Why Veterans Prefer Not To Tell War Stories

War veterans returning home from tour

There is a classic image of a veteran sitting around with friends and family, telling interesting war stories from their time in service. It is normally accompanied by sombre music, and a slow zoom into the story teller’s face. But, as you might have already guessed, this scenario is limited strictly to the movies. In reality you’re far more likely to find a veteran sitting alone, playing online pokies, reading a book or doing anything that would take their mind off the past.

The truth is that in reality, war veterans would rather talk about anything else than their experiences in the war. They even make every effort to forget the memories, though generally struggle to ever be free of them. Post-traumatic stress disorder is even likely, making the memories not just unpleasant, but sadly torturous too.

The fact of the matter is that a war story is the last thing you are likely to hear from an ex-soldier, and it doesn’t take much to understand why.

Don’t Share The Horror

The sad, terrible reality is that most veterans don’t share war stories simply because they don’t want to upset loved ones. Virtually any story told would inevitably involve something awful, and veterans explain that it is preferable to not share that horror and have to witness the reactions from those they love.

Many emphasise that they want the experiences to stay behind them, and that telling a story would be the equivalent of bringing the trauma back home. Some also point out that even their funny war stories would be tinged with pain. This is given that they would inevitably have to follow up with the laughs by explaining that the people involved in the story later died, often in terrible ways.

Most decided that the best option is to simply bury the memories, or even supress them. Stunningly, many ex-soldiers would struggle to tell a story, since the memories are so deeply buried that they barely even exist anymore. Though, those memories often remain as haunting dreams, creeping in when least expected.

Walking The Path of PTSD

Virtually all veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder to some extent. For some it is all consuming, and can alter the personality of that soldier for the remainder of their life. It is little wonder why most of these PTSD sufferers will not talk about the experiences. In fact, many even turn reclusive, in fear that something will unexpectedly trigger the memories. So they prefer to stay away from others, alone with the memories, and never be at risk of having to relive the past.

War veteran memorial in Vietnam

Many soldiers report having strange and bizarre behaviour; a manifestation of lingering remnants of a hidden self. One soldier reports sleepwalking; standing from bed in the middle of the night, and staring out a window, as if looking for enemies. He would not even know he did this, if his wife didn’t inform him. Another recounts how, without conscious effort, he will grab up his pistol, and perform a military safety check on it. It is not his intention, but simply deeply engrained muscle memory.

Those that get treatment for PTSD are encouraged to tell their stories to councillors, and the process is often an agonising one. But it is, very simply, the best way to overcome the traumas, and move on with life.

A Second Self

The concept of a ‘shadow self’ or ‘second self’ is common among veterans. The long suppressed part of them that experienced the horrors is still inside, but no longer feels part of them. Vague memories are recalled, but as if images from a dream. But, when the ‘second self’ emerges, it is often with a tsunami of pain and emotion. Ex-soldiers will suddenly find themselves in tears, though not entirely sure why. The ‘second self’ has made an appearance.

Interestingly, veterans are also well known for being able to spot one another, and recognise each other as ex-soldiers even without prior introduction. Some refer to it as being able to spot a brother, while others refer to it as simply recognising when someone else is hiding a second self.

Importantly, however, veterans are careful to only talk about the good times when conversing with one another, with both being aware that a wrong story could result in tears. In this way ex-soldiers are bonded, but in the worst possible way.

Getting Over It

Those that do manage to conquer the ‘second self’ are few and far between. But, some have made an effort, digging up their old war journals and turning them into books or even movies. The classic film Saving Private Ryan is partially based on a war journal.

Confronting the memories, reading old journals and making the information public is as close to telling war stories as many veterans get. Though, the stories serve mostly as a cautionary tale, lest anyone ever still believe war is something to be celebrated.

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