WAR IS HELL…
It is reported that the first person to utter those words in a public address was William Tecumseh Sherman, the famous Civil War Union General. He said to the 1879 graduating class of Michigan Military Academy, “You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know… I tell you, war is Hell!
Dr. Stu Weber, a former Vietnam War Special Forces warrior, served as Group Intelligence Operations Officer in Vietnam, receiving three bronze stars for his service. Later, while pastoring a church for over thirty years, he wrote often about war. In the afterward of the book, Two Wars: One Hero’s Fight on Two Fronts — Abroad and Within, he wrote:
“‘To those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected can never know.’ I’m not sure who made that statement, but it rings true. That’s the bright side of being a warrior, the good news — a quiet gratitude for life, lodged deep within a warrior’s soul. Beauty, innocence, peace, family, faith, and the simple joys of life possess an extra measure of fragrance and flavor for those who have risked everything to defend them.
“But being a warrior has a dark side, too.
“The old Negro spiritual says it well: ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.’ Many servicemen and women who have logged time in combat would say the same thing. Nobody knows. Nobody gets it. Nobody has any idea what it’s like.
“Nobody, that is, except another warrior.
“Where there is a battle, there are wounds, and where there are wounds, there are scars — scars of the body and scars of the soul. In one sense, this is the story of every warrior who has lived through the shock and violence of combat.”
Simply said, war is hell; a deeply spiritual event that wounds the soul. After the first recorded murder in Scripture, God’s response underlines the spiritual aspect of life and death, “And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.’ (Genesis 4:10)”
Within the military, we have taken special care in the long and arduous preparation of our warriors. We prepare them mentally with the best tactics, physically with the best PT, and emotionally with the most up-to-date simulations and practice field exercises. But spiritually? We have not done nearly as much. As a result, a gaping void resides in many of our warrior’s hearts. Their souls have been pierced and have not healed. War changes everyone and no one comes home the same as they left. Perhaps that is you.
We are involved in a cosmic spiritual battle that far eclipses the battles portrayed in the Star Wars movies. This is real and involves the principalities and authorities who govern our world. This war has been going on much, much longer than our present engagement against the forces of terror. It began even before Adam and Eve first sinned. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12 (ESV), “For we do not wrestle against ﬂesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Who are the Commanding Generals of these two forces? The Lord God Jehovah and Satan (the devil, or the evil one). Don’t ever doubt there is a devil. Doubting his existence is one of his best weapons … any army would desire the opposing forces to doubt or be unaware of their presence.
Jesus spoke specifically of the enemy’s singular strategy. He said in John 10:10a, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” He is seeking through the three distinct parts of this strategy:
- to steal: What is he interested in stealing? He wants to continuously steal from us our awareness of God’s presence, of God with us. With the loss of the knowledge of His presence, we also lose our joy and peace.
- to kill: If the evil one is successful in stealing our knowledge of God being with us for a sufficiently long period of time, he will more than likely succeed in killing our faith.
- to destroy: What does the devil want to destroy? He wants to destroy our core values; our worldview. If he is successful, then the world doesn’t make sense to us. This can be closely followed with the conclusion that life doesn’t make sense, and isn’t worth living.
To illustrate these three points, let me tell you another story, about a very courageous warrior by the name of Nate Self.
Nate Self’s Story
Wikipedia describes Nate Self: “Self graduated from West Point in 1998. After becoming an Infantry officer, Self deployed to Kosovo and was then selected to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. As a platoon leader in the Rangers, he deployed to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 as part of a Special Operations task force with a mission to kill or capture Taliban and al-Qaeda’s top leaders. Self commanded a Quick Reaction Force to rescue a missing Navy SEAL during the Battle of Takur Ghar mountain. For his actions during the battle he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and was invited to attend the 2003 State of the Union Address.”
Nate tells the rest of the story:
“Today, my pistol is rusted, my medals are misplaced, and my uniforms don’t fit. I don’t even wear any uniform anymore — I have been discharged from the Army. And yet, I still fight. I fight in a war of my own, battling an unseen enemy. I dream of combat every night, I see the faces of those I lost under my command, my anger rages. My shrapnel wounds have scarred over, but my emotional and spiritual wounds are still open. I led a battle I’d been training for my whole life — and it changed everything.”
How did he get there? After all, Nate Self was a man of a strong faith. He wrote regarding his first deployment to Kosovo,
“I dealt with death up close and personal as we tried to prevent ethnic cleansing and intimidation. After several dangerous situations, I came to believe that God was in control of everything, and that included my safety. I believed that I would be safe as long as God had a plan for me. Some of my soldiers showed indicators of emotional and psychological stress in the environment, but I believe my relationship with God was protecting me from mental, emotional and psychological harm … God was blessing my time in the Army through successful missions and favor with commanders.”
Not long after that successful deployment, Nate was selected to be a Ranger. Fifteen months after he had been assigned a platoon of Rangers, on New Year’s Eve, 2001, his unit joined a special operations task force with the mission to kill or capture al Qaeda’s top leaders in Afghanistan. Three months after joining Task Force Anaconda, they received their first mission.
The Battle of Takur Ghar
On March 4, 2002, Nate and his men were sent to rescue Neil Roberts, a Navy SEAL who had fallen from his helicopter on top of a mountain in SE Afghanistan. The mountain was named Takur Ghar. Roberts was surrounded by al Queda fighters. It was Nate’s job to get him out.
Just the night before, Capt. Self had been leading a Bible study on Psalm 121, “I LIFT UP MY EYES TO THE HILLS—WHERE DOES MY HELP COME FROM? MY HELP COMES FROM THE LORD, THE MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH….” They were going to seek to be God’s help to that SEAL.
Nate wrote later that his faith was tested that night … his helicopter was ambushed, and shot down. Four of his warriors were killed within seconds, including two who had been in that Bible study. That rescue mission rapidly became a survival mission but, despite that overwhelming fire, Nate felt that God was protecting him. He didn’t fear for his life. He wrote, “I still felt that God was right there with me …” He was reminded vividly of Psalm 121. He was involved in a mountain fight of his own. He remembered later that he had called out to God audibly during the early part of the battle, and he knew God was there.
Because he knew he was in God’s hands, he was able to perform with courage and strong leadership. His Silver Star citation reads:
“Captain Self’s valorous actions while in direct contact with enemy forces and in the face of extreme duress during the successful rescue of Special Operators contributed immeasurably to the success of the mission and the saving of additional lives. While exiting the aircraft, Captain Self was severely wounded in the thigh. With total disregard for his well-being, he fought to the first covered and concealed position, engaged the enemy with his weapon, gathering remaining combat-effective Rangers, and began calling close air support on enemy locations. The gallantry displayed by Captain Self during 18 hours of combat is in keeping with the highest standards of valor.”
In the end, they had beaten overwhelming odds and enemy forces and, at the cost of six American lives, recovered Neil Robert’s body. Upon Capt. Self’s return to his Afghan base, senior officers praised him and his men. “It was unbelievable the Rangers were even able to get off that [mountain] and kill the enemy without suffering greater losses,” Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck told the Washington Post in May 2002.
“His men say Mr. Self never lost composure. He always seemed calm. He never second-guessed himself,” says Mr. Walker, one of the soldiers who fought alongside Self. Another soldier, David Gilliam, says he and his fellow Rangers never even knew Self was wounded.
When Nate returned from the deployment with his Rangers, he began receiving high praise for his service. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. His leadership was presented as the best example of how to conduct combat in the midst of overwhelming odds and on difficult terrain. He was honored by President Bush at his State of the Union address in 2003. Until that time, he was the most highly decorated officer in the War on Terror. On the outside, he was receiving high praise and attention but on the inside ‘my deep unseen wounds began to fester.’
His Battle Inside Intensifies
After he received orders to attend another Army School at Fort Benning, his men blessed him with the gift of a commemorative Colt .45 pistol.
During that six-month course, he became withdrawn and antisocial with his peers. He said, “What came out of the combat experience was that it caused me to withdraw, with my tight personal relationships with my family and with my wife. It caused me to distance myself from them because I didn’t want them to be a part of what I had seen and done.” Perhaps you feel the same way.
Unfortunately for Capt. Self, within six months of graduating from his course, he was on his second tour overseas in as many years.
This time he was deployed to Iraq: to Mosul which is on the outskirts of Nineveh, where Jonah in the Bible was told to go and warn the Ninevites to repent. Jonah chose instead to flee from God in anger and fear. The evil one was working on Capt. Self’s feelings and thoughts in a similar way.
With his unresolved feelings about the three men he ‘lost’ in combat, he started neglecting his prayer time and regular Bible reading. Without that positive spiritual input, he found himself imagining things … to the point of experiencing intense fear.
- This was objective 1 of Satan’s plan … stealing from Nate the knowledge of God’s presence which then led to a loss of joy and peace.
He writes of this time, “I began to doubt God’s ability to protect me. I began having intense nightmares concerning my family’s safety. I knew that after three dangerous deployments, I was stacking the odds against my survival. My fear crushed my faith.”
- This is objective 2 in Satan’s attacks … to kill Nate’s faith.
“I slid backwards into a dark season of running from God — devoid of prayer, fellowship and time in the Word. I decided to act on my own. I decided to leave the Army.” He did so in 2004.
As time went on with his continued refusal to talk about what was bothering him, he gained weight, stopped taking care of himself, and became acutely depressed. He wrote, “Questions and doubts ravaged my mind. Why did I survive and my men die? Why did they send me there? Why does God allow such terrible wars to happen? Why can’t I feel anything?” He was a highly decorated warrior and leader yet he anguished in the after effects of the war. He writes, “As a prisoner of an unseen enemy, I asked myself one more question: ‘How should I kill myself?’
- The true enemy was close to achieving his ultimate objective of destroying Nate Self.
“I realized I was about to lose everything: my marriage, my family and even my life. I had led a daring rescue mission and found myself in dire need of rescuing.”
He wrote in a journal about how much he hated himself, and wondered why his marriage was still working, since he wasn’t the man that his wife married. He even found himself messing with his pistol and considering it as a solution because the man he used to be was gone. He remembers thinking that he wanted “to kill the man who took his place. I was ready to sever my relationship with the whole world, by way of suicide.”
“At more than one point in time, I sat alone with the pistol my Rangers had given me as a gift and I held that pistol alone thinking about using it on myself and I was only thinking about what I would leave behind for a legacy as a father and a husband, knowing that I would be leaving my wife’s and sons’ lives much worse.
“Then I began to resort to dreaming and fantasizing about death because it gave me comfort. And that is a completely morbid perspective, which is also unhealthy and sinful, but that was where I was.”
But his family wouldn’t let him continue down that path of destruction. They didn’t abandon him even as he wrote about the Lord, “Still, I’m not sure if God is even here anymore. I’ve rejected him, walked away, too many times. He has every right to let me burn.”
The Road Back
The critical tipping point for Nate came when he was about to become an unemployed veteran. He writes, “Julie and I got on our knees. We prayed. For the first time in almost a year I cracked open my Bible [emphasis mine]. Even if God had abandoned me, I would cry out to him. I was broken. I searched for answers. I retraced my path over the past year; over my time in Iraq. What had gone wrong? I had been in Mosul, in Nineveh. It was bad for me there. That’s where I got scared. After all I’d been through in Kosovo and Afghanistan, I got scared in Nineveh. I started running away from God in Nineveh. Just like Jonah.”
“I lay broken in front of my Savior Jesus Christ. I began to look for encouragement in the Bible and it was there. God used a small group of heroes — my family, along with a few Christian brothers — to seek out and rescue the man I once was. They pulled me out of the clutches of despair and walked with me along the path of healing. They found a Christian counselor — a retired Army chaplain to minister to me. They helped me get help at the Veteran’s Affairs hospital … But most importantly, my return to faith in God resulted in my recovery from [PTSI].” (see ‘PTSD vs PTSI’ below)
Nate is no longer a victim of the real enemy … because he reached out to God right where he was.
Instrumental in his healing was his return to studying the Scriptures, because God’s word is truth (John 17:17) – not just true, but truth – to correct the lies the devil had led him to believe. He also spent time in writing therapy, talking extensively with his wife Julie, with other veterans, and then telling his story of healing to others.
“I found a deeper appreciation of God’s sovereignty (control), His willingness to suffer with us, and the power of forgiveness. I believed once again that I had nothing to fear, and I recognized that fear was a tool in Satan’s disassembling of my faith. I saw examples of in the Bible of God’s redemptive power — that whatever Satan meant for evil, God has used for good (Genesis 50:20). I saw that war was part of God’s plan, that the Lord is a Warrior (Exodus 15:3), that even King David suffered the effects of killing and combat, and that God could restore everything in me… He wastes nothing.” — Nate Self
God doesn’t waste pain.
If you are in pain from the past battles of life and death, He doesn’t want you to continue in pain. He is the God of all comfort.
Nate blames himself for not getting help sooner. “If I never asked the Army for help, it’s not their fault,” he says. Except for a two-hour group session with the battalion chaplain immediately after the battle, he didn’t talk with anyone about the emotional fallout from the fight while he was in the service. That is something he regrets, and if he had pursued personal spiritual counseling in particular to help him with the rigors of his combat losses, he perhaps would have escaped from the clutches of the evil one sooner.
Do not forget the formula that the evil one uses continuously: ‘the thief steals, kills and destroys.’ He seeks to:
- steal your perceived knowledge of God’s presence (which results in loss of joy and peace),
- which leads to killing your faith,
- and then to destroying your legacy, spiritual life, and even your physical life.
Nate now recognizes that progression in his life, and wrote,
“Just as we try to isolate an enemy, Satan does that to us — to make us feel alone, isolated, cut off — and to behave in ways that create isolation for ourselves … In some ways, that was caused by my inability to communicate with loved ones about these experiences — so the isolation was years in the making.”
He sees himself running away in Nineveh, when his Bible was buried in his duffle bag, and his fears began to get out of control. “Ignoring God through tough life experiences is a huge mistake.”
Are you experiencing the same battles now that you are home?
Don’t hesitate any longer to reach out for help because war changes everyone; after all, who wouldn’t be changed by going through hell on earth? Seeking help is not a sign of weakness … it is sign that you are wise and courageous.
The books listed below are available in the CruMilitary.org store.
- Self, Nate. Two Wars: One Hero’s Fight on Two Fronts — Abroad and Within, Tyndale House Publishers. (* Words were modified for clarity in Stu Weber’s quote [with his permission].) CruMilitary.org Recommended Resources
- Adsit, Chris. Combat Trauma Healing Manual. 2008, Military Ministry Press, Newport News, VA Cru Military.org Store
- Greg Jaffe, “For Nate Self, Battlefield Hero, Trauma Takes a Toll”, NYT, 10/06/05, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB112857047379261420
Adding Insult to Injury: PTSD vs PTSI
Dr. Jonathan Shay, who has over 30 years’ experience counseling individuals who have sustained the hidden wounds of war and combat trauma, has spoken out to eliminate the term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to describe inner combat trauma. Instead he has written and fought quite extensively for a better title, Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. He wrote,
“For years I have agitated against the diagnostic jargon, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), because transparently we are dealing with an injury, not an illness, malady, disease, sickness, or disorder. My insistence comes from awareness that within military forces it is entirely honorable to be injured, and that if one is injured and recovers well enough to be fit for duty, there is no real limit to one’s accomplishments, even if a prosthesis is employed. Witness the honored career of General Eric Shinseki, who lost a foot in Vietnam, and eventually retired from the U.S. Army as Chief of Staff. We do not describe him as suffering ‘Missing Foot Disorder.’”
As such, we will include the term, Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). (We will leave “PTSD” in the articles in order to facilitate useful searches.) We urge you to do the same. We can and do recover from most injuries. The same is true for PTSI. So be encouraged if you find yourself suffering from some or all of the symptoms of this injury.