Nancy Sherman


Read Excertps from: Stoicism | Grief  | Anger | Body | Torture


from Stoic Warriors

In the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers survive their wounds in a way that was simply impossible in previous wars. But that survival, due to high tech body armor and helmets, is often survival with a new body identity—as an amputee, as a person without vision or hearing, as a burn victim. The latest reports from Walter Reed suggest that the signature injury of the war in Iraq will be traumatic brain injury. Two thirds of the soldiers who suffer blasts from improvised explosive devices (IED’s) suffer traumas to the brain. They can be silent wounds—a wound that changes one’s behavior but isn’t recognizable otherwise.

While there may be prosthetics for amputees and plastic surgery for burn victims, there are no functioning eyes for the blinded (just as there are no prosthetic repairs of sexual identity for the millions of noncombatant women who become victims of wars’ genocidal rape). These losses are brute reminders that technology goes only so far, and that leaving a war zone with missing limbs or disabled and violated body parts still represent catastrophic losses. A soldier may joke that he has left his biceps behind in Iraq, but if it means not just that his hope of being Mr. America is dashed, but his hope of being able to hug, or drive, or open the refrigerator door in the usual way, then more than just biceps have been lost.

The paradox of war is that the fittest risk becoming the most disabled. As a public we tend to idealize the “buff” warrior body, and shun the maimed. The message sent is that the able, military body is a public investment, the disabled body, a soldier’s own personal tragedy. As an enlightened society, we must do better. We need to learn how to welcome home the wounded warrior -- how to express deep respect at the same time as profound grief and compassion.