In the last few posts I have been reposting some writings with a central theme. What a combat veteran goes through after returning from the battlefield, what we bring home to our families and communities. Below I discuss an identification with the crippling guilt that had blocked access to fully realizing my memories. Years after combat I could not remember most of what I had witnessed, but wished I could forget the guilt and self-condemnation haunting me. I demonized my enemy and in doing so lost my humanity.
I was writing about the "troop organism" and the squad mentality in my last paper. This line of inquiry took me back to a time when I felt totality, never since have I been more alive. A complete sense of unity, an omnipresence with my squad so whole within my surroundings, including the enemy we snuffed, especially those souls. I carry them today; the weight of such suffering that I now hold within. I have a sense of responsibility to those lives we took, I hold such guilt that at times it overwhelms me to the point of incapacitation.
My surviving has had such an impact on my life that many times I find myself not being worthy of having survived, and I know that this thought is not rational, but at times I cannot shake it. Many times in my life I thought of killing myself because of the crushing guilt, all due to my survival and inability to put behind me these thoughts of incompleteness.
Thinking back now, I feel that the absence of the completeness I felt back in 1991 coupled with the guilt of surviving have combined to form a disorganized attachment to the soldiers that we killed. In losing my attachment to the troop-organism, I unconsciously reformed that attachment on the one thing that I could take home with me, my guilt. In losing my squad-selves and my subsequent identifying with the enemy soldiers, I unwittingly formed a festoon of guilt and hung it upon my soul.
I know that they were the enemy, it was kill or be killed...But my God, when we were shooting and hitting them I saw their tanks and vehicles blowing up in grand fashion, it seemed so beautiful. I remember the sight was so awe inspiring, the turrets flipping end over end, fire spraying upwards to a hundred feet. I could feel in the back of my mind, my humanity, trying to tell me that there were people in those tanks. My mind tried to tell that I could actually see the bodies felling over and over, within the upwelling of fire...no, no that cannot be...I was too far from them to actually see. So I told myself.<
The reality set in when we saw the charred remains of the vehicles and realizing that no one could have lived through that. I remember trying not to think of my vehicle getting hit like that. The guilt began to creep up on me when we saw the pitiful encampments of the regular soldiers; we saw their food stocks...rice and rotting tomatoes...nothing more, and little of that. We joked of how we were glad to be on our side, again I felt the little bit of guilt niggling at me to witness and take in what we saw.
Today, I carry the guilt of thousands of soldiers who lost their lives to the meat grinder of the US Army by way of the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle tank sabot rounds, of the Apache helicopter hellfire missiles, the 30mm A10 Warthog Gatling guns, multiple launch rocket systems and the 105 mm howitzer to name a few.
To find out how bravely the Iraqi Republican Guard units fought against an over whelming foe, follow this link (then click on "correcting myths").
I still chase that sense of totality...I was the driver, on point for the division, so I saw it all.