The Truth About War Heroes

war heroesFor the past dozen years or so, Americans have been deluged with talk about “heroes,” and especially “our brave soldiers.” I was at a funeral recently, and was shocked to see the funeral director conduct a ritual: he had all past or current members of the military line up and touch a flag for the deceased.

This is not only stupidly out of proportion, but it is deeply damaging to the “heroes.”

As I’ve said before, I understand how young people get pulled into the military, and I do not think that they join because they want to kill. (Though some small number may.) So, let me be very clear on something:

The vast majority of war heroes are victims.

As it happens, I talk to military people, sympathetically. And I know the other side of the war hero story – the side that they don’t show on TV or when worshiping uniforms in churches, schools, or at sporting events.

Point #1: No one leaves battle whole.

Don’t ever imagine that soldiers come out of battle in any way better than when they went in.

No normal human can kill people without damaging themselves. Perhaps if you’re 50 years old and have to shoot someone who is clearly in the process of killing others, you can come out of it without permanent damage. At that age your character is already developed, and if you can honestly reassure yourself that it was necessary, you may be okay.

But if you think a 19-year-old kid, shooting at people he has never met before, who are simply driving down the street, will be okay afterward… forget about it – that kid will never be whole again.

And the same goes for the soldier who sees his friend get his leg blown off. Or, just having to go into situation after situation where that could happen at any time.

Crowds can chant “hero” all they like, but the soldier who was in battle has something torn in his soul.

Point #2: The soldiers know it.

Can you imagine the kind of internal conflict this hero worship inflicts on the 22-year-old ex-soldier? He’s praised as a hero endlessly, but he’s torn up inside, and sometimes when he’s alone, he cries and shakes.

This is what really happens:

  • The big, tough soldier hides in a bathroom and cries, because he can’t face going out into a crowd.
  • He wonders what was in all those pills they were ordered to take before going into battle.
  • He’s unable to make decisions for himself.
  • He has post-traumatic stress in spades but dares not tell the VA, because that would prevent him from owning a gun, and that’s the only thing that makes him feel safe.

And all the while, the soldier is paraded in front of crowds and publicly praised as some type of superior being, god-gifted with bravery. Could you live with that?

Is it any wonder that US soldiers are killing themselves at a rate of 22 per day?

Point #3: They are abandoned.

I recently had a talk with a friend who spent a full 20 years in the military, and we discussed these subjects.

One of the things that bothers me most is that these young men and women are sent into the hell of battle and then ignored by the Veterans Administration when they get back. I’m certainly no fan of government or its programs, but if you send a kid into death and destruction, you’re also honor-bound to help them recover if they make it out.

The VA is abandoning these former soldiers. I expressed this complaint to my friend, and he told me that it was worse, and more callously malicious, than I knew.

My friend is a decent man, and he does his best to help returning soldiers because no one else does. We discussed this at length, and I was pleased to know that he sits down with whatever few soldiers he can, and says this:

Yes, you’re fucked-up. After what you’ve been through, that’s what you’re supposed to be!

So far as he knew, no one associated with the VA was helping the returning soldiers one-to-one, only him and a few others.


American hero worship is torturing ex-soldiers. It’s driving them to suicide. This mindless worship is good for the State, but it’s hell for the kids who were actually in battle.

Don’t follow that script. Have some compassion for the kid who was immersed in death and hell.

Paul Rosenberg

12 thoughts on “The Truth About War Heroes”

  1. “The big, tough soldier hides in a bathroom and cries, because he can’t face going out into a crowd.”

    A caricature. Minuscule percentage of vets with such severe mental problems. I know of no member of my OCS class who would fit this description.


    “He wonders what was in all those pills they were ordered to take before going into battle.”

    Complete nonsense.

    “He’s unable to make decisions for himself.”


    “He has post-traumatic stress in spades but dares not tell the VA,
    because that would prevent him from owning a gun, and that’s the
    only thing that makes him feel safe.”

    True as to desire not to tell the VA. No info on incidence of PTSD, though it’s certainly real. Utter and complete nonsense as “the only thing that makes him feel safe.” Puhleez.

    You’re a sensible writer but way off the mark here. If you want to say something sensible about the screwing of military men, talk about how we’ve been sent off to wars in which victory was not the goal of the exercise. Go to town on limited war and how it’s nothing more than a meat grinder war where all that changes is how fast the handle gets turned. And then we pull out.

    Also, talk about the utter stupidity of “responsibility to protect” and casual interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, and Syria, and the mindless meddling on our part in Ukrainian internal politics with no plan for dealing with Russia’s most probable course of action where security of Black Sea naval base is an issue.

    1. No Ace, NOT caricature – REAL PEOPLE.

      Deny the facts however you wish, but I made up nothing.

  2. I agree with Paul about this subject. He makes up nothing Too many suicides all in an effort to win a battle. Give me a break.

      1. Believe what you read about this:

        Number of suicides across the U.S. military dropped in 2013 by 15 percent but figures among the National Guard are up

        151 active soldiers killed themselves last year, compared with 185 the year before
        A separate 152 members of the Army National Guard and Reserve committed suicide in 2013, compared to 140 the previous year
        In the military last year, 93 percent of suicides were male
        74 percent were white and almost 40 percent were between 17-24

        Read more:

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  3. My guess this is written by a non vet who doesn’t understand the MAJORITY of combat vets and what we shared. This article is screed and smokes on my lawn, right where the dog dropped it.

  4. Paul, you’re article is spot on, even more gentle on the government that gets them when they are too young to comprehend what war does to people. However, I don’t blame the government, but rather we the people who are seduced by their rulers into believing war is necessary to protect us from bogeymen and chimeras conjured up to keep the war fires burning and the taxes to finance the military-industrial complex flowing. Heroes? The heroes in this world are the nonviolent protesters who do all that they can to stop the idiocy of governmental militarism. The Congressional Medal of Honor should go to them.

  5. You forgot the main truth – that people who join the US murder gang are stupid, ignorant, and/or immoral. They are stupid for believing all the jingoism and lies (“we fight for freedom.”) They are ignorant of the long history of US aggression and that, as Smedley Butler famously said, “war is a racket.” And they are immoral for aiding and abetting organized mass murder. They are not heros; they are despicably immoral.

    As for point three – they *should* be ignored, or better, ridiculed and condemned. They should not be rewarded for their grossly immoral conduct of joining a statist murder gang.

    Were people to commonly condemn the stupid, ignorant, immoral behavior of dumbshits who indenture themselves to the State for murder and tell it like it is, maybe fewer young folks would join. Here’s a flier to hand out a high schools and other places where recruiters try to entice kids into murder gang immorality:

    And here’s a poster:

  6. Aw shucks I wondering if there was going to a #4: some soldiers were essentially criminals – far fighting and doing what they needed to do there are accusations that Allied soldiers in WW2 would rape and pillage their way through Axis Europe.

  7. Iraq-Selling oil for euros and not $–Non member of the Bank for International Settlements–millions killed, country wasted-Christians eliminated. Radical Islam in control.
    Libya-Selling oil for the gold-backed Dinar–Non member of the Bank for International Settlements, hundreds of thousands killed–Christians eliminated. Radical Islam in control.
    Syria and Iran (stable non-sectarian countries with all religions) selling oil to Russia and China in their respective currencies and gold.
    There is a pattern here.

  8. Did you do any research, or did you pull these speculations out of your tail end?

    I’m a combat veteran with two tours in Iraq, I’ve also got a breadth of peace time military experiences including a year in Korea and numerous other exercises or small deployments (like a trip to Kuwait to guard it from Iraq back in 2002…).

    Your “Soldiers are all victims and damaged goods” is a load of crap to me. My experiences, and in general, the anecdotal experiences of the men and women to my right and left who served with me also proved differently.

    First off, your point about “No one leaves battle whole” has been found to be baloney. Statistical evidence shows that the longer and more often a man has seen combat, the less likely they are to experience Post Traumatic Stress. Our minds adapt to reality. When faced with combat time and again, a new norm is established. Most of the people who have the worst PTSD are those who had a few isolated experiences, not continuous rotations of battle.

    Second, yes we know we do bad stuff. This isn’t as debilitating as you believe it is. Yes, we do a lot of bad stuff to bad people, and sometimes good people get it too. However, while I do feel for refugees and victims of the violence, I know I did a lot greater good killing evil men who filled up mass graves and made men and women simply vanish from Iraq. As we watch more mass graves filled, tell me again how evil the US and our allies were for returning bodies and allowing families to mourn and hate us openly and freely without recourse?

    Third, the VA sucks. Always has and always will. This is why Vet Centers were created. This is why there is the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. We tend to take care of our own.

    Don’t even get me started on the suicide rate statistic that gets tossed around.

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