life. Understandably, I had nothing but disdain for war after that. That animosity extended to soldiers—the ones who end others’ lives. It bothered me that people would willingly join the military because they obviously don’t value life—any life.
Further studies would change my perceptions again. I’m currently taking an English class that has facilitated my taking a more moderate stance. More importantly, it has assuaged my antipathy towards soldiers. Ed Tick’s personable and emotional writing in War and the Soul effectively conveyed to me the serious pain beyond physical wounds inflicted on my many soldiers beyond the tangible wounds. Killing is bad. But when so many men and women come home with damaged souls I can no longer place put all the blame on them. Tick, whose expertise and credentials as a psychotherapist you can trust, iterated that most troops go to war not to kill or destroy, but to protect their country and the people they love. It is modern society that puts those warriors in such dire circumstances.
The pervasiveness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) became apparent to me as I studied alongside its victims in class. One classmate expressed to me how his scars (not the physical ones) were more serious as time went on, but that talking about it really helped. As we shared projects relating to war topics at a workshop hosted by Ed Tick, another man spent a long time talking to my group partner and me. His PTSD was secondary, but still powerful, evidenced by the tears that showed up in his eyes as he recounted hearing that his daughter was frequently attacked by mortar bombardments. He was planning to start a non-profit organization that could parcel out hundreds or thousands of dollars at a time to healing groups all over the country. This man was well past his prime; nevertheless, the tragedy of PTSD inspired him to attempt this monumental task.
I learned from that workshop that reconciliation and healing of veterans happen more often than any of our discouraged, jaded moments have us think. Each and every one of us has an opportunity to help heal a veteran just by talking to them, obliterating our ignorance of how to treat people suffering from PTSD. Veterans don’t need to be reintegrated and have their experiences swept under the rug - they just need some support and someone who will genuinely listen to them. Any American citizen can do that if they gain an elementary understanding of PTSD.
Learning clearly enhanced my ability to help heal. It also alleviated my own conflict with warriors. Some of them have killed another human being, but as a group their humanity is being robbed, too, and I can take responsibility for that now. I can place the ultimate value on life without devaluing the warriors.
Nathan Christensen is a former Edmonds Community College student, now attending the University of Washington. Nathan is passionate about football, ska music, and reading, along with a strong drive to become a history teacher.
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 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.
- Want an opportunity for your students to step up their writing and write for a real audience? Learn about how to join the YES! Magazine Exemplary Essay Project here.
- Soldier's Heart
Created in response to an outpouring of concern for returning and past war veterans, Soldier's Heart addresses the emotional, moral, and spiritual needs of veterans, their families, and communities.
- Roots of Compassion
To be compassionate toward others, we first have to learn to be merciful with ourselves.
- Fort Hood: We're Killing Ourselves
Grace Boggs on breaking free from cycles of violence.
The above resources accompany the December 2010 YES! Education Connection Newsletter