Something physical, even. Maybe pathways in the brain?
Whatever the reason, the effects are undeniable.
There are different wars within wars.
Some men fight a fierce, exhausting, grinding war. Others see action in bursts - intense and utterly world shaking. Some see it from the street level; performing critical and necessary functions. Others must see it partially from a position of command and delegation, for that is their burden.
It is to this last category I wander with my musings today. It is a region very close to home.
So, I ask myself: What is the biggest side effect of this experience on ME?
What has this exposure to raw conflict done to my world-view? I am sure there is probably a book's worth of material in there, but in this post I will focus on a single effect.
Since I was young enough to remember I have been exposed to war.
I grew up in a city still recovering from the bombings of the second world war. Although years before my birth, the economic collapse had prevented the removal and repair of the scars of war. Pill boxes lined the beaches I played on. In town ruined hulks of old buildings still stood, silent and aside. Derelict. Waiting for the wreckers ball.
I can remember a strange smell around those places that I would later come to recognize.
In 2001, after the 911 attack I began to notice an effect. Horrifically I first saw it in the actions of the hijackers. In the weaponization of the planes. I stood among shocked and terrified colleagues utterly UN-AMAZED. The attack seemed so obvious to me. So easy. Why had nobody seen it coming?
Sure I was horrified by the target. It struck VERY deep at my core. The cowardly and EVIL nature of the attack hit me like everyone else....but I was NOT surprised.
I had become so attuned to mapping the potential of a given object, series of events, or persons for making war that the attack made a perfect - and totally Evil - kind of sense. Such a realization left me feeling unclean.
For a while, I began to wonder if it was a curse or madness. A spiritual or physical sickness that made me see ghosts and shadows where there was none. But why was I right, time after time? Why did I see it coming?
In 2002 I wrote a paper advising NATO about the potential of corpse bombs, for example. I had to literally FORCE myself to write it. I knew what the reaction would be. People thought me nuts then - but now they know different.
Since then there have been over 300 such bombs used on civilians, NATO, and Allied troops.
This intuition had been correct, AGAIN.
Stranger still, as I began to bounce these ideas on other veterans of conflict (not just my own wars) I found a similar awareness.
A kind of realization was reached when I finally brought this topic up with a man who helped raise me as a boy, my Grandfather. A veteran of WWII - the full conflict - and a decorated NCO in the RAF, I wondered what his take was. He knew exactly what I meant, and listed his own examples.
It was uncanny. What was this intuition? This ability to sniff out the other guy's nasty plots by analysis? Granddad called it 'reality sickness'. People returning from war, he said, could see the real world in ways civilians refused to. The malady is in the mix of the two worlds. It leads to a series of disconnects. There is not 'unified field' theory of civilization. There is the Newtonian life of Civilians, and the Quantum of War.
Could it be, we wondered toghether, that war awakens a part of a man's soul or mind that allows him to instinctively sense, in an almost prescient way, the Evil wishes of his opponent. That the nastiness of the other guy allows me to 'do unto him' as he would 'do unto me'...or at least prevent any 'doing unto' at all? Is this a real metaphysical and appreciable side effect of war? If so, WHY should it be?
This question haunted many pots of tea and the conversations that flowed from them in the last couple of years before Granddad's stroke and eventual passing.
We would ask: Is it a gift, or a curse, or both?
Whatever it is, it is as real as the sense of smell and as old as the art of War itself.
A strange Side Effect of War....
RIP Granddad, I will always miss the chats.
*Salutes the Old Man*
May God bless and keep you all safe from the madness of war.