By Callie Oettinger | Published: December 12, 2011
The special forces operator told me the children in Afghanistan need him more than his own kids.
My gut reaction: Tell him he’s off his rocker. His kids need him, too.
But then he explained that the kids in Afghanistan needed someone to fight for them. His wife was strong and could do that for their children in the United States, but he wanted to go fight for other children around the world—the ones who didn’t have someone. He liked it and he was good at it.
“Because they like it” was the first comment I received to last week’s post, “Why Fight?” It took me back to the conversation with the operator. Though it took place a few years ago, it plays on repeat in my mind—I keep going back to it. I have two young children and struggle with parents who leave their own children behind. But I also know that this operator is no different from the doctor working long hours away from home because he believes in helping his patients more than making money, or the social worker spending just as much time with other families as she does with her own. In every profession there are men and women who are passionate and good at what they do. This takes them away from family and friends. But for them, it is that thing they live out loud. The same holds true for warriors on the battlefield.
“War is so obviously evil and wrong that the idea there could be anything good to it almost feels like profanity. . . .” wrote Sebastian Junger, in War.
When men say they miss combat, it’s not that they actually miss getting shot at – you’d have to be deranged – it’s that they miss being in a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted. They miss being in a world where human relations are entirely governed by whether you can trust the other person with your life. . . .
For some reason there is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly. These hillsides of loose shale and holly trees are where the men feel not most alive—that you can get skydiving—but the most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again, but they can’t.
And for the operator, that’s when he felt most “utilized” and alive, too—helping others/saving lives.
Sugar Ray Leonard offered another perspective in The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring:
In the ring, for the first time in my life, I felt I could conquer any force. Strange isn’t it? The ring is where men try to do great harm to one another, and where I felt the safest.
And then there’s Bob Dylan, in a Playboy interview years ago:
Dylan: . . . you have to have belief. You must have a purpose. You must believe that you-can disappear through walls. Without that belief, you’re not going to become a very good rock singer, or pop singer, or folk-rock singer, or you’re not going to become a very good lawyer. Or a doctor. You must know why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Playboy: Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Dylan: [Pause] Because I don’t know anything else to do. I’m good at it.
And just like Dylan’s “very good lawyer” or doctor or musician, the warrior is good at what he does. And, yes, he likes it, too.