Last night my dreams were filled with nightmares triggered no doubt by the things I saw and heard last evening while viewing the movie “An American Sniper.” I have no first hand experience in war. The closest I came was in 1971 when my decision to attend college trumped my draft number. Neither have I read the reviews of “An American Sniper,” other than seeing the titles of articles that reveal there is a heated debate over what the messages in the movie were. But I have sat in the counseling office and heard men and women from five wars (WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan) tell their haunting stories.
When it comes to painting the landscape of war some people have deluded themselves into believing it can be done by dipping a fine tip paintbrush in an inkwell filled with an antiseptic, thereby creating clean, sharp lines of right and wrong, defining without mistake who the enemy is, and with no lives being lost. But in reality the landscape of war is created by a hand dipped into a bucket filled with mud, sand, sweat, tears, and blood – lots of blood. The lines are often blurred, even when looking through the high powered scope of a sniper’s rifle.
In war people kill for more than one reason: they are ordered to; they believe they are protecting their country; retribution for the enemy having killed a comrade. However, no matter what the motivation is (and no matter how it may look to an outsider), the taking of a human life is not something any soldier takes lightly. Jagged scars populate their memory, disturbing their sleep for decades. “What if’s” nip at the edges of their thoughts when their mind wanders back to the battlefield.
No human can live in an un-human environment for any length of time without it changing them. To witness the depths of depravity and evil that the human mind can sink to, resulting in the torture and slaughter of the innocent, is a horrific nightmare the majority of us have never experienced. But once you have experienced it you never look at people quite the same again.
The highest cost of war is not measured in dollars and cents. In fact, there is not a measuring tool that can accurately give an accounting. That cost includes the mental and emotional damage done to soldiers who return home. And it includes what war does to those families who are not only waiting anxiously on the edges of the battlefield to learn if their loved one is still alive but also have to adjust to the changed soldier the battlefield returns to them. Physical wounds heal much more quickly than mental and emotional ones.
Make no mistake, if you are reading this without gunfire and bombs exploding nearby or in the distance, if you are free to express your thoughts and opinions, and if you can worship in public any way you choose, then you owe a debt you can never repay to the American soldier who for over a hundred years has fought to defend those rights for you. Give them the honor and respect due them.