Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Veterans View of ... Fear

Folks are talking about the Sniper movie, which seems controversial.

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Dakota said... I took my son to see American Sniper last weekend. ... . My biggest shock of the movie amazingly came at the end of the movie. The last portion is the funeral of Chris Kyle and it is all actual footage and there are some credits that are rolling as this is happening...... not one person got up early to leave!!! When the screen went to nothing but credits people began to file out of the theatre in very orderly fashion and "NO ONE" was talking, it was this eerie silence that I have never experienced at the end of a movie. This lasted into the hallway and into the mens room. I have spoke to my friend in Albuquerque who said that the theatre stood in unison and clapped but did not speak. I must say that I thought of starting to clap but the somber mood that I was in it did not seem proper at the time to me so I did not and neither did anyone else.     January 20, 2015 at 10:09 AM
Thirty-something years ago, I took my wife to see "Platoon".  I didn't expect the visceral reaction I experienced.

At the end of the movie, while they rolled the credits, nobody moved.  Nobody said anything.  We were paralyzed ... or at least, I was ... by the sound of a man in the front row sobbing uncontrollably.

I couldn't blame him.  I was feeling emotional myself.  Everyone in the theater sat quietly and allowed him a few moments to gather himself; and then we quietly filed out.  He was still sitting there, hunched over, among the two or three people who had attended the showing with him.  I hope they helped him; I couldn't. But I could understand why he over-reacted to the "it's just a story" movie.

The moment in that story which most powerfully affected me was when the non-hero was on ambush watch, and a file of NVA soldiers moved through the night-defensive (aka "ambush") position.  The Young Soldier was too frightened to move, or even alert the men who were sleeping beside him while he was on "night watch".  And that story pointedly did not depict him telling them about the experience after it was over.  Instead, he just curled up and died a small death.

This is a recurring nightmare which I had found myself unable to cope with for years.   It was among the worst fears of many veterans .. finding yourself surprised, unprepared, terrified by the sudden imposition of the enemy in overwhelming numbers.  And there's nothing you can do except freeze in place and pray that they don't notice you.

(There are other fears, just as powerful, and just as difficult to understand without the background of living with Fear sitting in the corner of your mind like a demon who never quite leaves you alone.)

Even subsequent psychological counselling make it difficult for me to discuss my military experience until time and 'other stuff' finally allowed me to put it into some perspective.  (Writing some anecdotal posts in this venue has been a great help to me.)

I've not yet seen the "American Sniper" movie, but I plan to.  It's impossible to speak to the responses of people who have seen it.

Except to say:  shit happens, and you don't always scrape it off your soul when you get your first whiff of it.

Oh, and at the end of PLATOON?  I was among those who expected the young soldier who was DEROSing (leaving Vietnam at the end of his tour) to die on the helicopter trip 'home'.  I think that this refusal to take the cheap ending option was all that kept many other ex-servicemen in the audience from emotional breakdown.

It doesn't matter what you think of the movie.  What matters is what you feel, based on your own personal experiences.  Those who never went through it will never understand, nor accept it.

Those who were there ...even if their tour was much less traumatic ... can't blame any veteran who is shocked by imaginary scenes which reach into their dreams and tear their guts out.

And that's all I have to say about that.

1 comment:

Mark said...

We saw American Sniper the other day. Excellent flick.