My unbridled words about war aren’t bloused in name-brand books. My war writing is tied to my former calling as a friar monk. I will repeat myself 1,000 times: I ended up leaving my beloved robe for a rifle.
My war writing is tied to my soul and this God-given soul ran away with the mistress of choice and migrated to war. Today, this soul remains settled in that other bed, somewhere in Iraq.
As in every affair, the soul questions itself. My war writing is tied to questioning war, but without condemnation, so I go on writing about war to uncover more questions. I find more questions in myself about war and I seek questions from others tied to war—like other warriors, loved ones, concerned citizens and lovers.
Saint Augustine pursued questions from his soul to find rest in his waking life. I too seek rest. And I too seek to question my life and the lives of others. My writing about war ponders questions about the lives lived before entering war’s gate. Also, my war writing engages the war as it was lived ‘over there.’ And lastly, my writing about war ventures into lives being lived out ‘at home,’ away from the battlefield.
A few years ago, I wrote an essay about those who write about war. Specifically, I wrote about those select few who seem to be entitled to write about war: those who were ordained to write about war by the big publishing houses and newspapers. HA! I published my first war narrative and autoethnographic writings in an obscure cultural studies journal.
Socrates was obsessed with truth
In my written piece for the obscure journal, I mentioned Socrates. Why Socrates? He was a veteran of war and a concerned citizen. Socrates valued his complex identity and the story behind his critical mind. He challenged the system and held his shield high against those who controlled society. Thus, he lived to deeply understand himself and others.
It’s interesting how Socrates engaged his war narrative during his trial, for the purpose of pointing out that reason isn’t an enemy to civic duty. He shared his deepest thoughts with the community persecuting him. It’s also interesting that, these days, war writing is loaded with a mimicry that prevents the reader from engaging with the author in a deep way.
What are the deepest thoughts of the war writer? Now, a reader is left with the sensation of the war experience or with patches of another person’s otherness outside of the writer. It’s like the priest who only faces the altar and is wrapped up in a distinct divine mimicry.
Forget not the great warrior Socrates, for he challenged the people in his society to stop being slaves of myths and unexamined stories. Socrates had a story that wasn’t an expression of mimicry. The unexamined stories circulating in his society limited critical or essential questioning.
Socrates even questioned a fellow, Polemarchus, about warrior-like bonds of loyalty and friendship. Socrates didn’t craft his story from the otherness of the other. He wasn’t taking faux-existential patches from the enemy, fellow warriors, fellow citizens and non-combatants of other lands in order to craft his story for his trial.
Socrates was passionate about his life, but as it related to personal ethics, the state of his society and the actions of others. Socrates didn’t obsess over getting published with big companies. He didn’t seek to become ordained by any special group in his society. Socrates was obsessed with truth.
The warrior has a life before and after war
The human beings in stories aren’t just mere objects. Subjectivity in many war-writing workshops is evaded or cookie-cutter. The experts of writing are brought in to teach you more about writing. It’s about presentation! It’s like the character Ion’s ethic and actions in Plato’s dialogue of the same name.
Much like Socrates, I took pride in the inglorious feat of radical acceptance. Accept what, exactly?
Many people in society view the spectacle of war as being sexier than the authentic human experience of war. Often, the warrior is overlooked when it comes to their life before the war. The intensity of the actual deployment overshadows the acute life issues during the post-war years.
I refused to have my sense of being stripped from me by flashy war writing, because my experiences matter.
The warrior becomes branded by society as a newspaper headline. The headline? It must spew out marquee-lit, dramatic words about war.
I refused to have my sense of being stripped from me by flashy war writing, because my experiences matter. How I was before the war mattered. My state of being during the war mattered. My life after the war mattered. The spectacular war stories and perfect war accounts didn’t matter to me.
Thus, I stayed in the shadows of a priestly class of war writers. My war writing wasn’t aimed at getting published or presenting the perfect war story. My war writing is aimed at presenting the existential and spiritual aspects of war that aren’t surfacing within many mass-culture books, newspapers, journals and magazines that present how or why the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. This doesn’t matter.
What matters to me
Lives matter to me: the lives that remain in the war zone and the lives that made it home. The lives that are lost at home matter to me, as well as the lives that returned from the war over there but are still lost at home.
The loves of those who want to heal matter to me. The lives that want to give joy to the world matter to me. The lives that love the unloved who’ve returned from war matter to me. The lives of vet lovers matter to me. The lives that help vets create art matter to me. The lives that help vets find a hot meal matter to me.
The lives that are willing to trust the vet matter to me. And the lives desiring to reconcile with civilians matter to me.
And so, let me keep writing this column on veteran spirituality each week. Read and share my words from my column.
This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit LOST CONVOY AT HOME: A veteran’s experience of romantic love [Part 3]»