05 July 2012

Combat Stress

On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts

Killing is what war is all about, and killing in combat, by its very nature, causes deep wounds of pain and guilt. The language of war helps us to deny what war is really about, and in doing so it makes war more palatable. With very few exceptions, everyone associated with killing in combat reaps a bitter harvest of guilt. Balancing the obligation to kill with the resulting toll on guilt forms a significant cause of psychiatric casualties on the battlefield. History is full of tales of soldiers who have committed suicide or inflicted terrible wounds upon themselves to avoid combat. It isn’t fear of death that motivates these men to kill themselves. Like many of their civilian counterparts, these men would rather die or mutilate themselves than face the aggression and hostility of a very hostile world.

The killer can be empowered by his killing, but ultimately, often years later, he may bear the emotional burden of guilt that he has buried with his acts. Whether the killer denies his remorse, deals with it, or is overwhelmed by it, it is nevertheless there. The killer’s remorse is real, it is common, it is intense, and it is something that he must deal with for the rest of his life.

Photo Credit: Don McCullin

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