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Friday October 11, 2013 MYT 7:00:00 AM
Friday October 11, 2013 MYT 6:55:35 AM
By AMANDA SOO
IF life is a concoction of paradoxes, then nowhere can we see this better than in the life of a soldier. The title of this book itself is a harbinger of paradoxes to come.
In The Things They Cannot Say, Kevin Sites – an award-winning journalist who has experienced the reality of war zones with his own senses – explores the impacts of wars on human beings.
Delving into the stories of 11 combatants who returned from wars in Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and Lebanon, Sites sheds light on the different triumphs and struggles that they have to face before, during and after their stint of duty in the military. These accounts certainly showed me – and will show most people, I think – just how little we really know about the life of a combatant.
This book made me realise that soldiers are very much human beings like the rest of us. Killing does not come automatically to the average soldier, and for most soldiers, their first time in taking the life of another human being comes with a shock at the magnitude of their action. Some overcome the trauma by vowing to never kill another human being while others find a way to live with themselves by numbing their emotions.
If we thought that soldiers were fearless warriors for their country, one of them whom Sites interviewed would disagree and tell us that it is not bravado that spurs them into amazing war actions most of the time, but rather, the pure practicality of a need to survive the moment.
Such paradoxes are rampant in the life of a combatant. Individuals in the military show us human nature at its strongest and weakest. The toughest soldiers who have killed many combatants could return home and watch their own lives crumble as they fail to come to terms with their past actions.
If we thought that a soldier is all about seriousness when out attacking an enemy’s base, the soldiers give you accounts of comical moments of clumsiness peppered within these life-and-death situations.
The life of a soldier is almost never how we expect it to be.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted, for there are many instances of violence, of spilled blood and lost limbs and lives of fellow comrades that the soldiers have had to face. Even upon returning safely to the life of a civilian, many soldiers continue to face loss when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) make them difficult people to live with. It is heartbreaking to see a soldier who has sacrificed so much to defend his country unable to defend his own marriage or happiness, but this is a story too true for many of them.
Whether a man volunteers himself or is drafted into the army, these soldiers prove that none can come out of a war zone unaffected in his worldviews and perceptions of life.
Sites has done an outstanding job in bringing to life the story of the 11 combatants. The accounts in this book are a result of Sites’ interviews with the individuals as well as his own eye-witness accounts. His storytelling allows us to feel for these individuals as they experience losses, traumas, victories and hopes for their future. Sites even tells of his own battle with his inner self as a witness to the many traumas of war.
Most importantly, through his stories, Sites makes us ponder whether the world is in greater need of a solution through war or a solution for the consequences of war.
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