A former U.S. senator recounts his recovery from the scars of war, politics and depression.
Following the attacks of 9/11, the onset of the Iraq war and the loss of his senate seat in 2002, Cleland (Going for the Max!, 2000, etc.), “awash in all the old sensations of war,” descended into a two-and-a-half-year depression. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, as events conspired to nearly replicate the effect of his combat experience in Vietnam, where an exploding grenade left him a triple amputee. The son of a Navy veteran, a star at his small Georgia high school and a graduate of Stetson University, whose semester in Washington program cemented his interest in government and politics, Cleland managed to put together an outstanding public-service career after his return from war. He was the youngest chief and first Vietnam veteran to head the Veterans Administration and became a U.S. senator in 1996—the author acknowledges that holding these positions gave him confidence and purpose, a way to cope with life after Vietnam. The loss of public office and a new war—one his senate vote, much to his regret, helped authorize—plunged him back into the darkness of loss: “lost legs, lost arm, lost youth, lost innocence, lost war.” Cleland’s at his best discussing his early life, and he offers moving discussions of his combat and his excruciating rehabilitation and fight against his anxiety disorder. When it comes to politics, however, he’s far less convincing, too loosely expanding his theme of courage to political acts—members of Congress singing “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps after 9/11, Vermont Sen. Jeffords’s party switch from Republican to independent—that hardly match the valor required of grievously wounded vets like Cleland himself.
An inspiring life story of special interest to those suffering from depression, a “cancer of the soul.”