4-1: “Only the Dead See the End of War,” a Perspective

[The title of Michael Ware’s documentary on the Iraq War is Only the Dead See the End of War. Ware is an Australian journalist who covered the war for Time magazine and was a frequent on-air correspondent for CNN. Ware suffers from PTSD and no longer covers war zones.]

The first spoken words in Michael Ware’s HBO documentary are: “We all have dark places buried within” from which he deduces about himself, (I have) “a place inside me I never knew I had.”

It irks me to hear guys, particularly those about my own age, say what they “would have done” in combat, if they were in fact in combat. The veteran does not have the luxury of the subjunctive “could haves” and “would haves.” In Ware’s words, combat infantry veterans (and war correspondents) have been to the dark places.

The indelible self-knowledge gained through the combat experience is sliced finely with a double edge sword. On the one side, one knows what one has done and is therefore capable of doing again, on the other side one knows what one has done and is therefore capable of doing again.

I am not sure that the general populace understands all the ramifications of oft-quoted phrases like “all our brave service men and women” or “the country’s best.” What is missing from these platitudes is the nanosecond reality of kill or be killed situations these folks face. Sure bravery kicks in, but so does the survival instinct. And, thankfully, not all find themselves in such circumstances.

There are more rear echelon personnel in combat zones than combatants and many of them are civilian contractors. The on-the-ground fighters constitute about 10% of the deployed.

That does not mean to say that all are not serving honorably, they are, if they are doing their jobs. It is to say that not all are regularly dodging bullets, IEDs, and RPGs. And for me personally it is to say that not all are forced to make the instantaneous decision to fire a weapon at another human being, even an enemy. That is a dark place.

I am generally not a big fan of war movies. I don’t like how they deceive so many viewers into thinking that by watching a movie they somehow know what war is like. Only the Dead See the End of War was different for me. Very little plot line, no makeup and fake blood. The film takes us, along with Ware, to dark places within the general framework of the ultimate consequence of human failure: war.

Having watched and thought deeply about Only the Dead See the End of War, using Ware’s final words, I have concluded that I too “became a man I never thought I’d be”; the double edge sword cuts deep.

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