Just recently, Time Magazine published an article entitled Bridging the Civilian-Military Divide With Stories. I love stories thought as I eagerly clicked on the article. Because I want — more than anything — to figure out how to bridge this divide.
For so many years, I’ve been a pacifist. That fact hasn’t changed. I’m still a pacifist. But, I fell in love with a soldier. I fell in love with a man who sees the world differently than I do. In the end, we want the same thing. We want peace. We want to believe it’s possible — but we see it coming about differently. I want to engage in conversation. I want to believe that war isn’t necessary, that are other ways for peace to come.
I fell in love with a man that has seen and done things that he struggles to share with me. Perhaps because this bridge is so far and wide. He sees peace differently so that sometimes this bridge seems so long and wide.
So, eagerly clicked on this article in Time Magazine to find a new old friend, Thomas E. Ricks. Ricks has written many articles for Foreign Policy Magazine that I’ve eagerly shared. But, this article — this article in Time Magazine — only posed questions. Questions I want answers to but this article refused to answer. I was not satisfied. So, I sent Ricks an email.
Because the article concluded in such a way that it made me believe that he had more to say. I was right. He wrote back almost immediately. I was shocked. I was shocked that he wrote back. I was shocked he would entertain such questions from silly preacher. I was even more shocked by his answer. His answer was simply to ask questions. Ask lots of questions because there is so much that we can’t possibly understand about the soldier’s experience. I came to an even deeper understanding of this after reading Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like To Go To War. There are things that I knew. Things that I even thought I understood but it wasn’t until reading this book and asking questions of my love that I came to understand what he was afraid of telling me. There are things that I thought I was supposed to say to honor my love’s dedication but I didn’t really get it. I was too far on the other side of the bridge.
It was one thing to read about the perspective of two theologians in Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War but only a service member can really explain the breadth and depth of moral injury. Only a member of the military can really explain what it’s like. It took falling in love for me to learn this. It took getting over my own ideas about pacifism and military action and let’s be honest some really bad theology to understand that there is more to this story. As much as we want to talk about post-traumatic stress, it’s much, much more than a solider returning from war that lashes out and drinks excessively. It’s way more than American Sniper. But, apparently, looks something more like Restrepo. (It’s streaming on Netflix. You should watch it.) This was assigned to me by my love. If I was going to understand this, I needed to watch this film. Stupidly, I did so while he was still deployed. Bad move. It is incredibly hard to watch but you should see it if you are like me. If you want to figure out how to bridge this divide between the civilian world and the military world, it requires becoming uncomfortable enough to watch something so brutal. Because — as my soldier has told me — it’s one of the only films that shows how it really was. Or really is.
This is the hardest part for me. It’s the reality that these stories didn’t end with Vietnam, the Gulf War or even Iraq. These stories are ongoing. And for whatever reason, especially post-9/11, civilians aren’t pay attention. We can’t grasp these stories. We haven’t even listened. I’m certainly at fault. I never thought it was my fight. I just wanted peace — but love is teaching me that peace comes from every side of the story. It doesn’t come from insisting that military spending be decreased or demanding that our troops be sent home. Some of that peace has to come from crossing that divide by uncomfortably asking questions you’re not sure if you really want to hear the answer. Some of it has to come from understanding what it’s like to serve a member of the military right now.
The best way to do this — according to both my love and Ricks — is to watch and to read. I now have a long list of books and movies to work my way through as I try to cross this divide toward peace.