Last week this community went through the ritual of saying goodbye to two more soldiers, two more victims of war.
This time it was a DeSales High School graduate and a University of Louisville graduate whose passings we mourned. We lowered flags to half-staff; students and others lined the walks and roadways near Our Mother of Sorrows Church for one funeral. The television cameras rolled, the motorcycle riders with their flags of support joined the phalanx that led to the burial grounds at Calvary Cemetery.
As we always do in the wake of such events, we hope — we pray to God — that this will be the last time our community, any community, endures such a tragedy. We pray these young men will be the last of war’s victims. We pray that no other family will have to endure the chilling message from an armed forces courier. We pray that no one else will die on some barren, sandy plain, some rocky crag, for a mission that remains inadequately explained.
We pray that there will be no more cause for flags at half staff.
Yet while we pray, the insidious nature of our most recent conflicts continues to wear and tear on the military families that continue their sacrifice. And as young men and women return from multiple tours in war zones, the cost of these conflicts will continue to become more visible, more recognizable, throughout society.
The obvious cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be measured to some degree by lists and numbers — the inanimate, unemotional tolling that tells us how many men and women have lost their lives. And the numbers that tell us how many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have been left diminished from their mauling by war’s machine.
Yet there is an almost incalculable cost we’re just beginning to recognize. It is a cost that, little by little, case by case, is beginning to reveal itself to all of American society.
There are injuries, wounds, from wars that aren’t always visible, that don’t manifest themselves in ways that are easily identifiable. There are people — we probably all know a few — who still carry the damages of wars past within their hearts and souls.
One local man, all these years removed from the war in Vietnam, still visits the Veterans Administration Hospital once a month for anger management counseling. He’s still asking himself, decades after his service as an Army Ranger, as a sniper, and as a “tunnel rat,” why he had to see what he’s seen and do what he did.
Case by case, we’re beginning to hear about returning veterans who have had their ability to function in our society taken from them by the broad scythe of war. We’ve long heard of post-traumatic stress disorder — PTSD — that afflicts significant numbers of veterans. What you may not have heard of, yet, is something called chronic traumatic encephalopathy — CTE.
Nicholas Kristof noted in an issue of last week’s New York Times that the nature of CTE “may shed light on the epidemic of suicides and other troubles experienced by veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
CTE is a degenerative condition most familiar to us in the form of “punch drunk” boxers or football players and other athletes who’ve received too many blows to the head and are left cognitively impaired. For military personnel, CTE may be the result of being near blasts from bombs or rocket-propelled grenades — military doctors and others are still studying the situation.
But this much is obvious — the longer wars continue, the more sacrifice we ask from those in our military, the more often we’ll see such effects on the men and women who are finally able to come home. In fact, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services recently told Catholic News Service that the effects of our two most recent conflicts will likely be seen for years.
“We will continue to see the effects of this war — Iraq and Afghanistan — on family life for many decades to come,” he said. Military families, not just those in action, “have paid a tremendous price for these wars,” he said, especially when it comes to dealing with the struggles returning veterans may face trying to readjust to civilian life.
Regardless of what the medical research might eventually say, it’s clear that the best way to ensure that CTE and other, more visible wounds, decline among our military is to take them out of harms way.
The time is past to end the war in Afghanistan, though U.S. forces have begun their “staged” withdrawal. It’s time to accelerate that plan; it’s time to bring them home now.
An editorial in last week’s edition of The Record should have noted that the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are celebrating their 200th anniversary this year. The editorial mentioned that the Sisters of Loretto and the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph were celebrating significant anniversaries in the Archdiocese of Louisville last week, and should have included the fact that a year-long bicentennial celebration is being conducted by the Sisters of Charity.