I think Karl Marlantes would agree.
What It Is Like to Go to War. Yes, that is as unequivocal a recommendation as I ever make. The book has flaws -- one of them personally upsetting to me -- but this is one of the most clearly-argued, heart-felt, intelligent volumes I've ever read.
Marlantes is a Vietnam-era Marine Corps combat vet who brings to his subject the agonizing of a lifetime. Although the Marine Corps proudly let him take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford in 1968 instead of calling him up after he completed the college education they had paid for, he volunteered to join his peers in the jungle. He came back with a chest full of medals, little sense of accomplishment, and a lot of anger. Soon thereafter, he remembers being spat upon by a civilian woman when traveling in uniform on a stateside passenger train. (He says such incidents, which have iconic status for the US right, were actually quite rare.) Though he apparently successfully resumed civilian life for a couple of decades, he eventually blew up and was diagnosed with PTSD. This book is his prescription for what recovery might mean for damaged soldiers.
Our wars go on, yet they are remote for most of us. We need to be reminded of some truths about sending soldiers to fight:
Perhaps in other times and in other places, fighters might have an easier time negotiating the transition between the devastating horrors we ask of them and the civilian moral order. But little about US life helps them. Hidden behind our two oceans and cushioned by our collective wealth, by and large we haven't a clue about what we put combat veterans through. Marlantes shares an anecdote about the sort of help he needed and didn't get from early in his tour as a platoon leader. He had survived his first fire fights in northwestern Vietnam, near the DMZ, where Marines fought the North Vietnamese Army over rugged hills and vertical valleys. He had seen his men wounded and some had been killed.
Marlantes believes that today's combatants are in some ways worse off than his generation of soldiers. In World War II, units came home together, usually by ship, and the process took a month. They had some chance to work their experiences through together. In Vietnam, individual soldiers flew home, often hours after leaving firefights. Today, Marlantes worries that frontline fighters never get separation from home at all.
This author also breaks one of the veteran clan's great taboos -- he tries to explain to us, the home folks, what killing means to the combat soldier who does it.
In addition to urging that all returning combat vets need counseling, Marlantes also has a very concrete picture of how the civilian society that sent them might help them make the transition.
It is not the soldiers that keep us from adopting this sort of respectful welcome for our returning combatants; it is our fantastical attachment to the illusion of effortless world dominance.
But read the book.