National Abandonment

Perhaps the single most devastating emotional pain we suffer is abandonment. Millions of children know this experience as their primary relationship to their parents, and the effects are wide-ranging and long-lasting. Abandonment is rarely about the person being left, it is most always a reflection of what is broken in the person doing the leaving. Yet the abandoned person rarely perceives this, instead the message of unworthiness and the belief of being fundamentally unlovable is planted deep inside of us. Almost like a dormant genetic trait in the human genome, most of us seem to carry the potential for this erroneous belief. Tragically, most of us also have plenty of opportunities that trigger it.

Abandonment is usually not the product of malicious intent. Often, it results from competing demands, not enough resources, inability to conceive of consequences and fatigue. We are not, as a species deliberately unloving, we are more often preoccupied with our own pain and not up to the profoundly hard work to love responsibly. This is as true in individual family stories as it is on a national level. The world of diminishing, or at least limited, resources is catching up to all of us. Promises and guarantees that were made in brighter economic times are no longer sustainable on many levels. Worldwide the question of how we care for each other, how a society sustains itself is being examined. But nowhere is this abandonment being more acutely felt than among returning veterans and their families.

Here is a fact that I cannot get out of my mind. For every young soldier that has been killed on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan, twenty five other soldiers commit suicide upon returning home. This suicidal drain on our returning soldiers and their families goes unrecorded and unaided. These deaths happen in the killing fields of our own communities, in the bedrooms of what were once the young, strong boys who initially left home with a sense of mission and invincibility. Their intentions of protecting their country in wars for which they were ill- prepared, left them so damaged and empty of themselves that drug and alcohol addiction was the only means of self medicating their trauma.

My sons are young men, just barely out of their boyhood. They are trying to figure out what it means to be male and working to chart their course in life, not unlike the young men who joined the armed forces. It is hard for me to imagine who they would become and what would be lost of them under the same stress. The truth is that the human psyche is not built for war, and its effects are profoundly damaging to the soul of growing boys. This is not news. Collectively, we have witnessed the loss of tens of thousands of lives to the post-traumatic stress disorder cases that are still being treated from the Vietnam conflict. The army has only just begun to recognize the frighteningly high rates of brain injury that the most recent conflicts have left in their wake.

The cost of war for those who bravely commit to fighting in them endures for many throughout their lives. For as strong as we make our forces, equipping them with billions of dollars of protection and weaponry, we must acknowledge that we are not wired as killing machines. Our nervous systems are not designed for 24-hour combat for months on end. The loose ends of our self esteem and self worth unravel quickly under the strain of constant threat. The emotional healing and forgiveness that is required for a soldier to come home from a tour of service will last at least as long as the tour and, for many people, ten times that long.

If we are going to continue to promote war as a solution to our collective insecurity, then we must be prepared to commit to the rehabilitation of the young boys who come home alive, yet broken and emotionally damaged. Our military budget should without question be committed to the healing at least as much as the killing. Otherwise, we become our own enemy. The worst abandonment we can perpetuate is on the young men we sent to battle. We are responsible for the healing of the troops we send to kill.


Huber F.
Huber F5 years ago

You guys should try setting yourself up for new heights of thrills because new wins are well deserved.


Richelle Rausch
Richelle Rausch5 years ago

So sad, but true. I abandoned my mother a couple of times when I was a teen. It hurt her so much that I punished myself for years. But as you say, I didn't do it because of her. It was because of my own issues.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Mary Beth M.
MaryBeth M5 years ago

So very well written. The VA is not meeting its own mandate of providing care. For an insightful and poignant account of life with PTSD, read: "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him" by Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan, who did 2 tours in Iraq, was wounded and diagnosed with PTSD, among other disorders. He is very active in speaking for wounded warriors and advocating for improved care. He can be found on Facebook and his website: This book is a life altering experience. Instead of just talking about, get involved and do something.

sr G.
stacey groves5 years ago

sorry, ran out of room i guess, this is the end. As a yardstick comparison, the Army suffered 10 suicides per 100,000 prior to 2001. The situation is bad enough without hyperbole.

sr G.
stacey groves5 years ago

I was reluctant to post to this conversation, as i was unsure of other poster's reactions, then i thought... wait, why would i be afraid of an honest discussion? So here goes... and my numbers may not be completely accurate, as i no longer work in government, but... we have a total of approximately 2.5 million souls in our armed forces, both active and in reserve. There are approximately 1.5 million TOTAL in active duty for all the services. The US Army has the largest population in both active and reserve, at just 562,000 active duty. It has been a mostly Army war. There were (in Iraq only) 4287 deaths in Iraq as of 2010. You are saying that nearly 125,000 returning military veterans have committed suicide on returning from the front, almost a quarter of our military strength in the Army. Where are the studies and figures that back up your statement? I understand the point you are making, really, i do. But making claims that can be shown to be, at best in error, and at worst, blatantly mendacious, does not help our cause. My information is from personal knowledge, and a quick browse through Wikipedia. I could find no information that got close to your numbers, although (this is the World Socialist WebSite) had numbers from both the VA and Pentagon records that cite in 2009 211 suicides as opposed to 319 combat deaths, for a rate of approximately 20 per 100,000 population. As a yardstick comparison, the Ar

Lloyd H5 years ago

Disgusting but true. And the causes are legion. One can start with the nearly total disconnect between War and 90% of the population via the intentional political disconnect by intentionally banning the photographing of Flag Draped Coffins and Military Funerals. Then there is the ugly fact that killing and damaging(physically, mentally, emotionally) is a high profit business venture sanitized of the human cost. Add in the dual particularly Repug association of Patriotism- Profiteering and not Taxing the profits to support the veterans and their families during and after War. Except for a very few the US military is the lower half of the 99% under assault through Austerity with out Taxation to increase revenue. As usual follow the money find the cause.

Neil A.
Neil A5 years ago

I am finding it difficult to comment apat from saying that war is an abomination & those that would start it need to be held to account, recently GW Bush cronies Rove etc & the exacrable Tony Blair from UK; what a waste of innocent lives & taxpayers money & all to fuel the disgusting arms industry!!.

Julie D.
Julie D5 years ago

Thank you Wendy for a very thoughtful and well written article. More attention needs to be brought to this issue. I have heard these statistics elsewhere and it is so sad and so appalling. Human beings were not meant to witness and take part in such horrors as war presents. Our beautiful sons and daughters should never have been subjected to them in the first place. That their hearts, minds and spirits have been so horrified, terrorized and broken that they no longer want to live is beyond tragic. That they get little or no help when returning from duty is unacceptable. I would so much rather see our tax dollars spent on providing counseling and help for those returning from these horrible wars, than give it to some already obscenely rich corporation in subsides. The priorities of what our tax dollars are spent for are so completely escew it is incredible. There is so much work for us to do to turn this country around and take it back from the cruel, greedy immoral corporatocracy it has evolved into.

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Statistic is true and ignored. Cost of War is always high.