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Vol 106 / Issue 30

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M emories are a blessing. We pay good money to make them when we plan a wedding, organize a reunion, or fund an excursion. Our photos and videos are evidence of that. The selfie is nothing if not an "I was here" aid to memory. Even with that sort of assist, however, most memories fade. Which is both sad and healthy. We can't embrace the future if the past is too much of a presence. But there is a certain class of memory that per- sists. As the United States closes the book on the wars touched off by 9/11, its veterans' memories of combat – of physical and psychological pain, lost comrades, desperate choices born of desperate circumstances – live on. In this week's cover story, Martin Kuz takes us inside programs helping veterans deal with postwar trauma. This is not a condition that fades gently, even if for the public the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already transitioned from top-of-mind concerns to chapters in history books. In time, those chapters will be reduced to paragraphs, then simply dates. Not so for people who have been through combat. As one veteran tells Martin, "the military trains fighters. It doesn't untrain them." The programs Martin explores show that there are compas- sionate, effective ways of helping veterans cope with the after- math of war. These are not quick-fix clinics that dispense pills and off-the-cuff counseling. They are slow efforts to build trust – to replace troubling memories acquired in war with new ones acquired at peace. One thing such programs cannot do, however, is make sense of war itself. None of us – soldiers or civilians – has ever been good at that. In a thoughtful essay in the May/June Foreign Pol- icy, Elizabeth Samet, a professor of English at the US Military Academy, argues that, at a minimum, we should avoid the trap of romanticism when we talk about war and warriors. "It is much harder," she writes, "to speak of war in a pellucid, forthright mode. Doing so has become alien even to our own wised-up age, entrenched as war has become in absolutism and what remains a misguided faith in the cleansing, redemptive power of violence." If there is value to be extracted from anything as destructive as war, it can only be discovered through cold-eyed realism, not romanticism. Honor, pride, and leader- ship are not inconsequential. And the debt we owe those we send into combat – whether at the Somme, Omaha Beach, or Fallujah – must be paid for the rest of their lives (which is why allegations of shabby treatment and prolonged waiting at Veterans Affairs hospitals are so disturbing). But as time goes by, it is too easy for writers, filmmakers, and even old soldiers to put a gloss of romance on war, to spellbind the young with images of handsome uniforms and cool weapons systems, tales of valor, and big-picture ideas about what was ac- complished. We can avoid that without diminishing the sacrifices of the men and women who have fought. Some happy day, war itself will be a fading memory. Until then, let's never forget that the decision to go to war is a deci- sion to put men and women into peril. At a minimum, we must keep faith with them afterward. And we can do better than the minimum. We can think long and hard – and longer and harder still – the next time we ask them to fight. Learning compassion from combat by JOHN YEMMA EDITOR aT laRgE upfront U.S. SoldierS reacted after a comrade waS woUnded in SoUthern afghaniStan in 2012. Shamil Zhumatov/ReuteRS/File r You can reach me at yemma@csmonitor.com. Reach Marshall Ingwerson, the Monitor's editor, at editor@csmonitor.com. The ChrisTian sCienCe MoniTor Weekly | June 16, 2014 5

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