Veterans from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan—including Sites himself as a war correspondent (In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars, 2007)—tell their tales of the struggle to survive on and after the battlefield, in the hopes that such storytelling may be a way “to release warriors from the bonds of their own silence.”
Lance Cpl. James Sperry writes, “I am only twenty-four and have lived a life I wish on no one.” Such is the common thread of despair to be found among these warriors’ tales. In combat, they did and saw things no one should endure. They killed—the enemy, civilians, their own troops as a result of friendly fire. They saw friends blown apart, and they were wounded. They grew rabid with anger and a desire to kill. Then they were expected to return to friends, family and community unchanged from these horrors. But this was not possible, as veteran after veteran experienced PTSD. Too often in silence, combat veterans suffered from an inability to reconnect, to love, to be simply normal. Sites includes himself among the lost, as he recounts how his “confused incompetent inaction” led to the murder of Iraqi insurgent Taleb Salem Nidal. Sites thus joined the ranks of those suffering from PTSD—covering guilt, shame and fear in a haze of alcohol and marijuana, numbed by taking “a chef’s salad of [prescribed] drugs every day,” losing wives and loved ones who could not understand their sullen withdrawal. However, in sensitive, honest prose, the author emphasizes that this is a book about hope. Most of the wounded warriors eventually found their way back, including Sites, and part of the healing process involves telling their stories. The author allows himself and the combat veterans he interviews the space to do so.
An important book for warriors and the communities that send them to war.