Living Well Is The Best Revenge
By Alexis Artwohl, PhD
*This is an article from the Fall 2021 issue of Combat Stress
We have been here before many times in human history. For thousands of years, warfighters have stepped up to the plate only to be betrayed, vilified, and forgotten by the politicians and citizens they fought to protect. The recipients of betrayal and ingratitude include all ranks, from generals to privates, ancient kings to modern politicians. Many risked all, including their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.” Some failed, some succeeded, and many were kicked to the curb regardless of the outcome. In fact, the admiration some warfighters earned by their success was the very thing that caused the betrayal. The envy, greed, and quest for power of others would not tolerate their popularity. Some become scapegoats for the mistakes of others, who shift blame rather than owning up to their own failures. Some warfighters are rejected because those who sent them to fight do not want to be reminded of the violence and suffering of war.
Humans have always been pawns in ongoing power struggles. Warfighters are among the most visible, being moved around the chessboard by power brokers for noble or ignoble purposes. They are also among the most tragic as they risk life, limb, and sanity from the horrors they experience. When their sacrifices seem pointless, the loss and grief are immeasurably amplified. Behind the sacrificed warfighters are many more casualties. These include the families and friends of the warfighters. Many wars cause death and suffering to far more civilians than the warfighters directly involved in the conflict. There are no truer words than “War is hell.”
As an American warfighter, you come from a long legacy of fighting for noble causes: independence from a despotic monarchy, ending slavery and holding a nation together, rescuing the world twice in global conflagrations fighting fascism, and the ongoing battle against the world’s most brutal and bloody movement: communism. Terrorism has always been with humanity in one form or another. These battles will never end. Some wars are successful, and others are not. The failures are not the fault of America’s warfighters, but the sociopathic and feckless politicians who make the backroom deals, use the tragedy of war to advance personal gain and nefarious political agendas, as they are naïve and incompetent.
War, and the causes leading up to it, reveal the dark side of human nature. War can also bring forth the best of human nature. Amid chaos, hate, betrayal, and cowardice, inspiring acts of courage, love, devotion, and nobility emerge. America’s warfighters fight to preserve the best way of life the world has ever seen through their devotion to their families, communities, and to each other. It can bring forth fierce love and courage not experienced by those living comfortable lives, oblivious to the constant threats against which others protect them. Facing the challenges of warfighting is transformative, and for many, the lessons learned are worth the terrible effort it took to gain them.
Grief and rage over betrayed sacrifices are normal. As we watch America’s enemies mocking the debacle in Afghanistan, promulgated by the latest example of failed political leadership, what is the best response for the warfighters who gave so much to try and make the world a better, safer place? I suggest that “Living well is the best revenge” sums it up. Your enemies at home and abroad like nothing better than to watch you suffer. Defying them by thriving and living to fight another day will be your ultimate victory. Thriving and fighting will be different for everyone. Some Veterans are becoming politicians, pundits, and political activists, fighting to hold failed leadership accountable. Others use their warrior skills as they serve in public safety and volunteer work. Simply living the good life and enjoying friends, family, and peace is a richly earned reward that your enemies will resent.
However, you do it, take the devotion, loyalty, and love you learned in the crucible of battle and use it to make your life, our lives, better. Remember that the vast majority of your fellow citizens appreciate and honor your efforts and sacrifices, regardless of the failed follies of politicians. Our hearts break when we hear of Veteran suicides and other tragic outcomes. Reach out to friends and family. Veterans’ organizations are on standby waiting for you. Through them you can help yourself and serve others. We need you still. Help us win the battle at home.