Pilgrim’s Progress
January 23, 2011 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I didn’t really appreciate the concept of becoming ‘unstuck’ in time until I returned from war. Matt Gallagher gives words to the discomfort of life after 15 months in Iraq.
posted by shii (12 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
So it goes.
posted by procrastination at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Interesting piece that closely echoes the experience of a friend who returned from Iraq. The kind of hypervigilance required by daily life or death situations just can't be switched off.
posted by scottjlowe at 5:36 PM on January 23, 2011

Dr. King said that ‎"a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

I wish we would've listened to him.
posted by tivalasvegas at 6:56 PM on January 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

The silence spreads. I talk and must talk. So I speak to him and say to him: "Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony — forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother, just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up — take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now. -All Quiet on the Western Front
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:20 PM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Well written. I can't articulate higher praise than that, and that's no fault of the author.

I wish no pain on any human being, but if our leaders had carry a burden like this, they might be less likely to commit to violence less capriciously than they have in the last ten years. One would hope so. But the irony is that it has to happen to be experienced. Learning from the mistakes of others, and from history, is something that just is evidently too difficult for some human beings.
posted by Xoebe at 9:59 PM on January 23, 2011

This guy reminds me of so many of the Viet-nam vets I got to know. He wrote this really well, and yeah one of the lucky ones.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:20 PM on January 23, 2011

I haven't even read past the title yet and I know what he means. I've been back from Iraq for nearly five years now (March 2005), and I still feel like I've got one leg stuck in the muck. I see this whole vibrant world full of people going on around me, and no matter what I do I'm always off-beat from whatever is going on. It's like trying to get on a merry-go-round, except the merry-go-round is on PCP.
posted by Evilspork at 1:28 AM on January 24, 2011

When we consider how America treats its veterans we should hang our heads in shame. Right now it's about eight degrees F out and tens of thousands of them are homeless. What a fucking mess.
posted by fixedgear at 4:44 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Time Traveller: So do you still have war?
Future Man: Of course, but it's been formalized. You'd hardly recognize it.
TT: So, it's sort of a ritual then. Is anyone hurt? Do you use drones or robots?
FM: Don't be silly. We still use humans. Big armies of them in fact. We start by choosing a war zone, which can be anywhere. A valley or a town or a stretch of desert. Then all the countries that want to take part field their armies.
TT: How big are the armies? Are they trained soldiers?
FM: They're fully trained, years and years of training. You can use as many soldiers as you can get away with. It depends on political factors, like how popular the war is.
TT: Sounds exactly the same as regular warfare, so far. The soldiers have a battle, I guess.
FM: They can if they want to: it's not mandatory. Basically after everyone has put their soldiers in the war zone, we saturate the entire area with neurotoxin.
TT: WHAT? You massacre them all?
FM: No no no. Only a minority die. The effects of the neurotoxin are unpredictable. It's lethal for some. Others will suffer a variety of ill effects - complete or partial paralysis, blindness, skin disorders - a real buffet of debilitating physical maladies. Then there are the mental effects - paranoia, delusions, depression and other mood disorders, dissociation, you name it. It's complete luck of the draw who gets what. Nearly everyone is affected somehow, and most never fully recover.
TT: It sounds... monstrous.
FM: It's war.
TT: I suppose at least it's better that civilians aren't affected.
FM: That depends entirely on where the war takes place. Obviously it's better if they evacuate first, but, you know.
TT: How do you determine who wins the war? Is it based on the number of soldiers left standing at the end?
FM: Oh goodness gracious no, that would be far too random. The country that wins is the country with the most money. The economists look at the data and reach a consensus. The results are known before the first soldier drops dead. That way it's easier for the media companies and other commentators to write the whole thing up.
posted by Ritchie at 5:18 AM on January 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

"The kind of hypervigilance required by daily life or death situations just can't be switched off."

As someone who is now a refugee in Canada after surviving a few brushes with death in Central America, I couldn't agree more. We've been here over a year now, and we're happier than ever and we love the peace and quiet, but man is it ever hard to let go of that paranoia you had to cling to in order to survive. I can't claim to relate to a soldier in a war zone, but I have been shot at, and my wife once escaped a madman who had her by the neck. Among other things.

I wonder if we'll ever truly feel at home here, among people who don't "get it" (lucky them!) People have been (for the most part) quite welcoming and kind... but the nightmares and paranoia and distrust don't just go away because you happen to move to a quiet area. PTSD is a bitch to deal with.
posted by papafrita at 6:00 AM on January 24, 2011

And coming to terms with this permanent state of combat readiness has made me realize just how much I miss war (or parts of it), and how lucky — and twisted — I am to be able to even write those words.


Gallagher's book is excellent too (which started with his blog). I recommend it. Thanks for the link, shii.
posted by lullaby at 10:00 AM on January 24, 2011

Reminds me of a little story by Spider Callahan, on 'time travel' and how being away from everything else - displacement, solitude, being cut off from the world - is a from of it, albeit not the glamorous one that sci-fi usually portrays.

Is he amazingly well adjusted - and the vast majority far less lucky than him - or is he the norm, and we just hear about those who don't cope as well?
posted by Han Tzu at 11:13 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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