General Sherman famously said, "War is hell." But as one Iraq War veteran says, "Coming home from war is hell." His story is one of fifty told in Jim Lammasson's book Exit Wounds: Soldiers' Stories--Life after Iraq and Afghanistan. As the title might suggest, the largest focus of Exit Wounds is PTSD and other post-war maladies (mental, social, physical). Most of the fifty soldiers chosen are also solidly in the "anti-war war veteran" camp. Several have been involved in anti-war organizations and protests.
Many of the voices in Exit Wounds are completely disillusioned about war, and specifically about the role of the United States in conflicts around the world. Fighting for freedom? Not when they "incarcerated people [in Iraq] for printing anti-American propaganda." This soldier goes on to say, "We need to understand that the U.S. government is the biggest source of terrorism in the entire world and it has been for a long time. . . . The fact that anyone in the military has fought for an honorable cause is a complete fallacy. It hasn't happened in a long f------ time."
Another soldier calls the military "state-sponsored terrorism" and criticizing "the nauseating freak show that is puffed-up, chicken hawk patriotism." One Marine believes in the Marine code of "honor, courage, and commitment," but is critical of the United States's "colonial conquest." He says, "The most honorable and courageous act you can do is to lay down your arms and refuse to fight."
Not all are embittered and cynical. Many want civilians to remember the role of the military and are proud to serve. "I make going to war for your freedom a duty that I will die for. . . . I make myself get out of bed at 3 a.m. to risk my life to preserve your freedom. Today I might make the ultimate sacrifice to save your life." Pro- and anti-war vets are often proud of their service, however they may feel about war. "I'm honored to be a U.S. Marine, always."
The portraits of the soldiers, typically in civilian clothes and everyday settings, remind the reader that soldiers are regular people who have chosen to serve. Reading the stories of these fifty soldiers will encourage empathy with returning soldiers. Have never served in the armed forces, I need to read perspectives and gain some understanding of the complex issues soldiers face when returning home from combat. They serve on behalf of all of us; we owe it to them not to ignore, neglect, or forget them after their service is over.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!