Why Go Back?

by Liam McGrath
Class of 2016

When veterans return home from their deployment, it is a joyous occasion for both them and their family and loved ones. But what happens after this is curious, after returning home from combat many veterans reenlist. Whether that be out of inability to cope with civilian life or sense of duty to country; veterans are compelled to return to combat. There are a myriad number of reasons that veterans return, some tangible some not, but all return out of a sense of liability for what happens to their brothers in arms.

The draw of combat to civilians is near nonexistent, but, to veterans it is alluring, a siren’s song drawing them back to the fray. What does bring them back, is inexplainable to those who have not experienced it. It is a feeling that is indescribable and difficult to put into words, as some simply put it, “… I am going back because ‘chicks dig the uniform’. It is simpler that way”. A statement like this is able to put into words the, “years of frustration, painful memories, self-justifications, introspection, conversations with comrades, insecurity, guilt, resentment and humble prayers into an answer that is honest and accessible” that veterans feel when asked by someone who has no idea what they went through, “Why go back?” There is no set in stone reason they want to go back, it just happens. Veterans just know that they want to go back; one soldier, Misha Pemble-Belkin, bluntly says, “I’d rather be there than here. I’d go back right now if I could.” This simplistic explanation of his feelings is also the most complex one he can give. The influx of emotions that war brings about are impossible to put into words, and the simplicity of the statement shows the inner conflict that he and other combat veterans share.

Other soldiers are sentimental about it, war gave them a connection with others that is unparalleled in normal life. The close-knit nature of the combat group is unrivaled, it brings together people of all races and religions. SPC. Sterling Jones details this in Korengal when he says “There are some guys out here… that don’t like me… they may not admit it to my face… but at the same time, I’d bet there’s not one of them who would say I wouldn’t take him in a firefight.” This crossing of racial boundaries and personal opinions to complete a job is something that is not found in civilian life, and many veterans struggle returning because they lose that safety net of their comrades who always have their backs. The isolationist nature of American society, the freedom to do as one wishes, is a shock to returning veterans. Accustomed to having clear and defined goals at all times, along with strict plans on how to accomplish these goals, many veterans struggle with having domain over their own lives. This coupled with the inability of civilians to acknowledge and identify with veterans’ experiences creates a hostile environment for many returning veterans.

The unconventional form of love that binds all soldiers together is a contributing factor in their decision to return to the military and to combat. Their love is able to cross those racial and ideological divides and bring men together who otherwise would have been enemies. It is not a romantic love, it is gritty, hard, and abstract. The willingness to die for another so that they may live is the ultimate sacrifice for a person to make; and that connection is “the core reason that men miss war.” They miss that unbridled loyalty and undying devotion to each other, something completely lost in American society. The overwhelming solitude is something that Sebastian Junger, an esteemed war journalist, is concerned about. He believes that, “Western culture basically invented loneliness”, that Americans in particular have lost the basic feelings of camaraderie and being part of a team, and that has an immense impact on returning soldiers.

The inability for civilians to show compassion for veteran’s problems is not a modern problem. It has been a problem in wars such as Vietnam, famous for PTSD and the myriad of problems veterans faced on the homefront psychologically. The American people were unable to identify with the unprecedented problems that occurred in Vietnam, they could not show emotion to something that did not resonate with them on a personal level. This made it necessary for such structures as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. to be built. This memorial “proved to be extremely therapeutic for veterans struggling with feelings of guilt and loss of war.” The inability of civilians to feel that same mix of emotions as veterans leaves veterans on their own to process all of their problems without help from loved ones.

Love is the driving force behind mankind, and that is not lost in war. War brings out some of the most intense love another that can happen, the willingness to die for another. Veterans returning home from war are left with a void in civilian life, and it can only be filled with returning to combat and one’s brothers in arms. Love is why soldiers go back; no more, no less.

Liam McGrath is a student in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition