Sunday, December 25, 2011

Coming Home

Between this post and the previous, this blog hit 3,500 views.

This is my 150th post.

Starting points: Joseph Campbell and xkcd. Specifically, Joseph Campbell's discussion of going off to/coming back from war and this xkcd.

The xkcd immediately makes me think of Narnia, though I only know Narnia in basic terms, so that may show more of my ignorance surrounding the books than anything else.

I remember the opening scene of the first Narnia movie, where all the kids are sent off in a train, which leads to the wardrobe, which leads to the lion and the witch et al. The kids are leaving because there's a war going on, and there's a war brewing in Narnia. Fairly clear parallelism there, unless one misses the time period.

When we send soldiers out to fight, we recognize that we are sending them into this new world. We have things one has to go through an accomplish before going into that world, because people who grew up over on this side aren't properly prepared. Part of this is simple skills--for example, this is how you hold this weapon--but part of it is also mental training. These people are entering a world where it is expected that you will kill fellow human beings who are attempting to kill you and those around you. Even if one comes from a place where that happens, the structure of teamwork in the military is almost certainly different.

The children's literature that the xkcd is talking about also tends to go through this sort of preparation. "What? You must have the wrong guy, I'm not the hero!" Then whoever gradually warms up to the idea, or learns humility, or makes whatever sacrifice and shift needed to settle into the role. Part of the story may even be devoted to the horror that shocks a prepared into the right place and others out of it. An entire village destroyed, a comrade in danger of death, something like that.

And then the soldier comes home. This is, by definition, an equal shift to what going away was, as |A-B|=|B-A|. So we've got a cultural understanding that the soldiers are going to have an adjustment period after coming back, in which many of them will be traumatized, given that they just went off to war. We've got another ceremony to bring them back, just as we had one to send them out. Right?

...Kind of?

What xkcd highlights is the major issue, one that I would guess the Narnia books can get around: our hero is alone. No war buddies who get it, no one realizing what the hero has just been through, simply home->adjustment->war->home. This would be ever-so-slightly traumatic.

Luckily, it's not always this bad in real life. We do not go to war alone. There are things we do to help our veterans adjust back. But, through it all, there's this assumption snaking through that any difficulty switching back is only adjusting to physical or mental health issues gained in the other country. It's a culture shock. They have been at war in a country not their own.* The healthiest veteran still has to come home to a home isn't the same home, because the veteran is not the soldier is not the person who signed up. This is not to say there aren't issues with mental and physical health, given that the person just went off to war, just that they aren't the whole story.

As a professor of my mother's would say, I've now told you a little more than I know. I've never been, so I only know secondhand. Still...each ceremony has its complement, else it isn't complete.

* Civil wars excluded, but being at war with one's own country brings in another thorny set of issues.

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