Uncivilized or heroic?


“Everyone that knows him thinks he’s just a big ol’ teddy bear, but he’s not. He’s actually very uncivilized.”

I did a double-take on that one. I pictured someone sitting down to a huge mountain of spaghetti and meatballs with gigantic forks in both hands just shoveling it in …or a fur loincloth. Neither mental image quite fit the person he was talking about.

“It runs in the family,” he continued to explain. “I’ve put my fair share in the hospital, but he has put more than a few in the ground.”

What? What is he talking about?

He described a scenario like one you and I would never imagine. Not long after the end of the Vietnam War, those stationed at Camp Something-or-other were half new recruits, half veterans of that war, and one of their usual activities was practicing on the firing range. On the ground was a solid line of white paint, and the rule is, all weapons pointed across that line. If the barrel of a gun pointed behind that line, the captain in charge would shoot to kill. One day, two veterans “flashed back” while on that firing range and went down on one knee, back to back, rifles facing behind that white line, about to open fire. The captain shot both before they could shoot anyone else. That captain was the big ol’ teddy bear, the topic of our conversation.

Another scenario, equally as unimaginable, places the teddy bear in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler with the driver’s side window partially down. A hand with a knife comes through that cracked window in attack. So, the teddy bear grabs the arm, throws the truck in gear and runs it by a telephone pole, taking out the mirror and the attacker attached to that arm wielding the knife in one fell swoop. The mirror was replaced within a few hours, he said, putting the touch on the finale.

Horrible situations; both of them. Heroic responses each time. But, not quite? He said there was no remorse shown afterward, no conscience. The teddy bear is actually very uncivilized.

Earlier in the day, a veteran of both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan opened up to me a little about his experiences and the resulting PTSD. He spoke about alley-ways that soldiers went into and never came out of. He described buried bombs going off, shredding people, extremities, even fully armored vehicles.

Those he joined with didn’t come back home, but he did. He was scarred, physically and emotionally, and felt guilty that he came back when his friends didn’t.

“I put a man in a wheelchair,” the son of the teddy bear jolted me back to the present. “He came at me with an ax, so I dropped and kicked out his knee. When he was down, I slammed my steel-toed boot on his back. I broke his back. I don’t feel remorse about it either. It runs in the family. That’s why we all make good soldiers. We are uncivilized. Normal people would feel remorse.”

Is it uncivilized, or is it heroic? I can’t tell. I don’t know what I’d do or feel afterward if I had experiences like those. Those experiences just aren’t normal. The soldier I talked to earlier thanked me for listening, said that he needed to talk when he had the chance, and I suppose that the teddy bear felt the same when he told his son his stories.

Uncivilized or heroic isn’t normal.
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