What does a father tell his kids about war? This was a question that one of our writers, who just had his second daughter, asked in a recent article. This question is something that all of us deal with (even those of us who do not have kids). On the one hand, war and combat are a significant part of our lives. They shaped us and they continue to shape our views on the world. On the other hand, we are much more than the experiences we had during war and we don't want those who have never been to war to believe us to be monsters.
But the reality is, the only way to survive the hells of war is to become a monster, to do things that we never believed ourselves capable of doing. We had to systematically tear down the walls of civility. We had to harden ourselves to both the danger, the maiming, and the deaths that surrounded us daily. Then, when it was all over, we had to come back home. We had to become part of the civilized world again. We had to interact with people who never left the comforts of home and who were never truly challenged. We had to pretend that the world was civil. We were supposed to feel sorry about pulling a trigger or choosing to save the life of our brother over that of a haji (because they were no more Iraqi than Charlie was Vietnamese). We had to pretend that we don't know what we know. We had to pretend that we haven't met the monster inside of us. In fact, society makes us pretend as if the monster doesn't exist, or that it is only those who are deranged who have a monster living inside of them.
But here's the funny thing about the monster inside of us. We want as little to do with him as we do with those who believe that the monster doesn't exist. It's neither war nor the dream state that beckons us, but rather an understanding by others of what we have done, what we have experienced, and who we are.
I honestly don't know what I would ever tell my kids about war, because I don't know what I could tell an adult about war. Civilians think that the bonds found in sports and the competition experienced in the grid-iron is an analogy of the bonds formed in war. You and I know that they are nothing alike. Children who barely grasp mortality, who rise up in 10 seconds after being "shot" during a game of war, are no different than teenagers who think that paintball is a substitute for the adrenaline experienced during war. Neither understands mortality. Neither understands the lows and highs that fear puts you through. Civilians think that they can grasp the anger that is felt during war, but you and I both know that they have never felt the rage that comes after the sadness when you realize that someone who you cared about will never make it back home.
I don't know what I can say to anybody,
because I don't know if it matters,
because I do know that they will never understand.
Below are some of your thoughts on what you would tell your kids. What do you think? What would you tell your kids? What do you tell other people when asked?
“Honestly, not much”
“I learned about WW2 because of a class project from one grandfather who was a Captain of an armored battalion in Europe and retired a Lt. Col. I recorded this conversation on a cassette - remember those? It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned the experiences of the other grandfather who served in the Navy on a Destroyer during WW2. In my opinion, you shouldn't wait to talk about the military to the younger generation. Start talking as soon as both parties are ready. That is the biggest reason we have fewer enlistments. Military service is not part of the national conversation. My father talked constantly about his military service even though he didn't go to Vietnam. He enlisted as an MP in the states and would have gone overseas but was needed here”
"My Father was "old school". He was in Japan from 47-49, then Korea from 52-53. When I TDY to the Azores for the 73 October war and then went to Turkey from 74-75. He told me how fierce the Turks were in Korea. When I asked him how he dealt with the War he told me kid you just need to suck it up. Maybe that was true for the WWII and Korea vets. But I was a Vietnam Era Combat Security Policeman and did crazy things and having to deal with it now. When I told my son he said " You did your job". But I still have to deal with the craziness of what I did back then."
“As a father of a 3 year old son, I enjoyed reading this article. I sometimes think about the questions my own son may someday ask of me, and I wonder what my answers will be. For now I am glad that he is only 3 and knows nothing of war. I hope that he grows to through life never having to face war - or the scars that come with it - both physically and emotionally. However, I do want him to understand that there are some things worth fighting for and protecting, and I want him to be patriotic about his country. I also want him to know that some in politics will prey upon his naive youthfulness and patriotism in order to gain blind allegiance in an effort to accomplish their hidden agenda through his strengths and talents. I will teach him that with leadership comes responsibility, and with that responsibility comes a duty to do what is right even when it is unpopular or even if you must stand alone. Lastly, I will teach him that faith in God and unity with his family will carry him through the toughest battles.”
“My father never really talked a lot about the specifics of what he endured in the Navy during WWII, at least not to everyone.
I was the only one of us kids who joined the military and while I was nearing the end of my time in the delayed entry program, and about to ship out for Basic, we had quite a few conversations. Ok, they were not really conversations, mostly because I sat there and listened to a wise man bequeath upon me how he coped with what he endured in battle.
If it were not for these "talks" I may have come back from Iraq in an entirely different manner.
I do not think that it is wise for the warriors to pass on specifc details to the many, but rather it is more important that they are shared with those who most likely will have to endure similar circumstances.
Most of the people that I know, that did not come home in a reasonable condition, did not have a paternal figure impart the same wisdom upon them. And that is an absolute shame too.
My father has probably saved my life in more ways than most will ever know.
My kids are grown and I still do not speak of many specifics from Fallujah or Ar Amadi or Tal Afar, other than the funny stories. However, if one should ever decide to join the service, I will sit them down and discuss many of the same philosophies that were bestowed upon me. And that is exactly how I think it should be.”
“Absolutely nothing. They could never understand.”