Veteran’s Day is a time for Americans to step up and honor those who have served in the armed forces. From the days of the Founding Fathers to today, those in the military whether enlisted or drafted, made tremendous sacrifices for their fellow Americans. We should offer thanks, but the question is how do we go about doing it?
Today many people will tell a veteran “thank you for your service.” During the Vietnam War those who fought gallantly for this country would have welcomed that greeting instead of being spat upon and called baby killers. But for those who fought in the War On Terror is it enough? The recent book by David Finkel, and movie by Jason Hall, Thank You For Your Service, implies the sentiment is great, but more is needed.
The movie and book follow a group of US soldiers returning from Iraq and struggling to integrate back into family and civilian life. They live with the horrific memories of a war that threatens to destroy them here at home. Both film and book explore the reality of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) that affects both the warrior and their family.
David Finkel’s first book, For The Good Soldiers, told of his experiences while embedded with the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Iraq during the infamous "surge." His follow-up book, Thank You For Your Service, and the movie based on the book shows what happens to these men after their deployments have ended. He stated, “They came with various psychological and moral injuries, and some are broken. I think the movie found the true heart of my book, getting the big picture. The war affected these guys, and they came home different, many times unable to talk about it.”
Jason Hall the screenwriter and director concurs, “I hope the movie opens people’s eyes regarding the continued war that these guys are fighting, trying to find their way back home. This is very much their second war, as they come home changed and altered by the war. Since I wrote the screenplay for the movie about Chris Kyle, I am calling this film the spiritual sequel to American Sniper.”
Some have criticized the book and movie because they say it implies that all soldiers coming home are broken. Finkel responds to the criticism, “I just do not buy it. Of course not every vet is broken, but every vet is affected. When I embedded with these guys for about eight months I saw a lot of them injured and lost. I think it is fair to say that there was not a man of those 800 that was not affected in some way, but this does not mean they were all broken. After my first book, some who returned from deployment contacted me and told of having a hard time with divorces, DUIs, depression, anxiety, medication, and suicidal thoughts. They came home with various psychological and moral injuries, and some were broken. The fact is they were changed and it will take some time to recover, but it certainly does not mean they are broken forever. It is a shame for people to say don’t tell this story because it buys into the broken vet idea.”
Hall added, “I am by no means saying everyone who comes home suffers from PTSD. I think it is one in four or one in five. It is certainly the minority. Yet, we have to be aware of those who have the feelings that everything feels different and looks different, with a different texture and meaning.” The book and movie should not be criticized for pointing out that approximately 25% of the soldiers need help because the goal is to start a discussion and make Americans more aware of these veterans who need support.
The relatives are also affected. While at war the soldier’s peers became their family, and their family at home was left to fend for themselves. Both appear to be strangers to each other in some way. A scene in the book has one of the returning soldiers, Staff Sergeant Adam Schumann, now retired, cooking pancakes for his daughter, making a happy face with chocolate chips. The problem is that the child does not like chocolate. Another scene has his wife finding a questionnaire, which shows his distressed mental state. It becomes obvious that the soldier feels out of place within his own family and the family feels like an outsider, unaware of everything the soldier has experienced.
Hall describes this process as “having these guys stepping through a door as they go off to war. When it closes the veteran has extraordinary experiences, profound and meaningful relationships. Their families back home are waiting for the door to open up and for the veterans to step back in their lives. In some instances the veteran has changed with the family left to grapple with and unravel the mystery of who is this person.”
Finkel wants to make it clear that being broken is not a sign of weakness nor should someone be regarded as crazy. He is hoping that anyone who utters the words thank you for your service “realizes it is not a conversation opener but a conversation closer. I want people to take away from the book that these people are noble. I want Americans to understand there are many protocols and don’t stereotype anyone. Some people are helped by medication and others by cognitive therapy. We should ask them how they are doing? We should appreciate them every day, not just on holidays like Veteran’s Day.”
The movie and book need to be applauded for bringing to the forefront how profoundly those serving have been affected by war. After all PTSD has existed since World War I in the form of “shell shock.” Basically for one hundred years soldiers have come home with psychological issues and what people should be asking is how much have we learned to help them. Today only one percent of the population is connected to someone serving, but we cannot ignore or forget about those coming home. Americans should see the movie and read the book to understand what the families and those who put their life on the line are going through.