Monday, March 30, 2009

t r u t h o u t | Tyler E. Boudreau: "The Unmaking of A Marine"

t r u t h o u t | Tyler E. Boudreau: "The Unmaking of A Marine"

Jason Leopold reports on a powerful new book about the Iraq War written by a US Marine. Thanks to Stephen for pointing this out.

Describing an oncoming vehicle that may or may not be a suicide bomber, Boudreau writes:

"Pulses jumped and our voices grew sharp and edgy. I leaned out the window and aimed my rifle at the truck. We struggled to see inside it, to spot some kind of clue that might tell us with any certainty whether or not the driver was a suicide bomber. My heart was racing. I was breathing hard as it drew closer and closer. Fire? Don't fire? It was so difficult to know what to do. Will we live? Will we die? This could be it. And the truck drew closer still. And still we couldn't seem to come up with a decision. There was no one to ask. There was no manual to reference. There was no time to think it over. There was only now, the moment, and we had to decide. In the end we resolved to hold our fire, and I was glad we did. The truck floated quietly past us without exploding into a million bits of fragmentation in our faces. We stared, agog, at the passengers, a family of four or maybe five crammed into the cab staring back at us, all agog as well."

You know that Boudreau was forced to relive his harrowing experience in Iraq in order to write a book as disturbing and heartwrenching as Packing Inferno.

The "story of Packing Inferno was conceived under fire," exactly five years ago this month, Boudreau writes in the preface to his book. He eloquently describes how before he was sent to Iraq he had packed dozens of books into his "sea-bag," one of which was Dante's Inferno, which he said he didn't recall taking, but nonetheless gave him a title for his memoir.

"I began writing it in Iraq with the war raging around me. When I got home, I found the war was still raging, but it was not outside me anymore, not to touch, or to see, or to hear, or to smell. It was within me. I was no longer packing inferno in my sea-bag, but in my head."

"My wife will sometimes catch a shift in my eyes, while we're talking about groceries, or the kids' school, or the weather, and she'll ask me, "What are you thinking about?" She can see I've drifted off. But she doesn't need me to answer, because she knows, and because the answer is always the same."

And therein lies one of the central themes of Boudreau's 222-page book: the images of the war he has heroically fought have been implanted inside of his mind and are on a permanent loop.

"To say I was duped is not sufficient to lighten the load," he writes.

The post-traumatic stress of the war in Iraq will forever be a part of Boudreau's identity and it will be a lifelong battle to keep it in check. For some soldiers, post-traumatic stress is the precursor to suicide, for others it leads to a life of drug abuse, alcoholism, or crime.

Although the word "disorder" usually follows post-traumatic stress, Boudreau objects to the verbiage, calling it an "antiquated" term.

"While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) still uses this term, it is widely rejected by those who work in the field of mental health," Boudreau wrote in an Author's Note to his book. "I reject it too… I do not consider the psychological struggle of returning veterans a 'disorder' and so I will only refer to this injury as 'combat stress' or post-traumatic stress."

Removing the word "disorder" has helped to eliminate the stigma some veterans say persists when they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress or the ridicule they endure after seeking help for their deteriorating mental state. ""

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