The Lone Survivor, The Worth of Fallujah and PTSD

Photo by Greg Peters - © Universal Pictures

Photo by Greg Peters – © Universal Pictures

With the news of Fallujah I can’t shake a gnawing emotional agony from reflection. There are a lot of great articles, (here, here, and here) and while most people are grabbing the Marines, it can be viewed as the high-profile early-bird view of the potential fate of every city across Iraq. I think the question resonates deeply with everyone who fought:  Was it worth it?

On top of the Fallujah questions, I have seemingly more people than ever wanting to talk to me about my service because of the movie Lone Survivor. I have not seen it yet. I am by no means close to the caliber of the SEALs and SOAR aviators who fought and died in Operation Red Wings. Still, because of the current Veteran’s place as “the other 1%”, I am the closest thing most people know to compare to those stellar Soldiers. I don’t know how to respond.  I told my wife I wanted to see it, but I am honestly afraid of what my reaction will be, and that makes me want to see it more.  (As a side note, if you have seen Lone Survivor and it is fucking you up, don’t hesitate to reach out.)

Most days, if I get cocky, I think I have this PTSD shit licked. Then the real world interrupts and the collision of these two public events sends me back to Earth like and Airborne trooper with a cigarette roll. This past week I am mostly just pissed off and melancholy.

I find myself desperately searching for positives from my war. I turn and look to Vietnam and the similar history of a war both won and lost at the same time. I look to their subsequent actions and their activism to baseline where we have “progressed”.  Should I even try to find a positive in such an evil thing as war?  Is that the only way to make sense?

Did less people died in Iraq and Afghanistan than Vietnam? Statistically I think there is data to support that notion. Though it makes me sad to think of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead because of our intervention, the advances in medical technology certainly saved more people on the battlefield and that can be seen as a positive right? But despite my fondness for metrics, those numbers don’t mean shit to me when the smell of blood and cordite still haunt me in my nightmares. The numbers now do not help the amputees. How many children are now parentless?

Is there strong enough causality to the change this war initiated back home?  Equality got a boost because of this war.  The men and women sacrificing while having their rights ignored pushed many debates into the open.  Hypotheticals became actuals.  There is a whole other blog post about just those effects alone.  But was it worth it?

We suspected this would be the case. We told ourselves that what we did had meaning and lasting impact and would not be in vain. I remember one of my LT’s pointedly questioning the Colonel about the history of “defeating” insurgencies. What made us so special? How were we different? His question echoes today.

Was it worth it?

I resort to the idea that anything anyone thought they went looking for or thought they went fighting for was erased with the first bullet fired in anger. All that was left was the men and women you went to hell with and doing what was asked to get them home. Unfortunately, there is only a small section of the United States who can and will ever understand the sacrifices made by a voluntary few. At this point in history, if I try to understand the value of worth of our efforts beyond that, my head explodes and I am left picking up the pieces.

Was it worth it? At this point, I don’t know. I may never know. And that is part of the extreme mind screw.

12 thoughts on “The Lone Survivor, The Worth of Fallujah and PTSD

  1. Jay Kirell

    I think “was it worth it?” is the absolute worst question you can ask about a war. Nobody can tell someone who believes it was that it wasn’t, and nobody can convince someone who believes it wasn’t that it was. That is, if you can find two people who can agree what “worth” even means.
    Personally, I’m of the idea that if you even have to ask “was it worth it” that should tell you all you need to know about whether it was or not.

  2. Eric B.

    Mike,
    I was at Fallujah in November 2004 when we ‘liberated’ it from the murderous thugs that took the city over. Despite being in some of the heaviest fighting, my battalion, miraculously, only lost two men (SPC Shields and SPC Velez) in the fray. If memory serves, we lost about twenty Soldiers and over eighty Marines in that one operation.
    A little over a year later, SPC Velez’s brother died in Afghanistan.
    After almost 13 years of continuous warfare across three continents, I still don’t know if any of this has been “worth it’. Despite ‘equality’ being gained for some, we are collectively less free. We’ve destroyed our international credibility, our political system and our economy… and we have a nation that is itching for another chance to prove that ‘Murica is the “greatest nation on earth”.

    I would be happier if the dollar wasn’t devalues because of reckless wars and feckless domestic policies. I would be happier if American’s gave a damn about waging war. I would be happier if we didn’t continue to cloak our jingoism in false patriotism. I would be happier if terrorism wasn’t an excuse to erode civil liberties.
    Was it worth it? I look at the few gains we’ve made versus the monumental losses. Personally, I AM getting tired of people saying that “I pay taxes, so that means my opinon matters as much as a vet’s…” While I get the point, I still have to call bullshit. 99% of the people who make that statement are unwilling to risk ANYTHING for their hollow convictions. Your passive act of obedience does not compare to the active act of sacrifice that some are willing to make on your behalf. I pay my taxes AND I am willing to sacrifice in the name of common defense. If those same folks were willing to be arrested at anti-war protests, then I think I could accord them the respect they wrongfully demand.
    Our willingness to sacrfice was misused, abused, and now, simultaneously pandered to and ignored. It’s insulting, and I don’t know that I have it in me to finish out my 20.
    Although I can say that I at least stand for “something”, I am doubt that this “something” we chase will ever exist.
    Thanks for saying what many of us feel, Mikey.
    Eric

  3. Eric B

    Oh and as a post-script… I saw “Restrepo” three years ago and it screwed with me for days afterwards…

  4. Bryan

    Easy stuff first. I have not watched a war film since, well, I went to war, because I really have no interest in seeing any of that, especially if done accurately. I decided that I wanted to see ‘Lone Survivor’ for no other reason than to see how I would respond to it. Suffice to say, I have reaffirmed my decision to not see any war films in the near future. Don’t think I’ve ever watched a film, ever, where there is complete silence from start to finish. The general public may need more exposure to what the film portrayed, but not me.

    But to more serious things. Was it worth it? Yes, it was worth it. Despite the ugliness of war itself, I can say, for myself, and for those I served with, and those back home who understood what was happening, yes, it was worth it. It made me realize what is means to protect, to be loyal, to be firm, to be strong, to have friends, to truly love. I found out more about myself in such a short time than most people take years to realize. You know what? I’m not perfect; I didn’t come back unscathed. I’m deeply wounded, but I’m alive — and that’s what’s great. This little spot in the world I inhabit has to suffer more of me, because I ain’t going anywhere — because I’ve still got something to give to this world : more love to give, more strength to acquire, more people to protect. I’m not done.

    Was it worth it? I’ve met people don’t even know if their head is screwed on backwards or sideways — people whose minds are like blank palimpsests being overwritten with whatever was tweeted or shared on Facebook that second, a world where Saddam attacked the twin towers and Qaddafi partied with Bono and Osama is my sister’s friend’s uncle’s cousin, and he used to live in Cold Spring Harbor. So much misinformation is peddled these days; everyone is trying to get you to put stock in their cheap wares; and most of it does nothing to actually exercise this glorious thing some people call a brain. Us? We know what’s real; we’ve seen behind that proverbial curtain. Fucking disgusting, some of it, but we’ve seen it. Nothing can bring back those who we lost and nothing simple can truly explain the reasons we ever got involved in these wars to begin with. But we are here now, and we are stronger, and more importantly, wiser than before. Some will say we have been weakened by this; that because we have suffered traumatic experiences that we are somehow ‘lesser’ and are therefore stigmatized by this perceived ‘weakness’. Why? Because we hurt? Because we bleed? Because we care? I absolutely, unequivocally, love the fact that war has made me feel what mortality tastes like. I love that I am alive, and I love that I am unapologetically human, and if I do nothing else consequential with my life, I am going to show everyone that. Yeah, it was worth it. Just like when I try to sleep at night, I also look the same way at the world. Eyes wide open Mikey. Eyes wide open. I hope you find your peace. I’m still looking for mine. Even if we don’t find it, it’ll all have been worth it.

    p.s. I tried to call you somewhat recently, but couldn’t reach you.

  5. mikeypiro

    Jay, thanks for joining the discussion. I don’t know if the “No” is the default answer to asking these questions. If I ask that question about a car, where morality has no or little influence into the assessment, it is a valid question. The problem is these are murky waters and your perspective and range of view certainly influence the answer. I cannot commit to a No. I can say unequivocally that there is sadness in much of what I explore introspectively. I am unwilling to give a flat no. Nothing about the war was black and white. The same applies now to being a Veteran.

  6. mikeypiro

    Eric, I have been having many discussions about the severe chasm growing between the military and civilians. I am not sure if our bad decisions about the nature of warfare and how we conduct it are solely a result of one side or the other. It is certain that big cultural changes are coming. I can’t say it wasn’t worth it. I can’t say it was either though.

  7. mikeypiro

    Brian, Thanks for writing. I have been in Dublin a lot recently (right before Christmas for two weeks, and last week). I dont keep my phone on when I travel internationally. I have a work phone for that. Anywho, give me a ring again soon.

    “This little spot in the world I inhabit has to suffer more of me, because I ain’t going anywhere — because I’ve still got something to give to this world : more love to give, more strength to acquire, more people to protect. I’m not done.” I love that quote. I am glad to see you write it.

    Easy stuff at the end: I decided I am going to go see the movie. Couple of weeks from now. I will totally gear up for it. Talk soon.

    Mikey

  8. Eric B.

    Oh I agree! My comments about our warhawk policies are a non-partisan commentary about the fascination our country has with waging wars without political cost.
    This is really a national problem rather than a problem emmanating from one party. The motivations may be different (stop nukes, “save the rebels”, etc.). But the results are the same. We are eager to, in the words of George Carlin, “bomb brown people”.
    This is even easier with “surgical” drone strikes.
    These facts don’t devalue the fidelity, honor and valor that we exhibited in our service. But in an ideal world, wars have a purpose and ultimately, despite the awful things that happen during their conduct, we come out better as a result of those tribulations.

  9. Eric B

    Bryan,
    That was pretty powerful.
    It’s funny that we seem to have two different ways that we have looked at this question. But you know what? On a personal level, I can relate to what you feel as living with eyes wide open.
    Having unplugged the Matrix cable has its downsides, and maybe that is what I am having trouble reconciling.
    Eric

  10. Bryan

    I agree. And I don’t think anyone knows what the actual cost is, because they think it’s free …

  11. Bryan

    Eric,
    Being unplugged does have its downsides, but unlike some underground rebel city fighting the machines, we are far greater in number and we walk in the wide open just like everyone else. If we all stick together, we can accomplish anything. We’ve already proved that part numerous times in much more difficult situations. When I was writing my comment, I thought maybe that I came off too strong, but re-reading it, I don’t think I came across strong enough. There is nothing wrong with me, or you, or any other person who saw combat. I’m not going to lie and say it’s all reconciled with me, but the more I look around, the more I see people just like me doing the same thing, and that’s an actually amazing enlightening feeling.

  12. Bryan

    I will call you soon enough. I still owe you some diet Dr. Pepper. Hope all goes well with the film.

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