I showed them pictures and clips of us being there. They just gave me a blank stare. One student even tried to have me relate what I did to a fucking video game. I know I'm not normal from going to war. It has left its mark on me and now that the war is through with me I feel like I don't have a place. Since I was 18, it's all I've known. It has consumed my entire being. I don't know anything else. I feel completely isolated from my society.
I have no community.
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I have only the quiet pride of my own accomplishments and the love of my family. At the same time, this war has made me into a stronger person than I could ever imagine. It has given depth to my character and real purpose to my life — in training and leading marines, keeping them alive and returning them to society stronger and better. This war has cost me everything.
It has given me everything. It's made me a man no one enjoys being around.
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That's what war is to the individual who participates. It's a blank cheque and you just write parts of your life away, but we all knew what could happen when we enlisted. Even so, nothing can prepare you for what it's like when that first round snaps over your head. But as brothers in arms, you stick together and become closer than anything you can imagine. It's a special feeling. Oh, and so is getting on the plane and landing back in the UK with all my limbs — and cock and balls — intact. I loved every moment of it and I felt so alive while I was there.
I will never feel as good as I did when I was in Afghanistan. Politics aside, we fight for each other. We go to war because we believe in something bigger than ourselves.
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I didn't make friends out there, I made brothers, and that alone was worth it. Ha ha. Well, I haven't openly threatened to kill anyone in some time. One minute I was in a war zone, the next I'm home with cell phones and cities, all that good stuff. It's a very rough adjustment.
It takes time and it's not easy. I try to keep in contact with the men I was with. That helps keep me sane. But I never got fully back to normal. The worst thing to hear from people is that you're different. No one wants to hear that. It's upsetting and makes you want to deny it even more. But deep inside you can't fool yourself. We've all changed and will always be different. They have had to get up every morning, lace up their boots and steel themselves for another battle. As one said to me, 'Sir, six months is a long time when you think every day might be your last.
Some of my young soldiers have far too many 'notches on their gun belt' and I fear some may have even started to need the adrenaline of the fight. That needs addressing — and fast. Trauma management has improved dramatically over the last six years, but we are kidding ourselves if we think the stress of combat can be erased with a few counselling sessions. But I refused to acknowledge it. Eventually, with the help of my family and in particular my wife I am more or less there. I tried to convince myself of that a lot when I first got home.
But the truth is when you go to war and you see the things we've seen, it takes a part of your soul and no one likes losing a part of their soul. It's the hardest thing to accept when coming home and it's what men have struggled with ever since war has existed. It almost destroyed my marriage, I was so highly strung afterwards.
My PTSD caused my family anger, anxiety and sadness. Going to war and killing bad guys is rewarding. For a warrior, training is practice and war is the game. It's primal and I think over the past decade a lot of us have tapped into that. There is a difference though: I manage that ability and others allow it to manage them. I became withdrawn and hid myself away. I lost a relationship through it — I couldn't tell my girlfriend about stuff. I've had two courts-martial since the tour and numerous charges due to ill-discipline and loss of control. I am still getting treated to this day for diagnosed PTSD.
I am nearly finished with my therapy now and I am a hundred times better. The Spartans saw marriage primarily as a means for conceiving new soldiers, and citizens were encouraged to consider the health and fitness of their mate before tying the knot. In fact, husbands who were unable to have children were expected to seek out virile substitutes to impregnate their wives. Likewise, bachelors were seen as neglecting their duty and were often publically mocked and humiliated at religious festivals.
Spartan soldiers were expected to fight without fear and to the last man. Surrender was viewed as the epitome of cowardice, and warriors who voluntarily laid down their arms were so shamed that they often resorted to suicide. According to the ancient historian Herodotus, two Spartan soldiers who missed out on the famous Battle of Thermopylae returned to their homeland disgraced.
One later hanged himself, and the other was only redeemed after he died fighting in a later engagement. Even Spartan mothers were known for their do-or-die approach to military campaigns. In fact, the law mandated that only two classes of people could have their names inscribed on their tombstones: women who died in childbirth and men who fell in combat.
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Spartans had to prove their fitness even as infants. Spartan children were placed in a military-style education program. Hazing and fighting were encouraged among Spartan children. During the Vietnam War, one in three soldiers was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD and in the Second World War a significant proportion of Allied conscripts never fired a shot in anger because of stress and fear before the battle had even begun. Up to now, PTSD has been treated by a mix of psychotherapy and antidepressants — effective techniques but expensive and time-consuming.
2. Spartan children were placed in a military-style education program.
But as with fatigue there may be a chemical shortcut for PTSD. The trick is to erase unwanted memories, or at least take away their sting. Professor Roger Pitman, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School in the US, has been experimenting with a drug called propranolol, a "beta blocker" normally used to treat high blood pressure, which he believes can erase the effects of terrifying memories. Professor Pitman has given the drug to young volunteers who have suffered extreme trauma in, for example, road accidents. Those given placebos suffered nightmares, and remained fearful of the road.
When exposed to recordings describing their accidents they suffered typical stress responses — sweating, beating heart, dilated pupils.
But those who had been on a course of propranolol showed no response at all. It was as though the trauma had not happened. For a soldier, memory-altering drugs such as this could mean violent combat becoming no more troubling, retrospectively, than a visit to the gym. Do we want a generation of veterans who return without guilt?
Dr Albert "Skip" Rizzo, a psychologist from the University of Southern California, has created a "virtual Iraq" video game, in which veterans have been able to re-enact their experiences to release pent-up stress. Generals not only want stronger, more alert and less stressed soldiers; they want smarter ones, too.
One of the most bizarre neuroscience findings in recent years is that by immersing the human brain in a powerful magnetic field, its powers of reasoning and learning are almost magically enhanced. No one knows exactly how "transcranial magnetic stimulation" TMS works, but the Australian neuroscientist Professor Allan Snyder believes that magnetic fields in some way "switch off" the higher levels of mental processing that normally cloud our thoughts, allowing a "pure" form of reasoning to take over.
In fact, some subjects in TMS experiments have acquired temporarily similar abilities to the rare "autistic savants", people who are able to perform astounding arithmetical feats and memorise whole telephone directories an autistic savant was played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man. In , a US Academy of Sciences report concluded that within 20 years we could be using TMS to enhance soldiers' fighting capabilities. As Professor Moreno says, "there is talk of TMS machines being used on the battlefields within 10 years in vehicles and in 10 years more in helmets.
Being a soldier demands a high level of technical expertise. It is no longer just a case of pointing a gun and shooting. Even combat rifles are now "systems" and mastering battlefield electronics requires a lot of training. It may seem clear that if you could create a man with no scruples, who feels little pain and no fear, you would have an excellent fighting machine, but this may be a case of be careful what you wish for. We get scared for a reason — to avoid danger to ourselves and others.
Fatigue may force us to rest before sustaining damaging injury. Even post-traumatic stress disorder may have a beneficial role. Moral scruples help soldiers to act as an effective team — in battle, troops will always say they are fighting for their mates before Queen and country. Take away the humanity of the soldiers and there is a danger that the battles and wars we fight will become inhuman as well.
Most of all there is, surely, a danger that these techniques, far from producing better soldiers, will actually produce a squad of zoned-out zombies, who will be no match for the determined, driven and highly motivated zealots of the Taliban. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?
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