I Watched Friends Die in Afghanistan. The Guilt Has Nearly Killed Me.

I was convinced the deaths of my friends in combat were my fault. It took me years to realize this feeling had a name: survivor guilt.

Comments: 109

  1. My father too was in North Africa at the same time as the author’s grandfather. But my dad was a hard core New Yorker who saw that being a hero was a mug’s game. When he got his orders to report to the armada building in Britain for the invasion he managed to get transferred stateside where he safely spent the rest of the war. My father’s war stories were about being a piece of a machine that would uncaringly kill or maim; a machine he never wanted me to be a part of when I came to draft age. This was his enduring gift to me, and because of it I avoided Vietnam. What makes the author’s tale so sad is that it wasn’t necessary. None of it, and we can only cut the chain of pointless violence by only going to war for existential, not political reasons. Today we mark the 101st anniversary of the end of WWI. It was not the war to end all wars, but rather the war that gave birth to all those conflicts that followed.

  2. @Internet Hampster When I was told that I was having a son, and then twenty months later that I was having another, my thoughts immediately turned to the draft. To the wars that kill countless sons for nothing, generation after generation. For nothing. I swore that my boys wouldn't die that way, or be left emotionally scarred as my uncle had been. Patriotism is a sorry excuse for the destruction of young bodies and souls. I wish every person could be spared the horror of war, and that people only fought reluctantly, as you say, when their very existence is at stake.

  3. I think the hardest thing about being the survivor is that I want there to be a grand purpose as to why I survived and they didn’t. There isn’t one. It seems so emptyingly wrong; this lack of purpose makes their deaths and my life seem pointless. Rather than continue down the rabbit hole of despair, I try to find purpose in doing things for other people who could really use the help.

  4. @SW That is exactly Viktor Frankl's thesis. If you haven't read it, I'd recommend "Man's Search for Meaning."

  5. Adam Linehan's essay touched deep chords within me. Fifty years ago, as a forward artillery observer attached to an infantry company, I was severely wounded in Vietnam. For decades I buried feelings of having failed my men in the moment and then leaving them behind. This article is stunning, learned and intergenerational. It further enlightened me as to my own condition and should be read by all who suffer from survivor's guilt or know someone who does. A powerful public service.

  6. @Paul Critchlow I totally agree that Linehan's essay is intergenerational -- or at least the messages and lessons Should be. However a print medium (in this case, newspaper) piece such as this has to somehow be conveyed to younger generations through Their medium/media of choice. For many, newspapers and magazines are a fading anachronism. So the challenge I see is truly reaching those generations so the messages and lessons hit home. Ergo, what are the steps necessary to do that, recognizing that we have evolved to become a sound byte society where "apps" like Twitter drive communication and proportionately fewer and fewer people serve? Mr.Linehan, Thank You.

  7. I am a HS English teacher, just wrapping up our study of The Things They Carried. I am going to share this essay with my students to help them better understand a non-fiction account of the survivor’s guilt we have explored via Tim O’Brien’s book. Though I am lucky enough to have never been called to serve, I cannot overstate the value of Mr. Linehan’s courage in sharing his story with such powerful honesty and language. For those vets reading this, my heart is with you, and If you found this essay encouraging, I suggest you check out Tim O’Brien’s book as well.

  8. You got your mojo back. I can see your living the life that was given to you. Life can be so fragile because one incident can change our lives forever and yours was that road in Afghanistan. You’re story was well written and is organized so the reader wants to keep reading. I actually found that I didn’t want it to end, which tells me you got a book in you, maybe a few. Keep writing and I think you’ll find it’ll help in your healing.

  9. I went to Vietnam in 1967 with a small, light infantry unit that had been formed by the Air Force to combat the loss of aircraft on the ground and attack on bases that were vulnerable. We were about 250 men, some of whom went through Army Ranger School then trained the rest of us at an Army base in Hawaii for six months. Once in Vietnam's II Corpse, Central Lowlands, we set up a base camp and did what we were trained to do. Although we engaged skirmished with Vietcong, we took no casualties. While there about 250 deaths among US forces each week, we escaped with none. While this experience pales compared to what is described in this article, I still feel a sense of guilt that we somehow didn't lose one man. Luck? Maybe. But the fact remains that, while I didn't want for us to lose anyone, I expected it. That it didn't happen is a cause for guilt in me.

  10. This essay is beautiful, brutal, and helpful to someone on the outside of these experiences. Thank you for working so hard to share what you've been through.

  11. Dear Adam: Your article was very moving and as I complete a Masters degree program in Art Therapy I am writing my response to you while looking at military PTSD art work from some of my patients who were in a locked psych ward during one of my internships. The artwork the PTSD patient creates on the paper comes from the unconscious - all of the terror, guilt, shame and anything else that has been buried - is brought out in the art piece. It is an excellent therapeutic process which works well in tandem with psychotherapy and provides another avenue of relief from the psychological torture of war and survival. Wishing you and all of our brave military on this Veterans Day a very heartfelt thank you for all have done to protect our country and please know that you never have to suffer alone with the symptoms of PTSD.

  12. Amazing article. Good luck in your quest. The reference to Jung's mythological archetypes may hold the key, for the most powerful and pervasive myth, which traces back to the Iliad and beyond is the myth of the Hero and Heroic feats in battle, leaving no room for mere survivors.

  13. You and I were in Kandahar province around the same time. Your experience post ETS is strikingly similar to mine and to many others. Despite everything, there is still only one path for us - forward. Drive on young man.

  14. Thank you for this authentic and deeply human article. May you have an inspiring and loving writing career ahead of you. And a meaningful and fulfilling life!

  15. George McGovern was a B-24 pilot flying out of Italy. Many of the 35 missions he flew were to Germany, going over the Alps to get there. I only found this out years later. I never recall it being mentioned during his Presidential campaign. He had a far more distinguished record than the manufactured combat records of Nixon and LBJ. Highlighting it would have given him far more credence as an anti-war candidate. But then many others remained quiet. Jimmy Stewart flew B-17's and rose to become a squadron commander. Post war his contract said his war record could not be used to promote his films. He remained in service with the reserves and reached the rank of Brigadier General. I also didn't find out for some time that a friend's father had been a B-17 pilot in 1943. She said only reason she existed is that her father was shot down after 6 missions and he spent the war in Luft Stalag 3. Most of his squadron didn't get their required tour of 25 missions in.

  16. Thank you Adam for an excellent well drawn picture which I related to more than I thought I would on this Veteran's day. Having a number of veterans in my family I thought that joining the Army in 1966 during the Vietnam War was a good idea. Taking a path that would have taken me to Vietnam also seemed like a good idea but Uncle Sam thought otherwise and sent me to Germany. After discharge there was chemical abuse and psych ward visits. Many years later with the proper help things have settled down but now I wonder if that issue of survivor's guilt should have been addressed. It never was and I have often wondered why the war was never ever discussed by those of us out of harm's way in Europe Thank you.

  17. @Ed Jirak Someone in my family has a story similar to yours. Drafted but was not sent in country. He was stationed stateside due in part to a skill set he already had, training soldiers who were being deployed. He absolutely does not talk about it. I have no idea if he ever subsequently met anyone he trained but the odds aren’t great. However as the writer has realized sometimes stories are passed along in the experiences of generations until the story occurs in the life of someone willing to tell it. I hope the writer tells all the stories he can.

  18. Thank you, Adam, for this extraordinary essay. A Lucky Bastards Club-eligible neighbor shared with me some of his experiences in the 15th Air Force, at times channeling Joseph Heller ("Catch-22") in finding humor amid the pathos. However, he became overcome with emotion in describing one aspect of his service: At the base in North Africa, everyone from the commanding officer to the cooks would turn out at the airstrip in anticipation of planes returning from a mission. My neighbor had observed that ritual from the air and from the ground on days he did not fly. The memory of scanning the sky for the distinctive nose art of friends' planes that would never return remained vivid and painful a half-century distant (my Uncle Donald's B-24 among them; three engines shot out by flak on Second Ploesti, he splashed in the Adriatic and became a POW). I don't know if Mr. Ortega suffered from survivors' guilt, but I do know he lived a long and productive life, successful in his post-service career, and much-loved by family, friends and neighbors. I wish the same for you.

  19. Thank you for your honesty, and for not sparing your readers the details of the horrors of war. As a trauma therapist who began with an internship at the VA in 1976, at which point we were forbidden to even discuss combat trauma (if a guy had PTSD he was labeled as "character disordered," in other words, already screwed up before he went in country, even though I kept say, but these guys look like the rape survivors I was treating back in grad school), and who has been working with trauma survivors by accident since 1971, and on purpose since 1983, your story brings home as very little else can the realities of how hard it is to survive. As the song "Veteran's Day," says, it's a day to "remember the less fortunate ones"- aka the ones who survived and got to live with their memories. Also glad that EMDR did for you precisely what it is supposed to do, and that you lucked into a VA that uses it (there is some strong institutional resistance to EMDR in some parts of the VA- politics, purely politics, as the research on how well it works is strong). You have stopped your family's trauma reenactment; that's quite a feat. For that I congratulate you.

  20. @Laura I had a traumatic childhood and I did EMDR and it was a lifesaver. A lifesaver.

  21. " I was more than ready to move on. I didn’t want the experience to define me. Worst-case scenario, I would become a full-time veteran, mired in nostalgia, pathologized and overmedicated, tethered to the system. Enrolling in the V.A. seemed like a big step in that direction." I'm a US Navy Vietnam veteran. Though steaming up and down the Vietnam coast on a DLG for two Westpacs doing SAR (Search and Rescue) if/as required behind a string of aircraft carriers, I rarely remember feeling any specific danger. Just mostly monotonous shipboard life - on watch, off watch. But I knew what was going on 20?-50?-150? miles away. I've never felt traumatized that I know of. But guilt? Here and there, yes periodically. And yes, Adam's few sentences quoted above do seem to best summarize "what became of me". I wanted, needed, but most importantly I guess, was somehow able, to move on. Yet, once in awhile, even still, almost fifty years since I enlisted, there are moments...phrases I read...something on TV...a random, even most probably phantom... thought / memory... which surprise me with sudden tears. I hope I haven't cried for me any of these times - even if I'm "allowed". That seems so unfair to so many others who never came home and to those so many veterans whose memories are so horribly, disturbingly real.

  22. This is the most beautiful thing I've ever read in the New York times. You're onto something, keep it up

  23. Beautiful writing about an incredibly misunderstood topic. Perhaps one can only live it. Bookmarked. Keep writing :)

  24. I think if we made the draft compulsory and all young men AND women got drafted into whatever wars our government decides to start or engage in, this kind of survivors guilt would be better understood by all. I find it ironic that the POTUS who got out of serving in Vietnam AND took money into his “foundation” that was intended for veterans can even commemorate any veterans ceremony today.

  25. Hey brother. I really appreciated your openness and honesty. Can’t even imagine. I’ve been sober 10 years and found an amazing fellowship in AA. I’m hoping you read this in the hopes you’ll check out some meetings. Therapy and self help is good stuff but I have found without the support of a 12 step program true sobriety eluded me. It’s an amazing program and worth investigating on your journey to sobriety.

  26. You know Bill W wrote the Big Book after undergoing LSD assisted psychotherapy? He actually wanted there to be 13 steps - the first being to take LSD to have that spiritual awakening. Our veterans need psychedelic drug therapy. I’m a purple heart veteran who has done ketamine assisted psychotherapy and it has been a live saver. It helps people with substance abuse problems too!

  27. Those of us who haven't been in combat can only imagine what it's like. Thanks to all who have.

  28. Is what I am reading here that this man joined the army very close to graduating from college to find himself and his purpose? And in doing so he thought he had but he hadn't? He didn't know his grandfather well and his grandfather was an alcoholic and mean but probably saw a lot of carnage in WWII? Alcoholism and drugs have been used to mask the pain the authori felt trying to live up to what he felt he didn't do in the army? I ask and I actually have more questions because nowhere in this article does he accept HIS fault in this - detachment? We live our lives with many doubts, fears, unmet goals, pain and yet we persevere. I sincerely hope the writer choses the path for his own redemption because he is the only person that can redeem himself.

  29. @KT B This is plainly a judgement, not a comment? You capitalise his as in his fault. Not sincere. Not available. You should hope for redemption.

  30. Great read. Thank you for your work!

  31. I often wonder if survivor guilt explained my great uncle. He surely had PTSD on returning from WWII. He was an alcoholic who never could beat that demon. He was quiet and sweet when not drinking but that was infrequent when I knew him. The family had tried to help him. Our pastor got him a job with the church. They tried the VA who weren't any help. After almost 20 years his wife gave him an ultimatum - his family or the booze. He chose the booze and left. Years later she found out he died on the Bowery in NYC. He'd survived the Battle of the Bulge. One story was told of how a group had written letters home but nobody wanted to leave the safety and (relative) warmth of their foxhole to mail them. He lost the draw and headed out leaving 4 buddies safe in their hole. When he got back he found all were dead - blown apart by a direct hit from a mortar. Much later - after he was gone - I heard from my grandmother that his unit had liberated one of Buchenwald's satellite camps. I expect all of this was too much for a quiet, sweet, mild mannered guy.

  32. Adam, I really appreciated reading your piece. I myself was in the Army and served in they Sha Walk Kowt District of Kandahar Province in 2011 -2012. While Sha Wali Kowt was not nearly as kinetic and violent as Zahari, we still experienced combat and I was awarded a Purple Heart for TBI after hitting to 100lb IEDS in a five day period. I’ve struggled with PTSD, drinking, survivors guilt myself. I’m currently enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa American Studies MA program. However, the most important book I’ve read in graduate school was not one assigned to me, rather, it was a book I found in the book store after one day of work during my summer internship. In How To Change Your Mind - What the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, addiction, dying, and transcendence Michale Pollan offers an invaluable insight into the hidden history of psychedelic drug therapy. When I saw the title of the book I knew I had to read it and it changed my life. Since then, I have found a progressive psychiatrist who practices ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. During those sessions I have profound revelations. such as — love is answer, to forgive myself, and the importance of being present. Most importantly, during my very first infusion I had came to the conclusion that I had been actively destroying my life every time something good happened to me because I felt an overwhelming sense of survivors guilt myself. Us veterans need psychedelic drug therapy.

  33. This is a truly stunning article and it made me weep as I, whilst reading, felt I understood my father’s survivor’s guilt for perhaps the first time. He survived atrocious conditions as a political prisoner after the Hungarian uprising ‘56, with most of his friends shot or disappeared. He was a deeply creative and deeply troubled man, and almost impossible to live with—for our mother, as well as for us kids. I wish you, Adam, a different kind of life from the one he lived. And I think you’ll have that, given the depth of your self-awareness and the clarity of your narrative. I wish you all the very best. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for your book when it comes.

  34. Wonderful piece. I hope you continue to progress and find peace and contentment in your life. You are worth it. My best to you.

  35. What Saul said. Good writing. My best wishes to you in your recovery and career.

  36. Adam, Your story, this writing, and all around current and historical coverage of "survivor's guilt" and PTSD is so extremely helpful to those of us who have had to search for answers to our life-threatening inner conflicts, that, for me, it is not just 'reading' but an actual event. I am sorry your journey to these revelations was so long, but how worthwhile this piece is to me and my friends and others involved in my lifelong journey to recovery cannot be measured. I'm so grateful. Maybe soon, I can tell my story. But for now, I can say I loved your writing and every notable detail and the incredible documentation and use of Jung toward the end. I found real answers to some of my worst cognitive dissonance, especially, the comment, that compared such things as degrees of guilt to nilhilsm. Also, I loved the profound understanding of the Vietman Memorial design as a mirror for fellow survivors. Excellent. Thank you.

  37. Today, people in their 20s and 30s, like me, have a very different concept of what a Veteran is, and the challenges they face may face then when I was young. A Vet was an older man, someone who’d faced war long ago. Now it might be the 25 year old MA student, the 30 year old software engineer or lawyer. In reimagining our society’s veterans, we also need to renovate how we help them move forwards: socially, psychologically. This piece on survivor’s guilt is an excellent read, especially as it is Remembrance Day here in Canada. We shouldn’t only remember the fallen of WWI and WWII, we should remember that veterans come in all ages, and are all worthy of our gratitude and support. Thanks Adam, for this moving and deeply personal essay. You have a bright future as a writer.

  38. "War is a failure to communicate..." These might be the most important words in your piece. Thank you so much for writing this. I think of my Dad who was in the Navy during the Korean war, and his ship was hit and half his friends killed, and they were just kids, and I am certain he thought at times: Why that guy and not me. Writing is a lot of work: not so much the writing, but the overcoming of Resistance and the sitting down to write every day for as long as it takes, all the way through to the end, as author (and former Marine) Steven Pressfield has described so well in his book, "The War Of Art. I hope you will read it. I hope you will continue to heal and to write. I expect you will inspire others to do so as well, and also to find their own ways of expressing and of coming to terms with their experiences in war. I am sorry for all that you and your comrades have been through and wish you peace and grace.

  39. You have given so much to write this article. So excellent and so much to consider, I hope your path leads that way you want to go, towards a health and happy existence where you can remember your grandfather fondly for who he could have been just as you love yourself for who you have become.

  40. I love this piece. It captures a dilemma that’s so challenging to live with, and ameliorate. Yet, it’s so common among survivors. Combatants, their families and civilians in the war zone all suffer. We must demand that our forces are used when true national interests are at stake.

  41. Excellent piece, and kudos to the NYT, which I pound on a lot (when deserved, of course I think), for publishing this on Veterans Day. It means a lot more than thanking people for their service: the obvious (to me) subtext is: do NOT send people to kill, die, and live with surviving for no good reason. And there has been literally no good reason for any war we've fought since WWII. None. Including Afghanistan, I think, at least the way we barreled in there, without exhausting other options first, but if you include Afghanistan: fine, one war since WWII. That's the macro picture. The micro pictures of what each individual soldier lived through is not traduced or undermined by that macro picture in and of itself, but it does cast a shadow, not on their efforts, but on why the were forced to live through that in the first place. You'd think what I just wrote would be totally obvious. Apparently, it's not.

  42. Profound reflection and should be made required reading for every VA hospital management. and the VA administrators. And every commanding officer sending their troops overseas and into battle. Mr Linehan made some parallels with the Vietnam War and survivor's guilt. Others before me have also noticed another similarity between Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan. No front line. No clothing differentiation between the innocent locals caught in the cross-fire and "the other side" causing that fire. Witness the "man in a white robe walked into the middle of our formation and exploded". Just wondering how much that ambiguity and constant vigilance contributes to PTSD (in country or later).

  43. This a gorgeous piece of writing from an extraordinary talent. Do as Victor Frankl advises, which in your case means write, write, write, and then write some more.

  44. With all respect to the soldiers who were sent to Afghanistan, we have no business being there. The dispute is internal. We get nothing from them but grief and heroin poppies. Let us step aside and let them have at one another while we resolve to get along with whoever comes out on top. It's not our business.

  45. Ptsd, survivor guilt. They used to say no one gets out of here alive. What they meant was that no one got out untouched. 50 years and I still feel guilt, get angry, and wonder why i survived, what i could have done. Painful to read and much more painful to write and remember.

  46. Adam — Your article is beautifully written. It made me me recognize people I know in other walks of life who probably also suffer from survivors guilt. First responders, and survivors of all sorts of terrible accidents, shootings and other events may suffer similarly. Your powerful call for greater understanding of this life destroying phenomenon will help not only veterans, but also millions of other sufferers.

  47. Ptsd, survivor guilt. They used to say no one gets out of here alive. What they meant was that no one got out untouched. 50 years and I still feel guilt, get angry, and wonder why i survived, what i could have done. Painful to read and much more painful to write and remember.

  48. Died for nothing...always the case since Korean war. Guess who has no guilt...

  49. This is a wonderful piece of writing. Thank you.

  50. One of the best essays I've ever read.

  51. Reminds me of my Dad back from WW2 (went through Normandy landings, Battle of the Bulge, Liberated concentration camps) drove our Studebaker into a flooded street at 2am very drunk. Got an ultimatum from my mother and obviously conquered his demons for a better life. How many other WW2 vets didn't? Impressive and moving article

  52. None of these soldiers would be dealing with psychological trauma, injury and the deaths of comrades if U.S. military policy wasn’t controlled by powerful corporations that need endless war to maintain billion dollar profits. Real guilt, moral and legal, lies at the doorstep of the men who control and are heavily invested in the military industrial complex. Don’t imagine that your buddy is 6 feet under because somebody needed a bigger yacht or private jet— know it.

  53. Great piece. Really good writing. Up Cork!

  54. For those who did not return, the most fulfilling tribute to their passing is to maximize our own lives. To make the most of our lives in the short time we all have on this earth. War is a metric of mankind, so unfortunately, but indeed the reality of every generation going back 2000 years in history. Walking up the road several years ago in Section 60, I saw a female of about 30 laying facing the grave stone of her loved on sobbing in grief..as she was speaking to him as if he were there. I noticed the death was Afghanistan in 2009. World War II was different..it was good against evil..right against wrong. But, Iraq was very different as most now know...and Afghanistan is a war that few if any understand. And lastly, the the author of the article...the book.."Masters of the Air"..the story of the 8th and 15th Air Force in which 26,000 were killed and another 25,000 missing, WIA and or captured and died in captivity. As Eisenhower said to his aid while visiting the troopers of the 101st on June 5th...he stated: "Where do we get such men." That phrase was appropriate then and..now! (Afgh/2003-4; Iraq/2005-6 plus 6 other deployment)

  55. Welcome to the world of the warrior.

  56. Sir, you are not guilty of anything. You just followed the orders. Those who really killed your friends and those directly responsible for their deaths were the White House and the US Congress that authorized the war in Afghanistan. As you know, neither Afghanistan nor the Afghan people were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It has been the Al Qaeda, the organization founded by the Saudis, led by the Saudis, financed by the Saudis, manned by the Saudis... Even a clergy member who issued a fatwa "allowing" the terrorist attacks on the innocent civilians in direct violation of the Quranic verse was a Saudi man... It is tragic that the US Congress has been investigating Trump's phone call to Ukraine but not the illegal decision that saddled the USA with the wrongful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and led to the thousands of deaths of the US service members, hundreds of thousands wounded and maimed, millions of them with the PTSD, and cost us several trillion dollars. If the current "investigative" actions of the House of Representatives aren't travesty of justice and betrayal of the national interests, I really don't know what their deeds stand for!

  57. Followed orders? Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, during the Nürnberg-trials...

  58. @Alex Only the military gets the orders. Everybody else in society does it freely and nobody else is subject of military court procedures if they refused to follow them.

  59. @Alex Have you ever wondered who issued the marching orders? The president, the Congress, the free press that wrongly informed the country, and the academics that kept quiet in spite of overwhelming evidence that we would invade a wrong country...

  60. God almighty this is good. Adam, you have a remarkable talent inside of you. Thanks for sharing it. And please, please, finish that book.

  61. My dad’s experience was almost identical to your grandfather’s. USAAF in WWII, went overseas in late ‘43. Waist gunner in B24s and 26s. Flew a lot of missions, bombed Normandy, saw a lot of friends die. For whatever reason, I’m pretty sure he did not experience what you describe. I don’t know why. He saw a lot of really bad stuff, but it just didn’t affect him quite that way. Came home on a Friday, went back to work on Monday. Not trying to imply anything here, he wasn’t particularly special, I just think people react differently. My wife’s father was a medic on Omaha Beach, waded ashore under hellacious gunfire, saw slaughter on a massive scale. He definitely had issues after the war.

  62. As I read this my beautiful son is working on essays needed as part of his applications to West Point and the Naval Academy. I respect and love his willingness to serve; my heart breaks that such a good-hearted, responsible soul will be beholden to political leaders far less honorable than he is. This was brutal to read. Thank you, Adam, for writing it.

  63. What a moving article you have written. There is no way those of us who have not experienced war first hand can comprehend what you have lived through. Wishing you all the best as you hone this craft which you are so gifted in. As a retired mental health practitioner I have witnessed many lives salvaged by the writings of Carl Jung. You are definitely on the right track. My favorite Jungian quote is “there is no coming to consciousness without pain.” You certainly embody this. We are all eternally grateful for your service.

  64. Solid reflection of your experience. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it's read by many, many, many people.

  65. I was simply scrolling the Times and came upon this article and couldn't leave it. Thank you for sharing your experience that was beautifully written......the best story I've read here in some time. You simply have a way with words. Thank you.

  66. This writing seems powerfully redemptive to me.

  67. What a brave life story. On this Veterans Day, I’m thrilled that you were vulnerable enough to share so others may not feel the stigma and get help sooner.

  68. Great story. Thanks. Sorry you suffered so much. I hope it inspires many to avoid war or avoid going to war at all costs as it just destroys everything and everyone. And let’s remember the causes of war like hate, prejudice, racisms, religious prejudice, greed... with the remedies being unity, love, kindness, forgiveness, oneness of humankind, oneness of religion, elimination of prejudices, equality of men and women, harmony between science and religion, education of all to the highest level possible, unity in international cooperations, tax on Corporations to fund health and education, universal auxiliary language so we can all communicate, one global currency and unified set of weights and measures, science and manufacture controlled so they don’t harm the world, a global police force under an international justice system to ensure no country attacks another country while at the same time removal of all militaries of nations except what they need to keep internal order, international justice system with power to enforce, global standards and controls on speech, publication and communications that prevent the type of mess now seen on the internet; these are some of the necessary prerequisites to global peace to prevent the type of suffering the author in this article mentions. It’s not easy to do but worth working on.

  69. [email protected] Gergelyi Mr. Gergely, I totally agree with your very ahead of their time points on how to remove war from our society. The author of the movie "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL" had giant killer robots in spaceships patrolling the galaxy ready to exterminate whatever planetary species committed to war. You work from within ourcivilization , and Klatu (the emissary) from space, worked from the outside, using threat of annihilation to stop. I fear that we earhlings will never stop committing to war until perhaps a WW3 has occurred, if we even survive it. Perhaps we will be more enlightened then, but even then, I doubt it.

  70. Some people thrive on combat , others don't A friend of mine LOVED it. There was no excitement remotely comparable - even though he saw his friends die. The fact that he survived sent him on a three day high Other's suffer live long night mares. I never , ever told my children what I experienced in war.

  71. This is a great story on this veteran’s day. It is interesting how I have both met, and am related to, a handful of young men who have participated in the post 9/11 wars. Their stories are always consistent in their love and kinship they developed with their fellow soldiers at such a critical period on the path to becoming men. But sadly, they ALL share stories of disillusionment and disappointment when they see the tragic consequences war and how irreversible the damage is when it meets the flesh and bone of human life. The struggle that Mr. Linehan shares with his grandfather, and so many others, does not have to be perpetuated. The world is too small, technology too great, and our knowledge of suffering too clear to think artillery can fix anything. To quote a saying from the 60’s, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”

  72. Thank you for this powerful and profoundly moving account of your harrowing experiences on the battlefield as well as off. You are a gifted writer , and the world needs more of your thoughtful work! All the best to you in the future.

  73. I believe humans become their own worst enemies when they try to explain random events in terms of their own motivations for survival. I'm in awe of those who sacrificed in that war. All of them. I think war produces pretty random casualties. Sometimes that randomness might manifest in slightly better survival skills, but sometimes it manifests in pure luck. Niether of these situations is the fault of anyone in battle. People make imperfect decisions. It's what we do. Sometimes we remember them accurately, sometimes not. Perhaps accepting our own imperfect recollection of events, realizing that even if we felt in control of our destiny, we were not, can help a bit.

  74. what a moving piece! thank you for sharing it and sharing the getting help part of it, and how its not a straight path

  75. An amazing piece of reflection and writing. I never knew the extent of and didn't wanted to ask veterans any details of their experience. On a vary rare occasion and after many drinks or puffs would they open up and share tid-bits, typically to the shock of our females. The women would scamper around and say: Ok, it's time for Bobby to go to bed. No more stories. Stunning.

  76. Thank you for this raw, beautiful piece, Adam. Survivor guilt is a cigarette burn to the soul. It may scab or scar over yet it never heals; it fuses to body and soul. As co-author of a Vietnam and Cold War era Green Beret's life story, I recognize the deep, enduring trauma others, including partners, just can't grasp. We can only witness and help give voice to the senseless destruction wrought by war, and its indelible imprint of guilt and pain on the survivor.

  77. Thanks to the author, and to all those who mention the inter generational aspect of survivor guilt. A sobering way to end this veterans day. My dad saw action After D Day in 1945 as Patton’s 3rd army moved East from Le Havre all the way past the Rhine. He had been assigned to the fire control unit of a field artilary. A howitzer took three units to fire - one to set targeting coordinates, another to calculate the angle etc to hit that target, and then the guys that loaded and fired. No calculators. He used to think, even fifty years later, about calculations late at night, maybe a few degrees off, and the widows or parents or kids who might have lost someone at his fault. And the young men who came back never to recover - “we lost a generation” he said, of those he knew, when PTSD and veterans issues became more discussed after Vietnam. Families didn’t speak much of them in his generation. But when manhole covers blew late at night in the city he’d wake, and remember, and sometimes I’d find him staring out a dark window. He was someone who read a lot and believed in therapy - and by his 80s did talk to high school kids about what it was like to be 18 and 20 and seeing how tough, and how fragile, human beings could be. And how some human shocks remain deep, no matter how many layers of reflection you gain.

  78. Because a partially warlike nature is an intrinsic human failing, every society in history has had a proportion of people who will agree to any war that the government or warlord or head man or ruler wants to run. This available body of fighters is why an enlistee only military is a disaster for America. When your sons do not have to go unless they join, the natural consideration of the serious implications of a war are weakened. Conversely under a draft system much is asked of all. All then take to heart the cost/benefit and vote accordingly, or rather the politicians tread more carefully. The monetary and human sacrifice will naturally be more proper via draft, the war will be brought to a stop as soon as possible. Without a draft a war is a tempting policy tool sold with smoke and mirrors and flag waving and bogeyman creation. The people who sense it is wrong are marginalized. The war rattles on endlessly. In an enlistee system, enlistees in fact hold the power to make or stop war. That is a lot to have on your conscience.

  79. I would call these experiences a moral injury. When men and women are asked to carry out actions in opposition to their character, we should expect difficulty living with those behaviors. For most of us, violence and killing other humans tear at our souls even if they are the "enemy".

  80. “War is a failure to communicate, and nothing good comes from veterans’ keeping quiet about it. I am proof of that.” This really hit me. This whole piece is perfect and beautiful and heart breaking and eye opening. Thank you.

  81. Adam, it's a very well-written piece; your heart is open and pure. I'm not a veteran, and yet I do feel connected to our shared space of often wondering why I'm still around. Our experiences are not similar, largely incomparable, and decades apart. And yet maybe you would somehow understand better than most, despite our differences: I'm an HIV-negative guy in my mid-fifties, who came out as gay in 1981 - just as HIV/AIDS was beginning to take hold; hatred and ignorance far worse than now. With my early drug use (at 16, my first boyfriend was a heroin dealer), and dangerous sex work, and having being homeless for about two years, I really should be dead. Yet I am still here - healthy and alive. Still alive after burying so many friends. Still alive after burning that stapled-paper list of my friends who had died, after that list reached 125. Still alive after years of therapy, to help me with feeling as if I was wasting my life if it wasn't perfect - since I was, of course, *still here*, unlike my buddies. Still alive after realizing I'm terrified of intimacy, yet taking very small steps as to how to enjoy dating when a good man sticks around. Still alive, saddened that so many younger LGBTQ people don't seem interested in learning what that time - *their history* - was really like. Still alive, knowing my four closest friends are always with me in my heart. We all do the best we can, given our past. I wish you calm. Thank you for opening your heart. We are all connected.

  82. This some of the best, most thoughtful writing I have ever read. Good luck to you as you become the best version of yourself.

  83. This some of the best, most thoughtful writing I have ever read. Good luck to you as you become the best version of yourself.

  84. Yes, you have described it very well. Those of us who have survived (Mekong Delta, 10/66 -10/67) no matter what we experienced, never had it as "bad" as our buddies that died. It's insidious, and rationalizing, examining the truth, never changes what is felt deep in the heart. The therapy, and drugs for a while, can help ito forget, but as an older man I don't believe the trauma ever goes away. Thanks for digging so deeply. And I hate this "holiday" for making me remember.

  85. Fearless, heart breaking, light breaking work. Thank you. I accompanied my own grandfather back to the Philippines in the 1980s to trace his losses and remember his airborne and Filipino guerrilla friends from WW. There was too much that couldn’t be said. So thank you

  86. This feeling has a name. It is called PTSD. Everyone who trains to kill people has it. It is not an abnormality, it is the normal response of the human brain to killing and being killed. I had PTSD for 50 years before I was diagnosed. All veterans should be given treatment the moment they leave service. And the cost of that treatment should be added in advanced to the monetary cost of any war. The human cost is beyond calculation.

  87. The New York Times should publish more of such articles. They are actually useful. Many crises in personal lifes can be led back to forces such as explained in this article, and the average person is not prepared to resolve such conflicts. Many of us will never receive a license in mental health care, yet that is what is required, and perusing literature that raises one's sensitivity to what one's neighbors have to live with is the least one can do.

  88. What a touching and heartbreaking piece. My tears are going to crash the keyboard on my Mac Book. Thank you for your everything.

  89. So glad you decided not to keep quiet. Beautifully expressed.

  90. Every war is the monument to the extremely corrupted generation of presidents, lawmakers, journalists and academics that manage to persuade the entire world that the the people living on another side of fence or border are our enemies and that we have to wage the war against them. The blame is always placed on the losing side but the winners are equally wrong and incompetent. The curse is that the victorious side indoctrinates the next generations how the conflicts are glamorous and historically irreplacable, how the politicians who saddled us with them are the fathers of nation that get the colossal monuments in prominent plazas. No wonder that the next generations are eager to wage the wars. They keep doing it till they destroy own country...

  91. Great read. Thanks Adam.

  92. Wow. You are an incredibly talented writer. I would very much like to read more of your work.

  93. Adam Linehan, you are not alone. I was raised by a navigator. He led his wing of B-17 from England. You know the routine. I was also raised by a British Commando. He parachuted 8x behind enemy lines. These two gave themselves to healing damaged children. I was one. I was raised by a survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald. He found a way to get released before things got bad. These three men knew the value of life. I could tell you more about them - and me. War is cruel. The first casualty is truth. But children the world over are suffering. Survivor’s guilt is a luxury I cannot afford. We have too much to do... and the healthy survivor can do much to make the world a better place. Best to you. Call any time. I am easy to find. Nadia Murad survived... and did her book here. And she was awarded the Nobel. Imagine how she feels. 6 of her brothers and her mother were killed near her. She escaped after being tortured. She is a good lady. Her struggle continues. Oslo helps... a bit.

  94. The essay gives new meaning to the term "war on terror".

  95. Sir, Don’t feel guilty ever again! The soldiers are not responsible for anything because you have just followed the orders. Cherish your life! It is too precious to be wasted. There is something extremely important you could do as a writer for your follow veterans. Speak for them! Bring the attention of the American public to the fact that you and other servicemen were betrayed by the Commander-in-Chief and the Congress. The fact is that America wasn’t attacked on the 9/11 by Afghanistan or the Afghan people but by a few thousand Saudi citizens, the members of Al Qaeda, the radical followers of Wahhabi sect. It was illegal and immoral for the White House and the Congress to declare the Afghan people responsible for the terrorism and declare the war on that country. Somebody should finally be found responsible for that illegal Congressional vote in total discrepancy with the intelligence reports. Afghanistan had nothing to do with the leadership, funding, recruiting, manning, financing or creation of the radical Wahhabi ideology and the Al Qaeda. Let’s read the intelligence reports once again! The cradle of terrorism was somewhere else… Sir, protect the future generations of the tragic suffering you personally experienced! Remember all of them on this Veterans Day!

  96. Wow. Just wow. Thank you for this essay. Beautiful writing on a horrific subject. “Truth rings a bell”. For all of us and for yourself, keep ringing that bell

  97. You are taking on quite a challenge to complete a book. As a young man don’t worry about how long it takes or that it doesn’t seem to be “happening.” Take solace in the fact that time will give you another perspective of your history. Not to change your past, but allow it some healing. As much as I want to read your book I’d sooner you heal a little more. Perhaps take on some work doing something you enjoy as a hobby, if you need to distance yourself from your writing from time to time. Pay attention to your sobriety it is your most important asset. My best for your future as a writer. I hope you flourish.

  98. If nobody else is going to fight for the US veterans, then I am! They were saddled with Sisyphus task in Afghanistan - something impossible to achieve! Our military could not eradicate the terrorist ideology in the country because it wasn’t rooted at all over there. If it were, our soldiers would have stamped it out as they did with the Nazism is post-WWII Germany. The White House and the Congress declared the war on the wrong country! After a full decade of control in Afghanistan, in 2011 the terrorism spread all over Lybia, Syria and Iraq. What does it mean? The roots of the terrorism were somewhere else, untouched and preserved. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the birth place of the Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, where the most powerful financiers came from, where the most members were born and raised, or where the extremely conservative radical Wahhabi ideology was created…

  99. @Kenan Porobic likely the evil and terrorism was as much Fed and propagated by our own rogue CIA contractors and ‘security services’ - business model needs war and they actively create it Thru false flag ops - track their movements and the results. Evil inside our government that does not hold to American values at all

  100. I would hope that your experience with PTSD would give you some sympathy to the PTSD that you create. These poor people have been occupied and killed for 30 years. WWII was our last war for preserving freedom. The rest are for money.

  101. I am so grateful to the newspaper for publishing this and to Linehan for his awesome courage. The passage about EMDR caught my eye. The sessions with it seem to have catalyzed something for the author, but his account here leaves an ambiguous sense of it. Because I know intimately of EMDR’s potential to help people struggling with PTSD, I hope the ambiguity here does not send a negative message to the reader.

  102. Wonderful article and insights - thank you. Though I have never been a soldier there are many experiences that ring true - perhaps to a lesser degree but similar issues and challenges, like the desire to be the hero yet fated to fall short then wonder about self and purpose One topic felt unaddressed tho - appropriate guilt and accountability! Not of you - you stood up and tried to act in the bureaucracy. But of the military (in this case) who DID NOTHING to advise the soldiers after receiving a warning of planned attack. From what I see military accountability is NOT what it should be - so a sense of wrongness injustice and guilt IS appropriate - just misplaced onto your shoulders instead of where it belonged. Also there are many bad actors inside military - cia Contractors etc. with these folks left unchallenged ‘things happen’ that are in violation of our American values. Until our values are reFlected in overseas wars and service thru ACCOUNTABILITY, the moral dilemma is absorbed most by the best among us. While the perpetrators feel nothing and see no consequences.

  103. Only the faith enables us to break the boundaries of animal world and move into the better place. Only the faith helps us control our animal instinct like fear, hunger and procreation. Only the faith helps us control our hatred, bias, prejudice, animosity, greed, cravings, hubris, egoism, or sense of superiority. Instincts and feelings are usually stronger than intellect. That’s why we make the wrong decisions if we are fearful or under pressure. Only the faith enables you to be laser focused on the facts and the truth under the dire conditions. Only the faith helps us focus on the long-term objectives while ignoring all the short-term perks and traps. Only the faith helps us choose the leaders that want to trailblaze the long-term path. Otherwise, we vote for the notorious liars promising us the instant perks and the reckless tax cuts. Give us now! Who cares about our own children and their future! Since we prefer personal safety, job security and social appreciation, there is nobody willing to tell the nation that we invaded the wrong country 18 years ago. The soldiers like the author of this text are the victims of our lack of faith. That’s why we have been waging the endless wars over the last century.

  104. Adam - You can write. You can touch with words and perceptions , but with all that comes a price----you have and will be touched back. You'll never be able to "get over" this, but it is possible to have a fulfilling life. For me... Meaningful? , what's that? I play with radio control models and interact with a few friends ---all the while not causing or supporting meaningless bloody conflicts.

  105. The war on terror only terrorized and traumatized our troops... Several trillion dollars wasted in 18 year long war is the proof that the White House and the Congress had no idea what attacked us on the 9/11. We were attacked by wrong ideology. It's impossible to defeat any idea militarily but only with better and stronger idea... Our government failed to understand this simple truth.

  106. Survivor's guilt? How many US lawmakers did commit suicide after sending our troops into a wrong war, thus being directly responsible for the deaths of dozens thousands US servicemen?

  107. Every single day in America should be the Veterans Day for the free press until our media outlets compel the US Congress to revoke the law that is in direct violation of the US Constitution and transfers the authority to start the war from the hands of the legislative body into a lap of presidents like Bush, Obama and Trump. Do you understand now why we are in the state of endless wars? What kind of legislative body would issue a blank check to any individual, even if they were the elected presidents?! We are democracy and a republic, not the Kingdom!

  108. I wish to extend my admiration for not only this searing essay, but the many vets posting about it. Times readers are stereotyped by Fake Bone Spurs Trump and many others as effete liberals who look down on vets--it is great to see that many vets are Times readers.

  109. The humans pretend to be smart and intelligent but we aren't. Can you remember what smart you did in your life? We live our lives any go with the flow. We are eager to be liked and appreciated so we are going to sacrifice the truth in order to be loved. That's not smart because only the truth is in our best interest, not the lies and self-deception. That's why we still haven't figured out that after the 9/11 we invaded the wrong country. By the way, why do you think that America is so deeply polarized and divided at this moment? Because we are smart and intelligent and such behavior is in our best national interest or we just want to be liked within our party or social group?