Aren’t war stories evidence of how much men love war?
Our association of war stories with bragging leaves us with the impression that men love war – that war is a male "toy." This is the dark side. The light side is the celebration of self that compensates for the tearing down of self that prepared him to be disposable.
War stories are the male way – of processing feelings. War stories are what men tell to reframe their fear. When Bruce returned from Vietnam, he told this story.
We shared our hooches with rats that weren’t afraid to come at you
while you were awake, much less asleep. I’ll never forget the time a
rat ran across my face. Its tail dragged for what seemed like a mile.
Bruce Gilkin, Vietnam Veteran ю
It is doubtful that Bruce enjoyed the rat running across his face. But telling his story was therapy It is like being in a relationship and having a big fight that later becomes our favorite story. War stories are to war what the War of the Roses is to relationships. It is our way of reframing the horror – of turning a negative experience into a bonding experience. It doesn’t mean we wanted to fight.
Soldiers returning from Vietnam and Afghanistan returned to countries which didn’t want to hear their war stories. Deprived of war stories to reframe their fears and affirm themselves, they were, instead, overwhelmed by their fears and overwhelmed by’ self-doubt. The Soviet soldiers went into sanatorium*,4 the American soldiers went into drugs, prisons, and suicide.
War stories create two war-story dilemmas. The first is that war stories can be healthy for the storyteller to tell but might be unhealthy for the son to hear. It unconsciously teaches the son that he can get his attention the way dad gets his attention – by doing things that will put his life at risk. The second dilemma is that these stories tend to lull the storyteller into forgetting that he also needs help to release deeper, uglier fears.
The solution? Make counselling mandatory for anyone who has experienced combat or combat training. And educate the dad to help his son (or daughter) understand that he risked his life to free his child to do something other than fight; then ask the child what his or her interests are, thereby actually giving attention to the child for exploring alternatives to war.