For the past 14 years I have wanted to talk about a question that I have been asked several time. It is a question that every War Veteran will hear throughout their lives and that needs to be addressed. If you have stepped foot into another country to fight for your country’s freedom, you have been asked these words. People don’t mean to offend us when they ask it. They barely even know how to process the answers we give them because they weren’t there and can never understand the situations we faced. They want to know because it sensationalizes the thought of war and of soldiers. Like something out of a Hollywood movie. But the answer to the question is harder to explain that why they ask the question in the first place.
“Did you kill people over there?”…the words ringing through my ears after I explained my background in casual conversation with a patient at work. There is no right answer to this question yet I have heard it hundreds of times. I have practiced what to say to people but it always becomes harder and harder to speak about it because there is no “right” answer. It’s not a YES and NO question. This isn’t a TRUE or FALSE test that I have to pass to gain the respect of another person. In the beginning I would get angry, asking “Would it make me more cool if I did?” but over the years I have brushed off the question and went about my day trying to figure out why we ask these things, knowing that the answer will change our view of the person in front of us. Let’s say that I am a pacifist that tells of how I mowed down women and children who took up arms against me…the outward view everyone would see would change and people would think different of me even though I am now a pacifist. Or maybe I am a Type A personality that is rough around the edges because I never actually saw combat during the war…again, my personality could have been shaped by this and the answer can change the way I am viewed if people find out. In the end, what does it really matter?
Why as a society must we know this one thing about out veterans? Is it because we want to make sure that the person in the Starbucks line isn’t a “baby killer” or some PTSD psycho that may shoot up the place. Or maybe it’s because the person sitting next to you in College Algebra may be a closet homicidal maniac and you will “out” them if they answer “Yes” to the question. Why? Does it truly define me as a person if I answer the question? Even if the answer is “No”. Does it make my friends, family, and co-workers feel safe around me? Does it really even matter? They answer to those questions are “NO”. No it does not. Let’s think about this for a minute…you want to ask a person, who has been in a war zone, who has seen the most horrible stuff imaginable, if they have “killed” anyone. When in reality you should be asking them if they are okay. You should be asking how they dealt with the stress and memories. Many Veterans don’t talk about the things they saw because no one can understand unless you were there and talking about it makes others uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to talk. So next time you meet a Veteran, ask them how they are doing and just share the moment with them instead of asking questions with no plausible answer.