“Ghosts, the old warriors said, were the price of a fighting man paid to follow the path of the warrior; somewhere behind the noble and espoused traditions, somewhere behind the achievements and the glory the ghosts waited. And they would always be there. Their dying would forever be part of the path of the man that took their lives, whether the act was honorable or justified or not. Their faces, and often their dying moments, could not be forgotten, unless the heart of the warrior was made of stone. And few could boast of that, though many might have secretly wished it to be so. Somewhere people they didn’t know- wives and daughters, mothers and granddaughters- would mourn… The victory dances honored the warrior and the victory stories reaffirmed the tradition of the warrior, but very little, if anything, could chase away the dark memories that always lurked. The ghosts would always dull the edge of arrogance and bring cold feeling at the most unexpected moments. Such was the price of being a warrior.”- (Marshall 82)
That is an excerpt from a book about crazy horse. It is written by a Native American and is actually a transcription of the oral history of Crazy Horse straight from the Native American people the Lakota. I think its interesting just how much the concept of ghosts transcends our culture. With all that said, I do have a sneaking suspicion that this statement actually comes from those that never went into combat, from those that were never warriors. Why might I say that, for the most part, we don’t worry about killing the other guy. I might be way off base but this is my perspective. It is the friends that I lost and those that I failed, that wait in the mist of the woods. Thats incredibly cold but if you follow my logic it makes sense. If you are having trouble with having done your duty and having been forced to kill in combat, allow me to lend my thought process and see if it helps any.
On that day you woke up ate your breakfast or downed a rip it (energy drink), he woke up and had his chai tea. You got in your truck and smacked a mag into the rifle, He laid out on the roof-top and checked out his ambush. You rolled out, he laid in wait. BOOM, and in that moment there’s a 50/50 split of who is leaving in a truck or in a body bag. On that day you were faster, had better aim, better training, didn’t hesitate. View it as a chess-board, you are both pawns just trying to make it to the back of the board. On that day you were faster he was slower and thats that. The question that ends it all for me, “Would he think about me after he killed me and feel bad or remorse,” answer is hell no. They celebrate killing us without any honor or dignity. We kill them, fingerprint them, throw them on the hood of the truck, and go get chow. Their culture is a bit different than ours in that they don’t value life the same way we do, so we get a little twinge of guilt for doing what we had to do, I don’t feel they do. I am not saying its good or bad, thats just how they roll out there.
So big circle back around to the above statement, not being made by a warrior, sorry but we don’t much give a damn about killing the enemy because they were trying to kill us. I imagine large volumes of close quarters, would eventually freak you out, but thats the exception and not the rule. Which brings us to the actual point of the post, how do we let the ghosts go, or at least learn to live with them. Mine sit just beneath the surface, drink too much whiskey they pop out. At some point I have to find a time to let them lay down, its not like I am doing them or me any good by dragging them around. I am sure they have better ghost stuff to do, like scare kids while they take the trash out and spy on people. So what is it that makes me drag them around? Guilt and anger are the first two things that come to mind, I feel bad for being alive and them not and I am angry with myself, for failing them, and the world for putting us in the situation in the first place. So I have identified the feelings, the reasons, and everything should be perfectly fine now…. wrong. That junk is so hard-wired into my memories, adrenaline response systems, my limbic system (emotions), that I am not sure I will ever get it out. The simple but deep wounds are always the hardest to fix. But perhaps I can moderate the amount of hauntings I get from their memories. The usual stuff, like writing down what I am thinking about when I am thinkingit,writing letters to the fallen, I’ve heard helps. Talking to them.. could be good…. just don’t do it in public, and not often, ya look a wee bit on the nuts side… more so than normal.
I want to make a big distinction though. This is for those on the outside looking in. The ghosts of the fallen and the demons we deal with are two very different things. The ghosts are buds, our brothers and sisters that fell. They are to be cherished sometimes and missed sometimes, never to be hated or banished. We need to lay them down and in our own time we will. The demons however, are usually something to do with ourselves. A mistake we made, a thing we became in combat, sometimes its as simple as the fact that we can’t get over combat. Those are the demons and they need to be exorcised with a prejudice, mentally and emotionally hunted down and stricken from our memories and psyches, otherwise they will eat that warrior from the inside out. But the demon hunt should be a topic of later discussion. Go have a chat with Casper, tell him he needs to pack his stuff, because you have stuff to do for now and you will just see’em later.
Marhall, Joseph. The Journey Of Crazy Horse. NY,NYC, 2004.