A Green Beret writes some life advice, and I think it’s worth a read

16 Aug

books   

Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that back in November I signed with a New York literary agent who reps a Pulitzer Prize winner and multiple international bestsellers, and we have been working to take my war novel to market – that time is drawing very, very near – which is incredibly exciting and gratifying. Writing a book has been a dream of mine since childhood, and I am pretty much ecstatic that the possibility might just materialize for me! A real book! Paper and spine and stitching and binding, oh my!

I’m a bit of a snob as to what I read not so that I can impress literary folks with my high-brow tastes and my appreciation for the finer words in life, but because I have  tendency towards virtually limitless arrogance and self-conceit and reading the works of writers who make me look like a kindergartener wielding a crayon and vocabulary of 12 big words helps to keep that tendency in check. Nothing will make you feel like a more of a pathetic wordsmith than an afternoon with Cormac McCarthy or Kevin Powers or Margaret Atwood or Daniel Woodrell. On the other hand, nothing is more exhilarating, either.

It’s not often that I come across writing that I truly, deeply admire. Stories, yes.  All the time. But being a storyteller is a magnitude of difference from being a writer. A storyteller uses words to tell a story, a writer uses words to create images and emotions that make you feel deep in your blood just how the story happens, and while I am a storyteller with some merit, I am no writer. Not a grasp at compliments, either, dear readers – I am very, very happy to be a storyteller and I hope that one day you may walk into a bookshop near you and judge for yourselves, but there is a palpable, visceral, heart-racing difference between “the dogs chased a reluctant boar down the mountain and across the river” [me] and “The boar did not want to cross the river.  When he did so it was too late.  He came all sleek and steaming out of the willows on the near side and started across the plain.  Behind him the dogs were falling down the mountainside hysterically, the snow exploding around them.  When they struck the water they smoked like hot stones and when they came out of the brush and onto the plain they came in clouds of pale vapor.”[Cormac McCarthy]

One tells you what you need to know so the story can unfold. The other bores into you and triggers primeval, electric instincts, stands your hairs on end and send a rush of blood between your ears and a quiver of anticipation for the death to come down your spine.

popp

This past summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Terrence Popp at the International Conference on Men’s Issues in Detroit, where he presented. Popp is not just a decorated, skilled and extremely experienced soldier, he is a writer. I downloaded his book The Warrior’s Way and put it on my list of things to do, and just got around to reading it very recently. I was immediately impressed with the first few pages, but life got busy and I set it aside and didn’t find time to turn my attention back to it – largely because I bought it for my Kindle and I’m a Luddite, I confess. I always reach for the paper books first. Kindle readers do not do well dropped in the bath tub, which is my favorite place to read.

book

But let me introduce you now to someone whose writing I truly admire: Terrence M. Popp aka Redonkulas on YouTube.

 anvil

I have been forged by death on the anvil of war by the hammers of hate and pain.  I have been struck down more times then I wish to remember only to regain my feet.  I have been cast into the sea of mediocrity and each and every time I crawled kicking and screaming out, for there is no place for me there.  Thousands were broken and wrecked in the quest to find me and countless resources and tax dollars expended in my making.  I have faced the rawest evil, many times in its very own lair and lived to tell the tale.  I have looked into the eyes of world champions and the vilest villains alike and laughed at their meager attempts to teach me the lessons death could not.  I have baked in the hottest deserts.  I have broiled in the steamiest jungles and froze in the arctic ice.  I have lived off of filthy food and equally filthy water only to get the shortest of rests while lying in putrid filth up to my eyeballs. I did the impossible for the absolutely ungrateful and I did all this many times laughing my flipping ass off. 

What I like so much about this is the undeniable, raw authenticity. You can’t fake this kind of understanding. You can’t fake what you have to go through to consider yourself forged by death on the anvil of war. Popp goes to share 135 things he learned from his extraordinary experiences. Here are a few that I particularly like:

1.) If you ain’t cheating you ain’t trying

14.)  Running is not cowardice, it is moving to a better position

28.)  If you can, pick your death, the alternative is very unpleasant

43.)  Forgive stupid but never forget intent

65.) Figuratively and literally are separate battlefields; but are the same war

66.) Learn administrative violence, it will make you infinitely more deadly

83.) If you want a chip in the game get the chip off your shoulder

103.) If you have pulled your pistol you have made a possible life ending mistake

124.) You should always be running for cover and the cover you have is never good enough

134.) You can’t teach courage, you can only show courage.

I have not yet finished the book, but there will be no other books between me and the end of the Warrior’s Way. You can buy it here – a damn fine use of money, if you ask me.  This book is for soldiers, absolutely, and for those who want to understand them. It’s also for those fighting a safer, more serene kind of war: a war of competing ideas.

After tasting war and death and having my world ripped from me I was left not broken but whole.  It’s a hard concept but I guess it boils down to: less is more.  I have faced depression, PTSD, a broken mind from the effects of a road side bomb and all the fringe benefits a closed head injury bestows upon you. The loss of great love, many times; and the loss of my children.  The loss of my children was the punch in the face that started this whole process.  I was always open to different ways of thinking and tried to not become inflexible.  I thought I was a man who, for his entire adult life up until the age of 38 or 39, worked on anger and hatred.  Those two fuels allowed me to walk the circumference of this earth two times by foot and carry upon my back the sum combined weight of a dreadnaught battleship to face death and fear.  I walked through world class fighters in my prime because the furnace of hate within me made it all seem a dream .  How or why it got there is an ongoing inner inquiry I am yet assessing. I know only one answer for fact:  I am not done yet. I have a long way to go but I think it’s not the destination that counts; it’s the journey.  I am writing about this journey and some of the ways I have faced the wars, the pain, the loss, the life and all that goes along with it.  Some will criticize me and may even ostracize me.  But to them I say, I am sorry you have lived such a vanilla life. 

I am sorry you took no risks. 

I am sorry you played it safe and never let life’s fire forge you into something better. 

It’s an interesting thought – life’s fire forges not only a new world, a new way of thinking and doing and being, but it forges those who fight into different people. People they would not have been if not for the fight. In the words of Terry Popp, “When you think you have gone too far, you haven’t gone far enough.”

 

I’ll drink to that. I hope you will too.

Lots of love,

JB

24 Responses to “A Green Beret writes some life advice, and I think it’s worth a read”

  1. JShaft August 16, 2014 at 23:57 #

    Interesting. Recovering from a PTSD-related illness myself, I’ve also begun reevaluating what were once seen as traumatic events, but are now being seen as, for want of a better term, forging moments. To be honest, I probably broke a lot more often and a lot harder than this guy, but to stretch the metaphor further: An old friend and blacksmith taught me a thing about swords. When they break, you weld them together in the forge, and that forge-weld is now the hardest part of the sword. Once broken there, it’ll never break there again.

    So, this metaphor gives me something to work with. While Feminists will claim that bad experiences ruin one’s life forever, me, I’m forge-welded as fuck, and looking forward to the next break, so that I may grow stronger yet.

    Like

  2. paulvzo August 17, 2014 at 01:12 #

    I am amazed and appreciated of Mr. Popp’s (sorry, I didn’t see his rank posted) intelligence, insights, and literary abilities. However, at least at this minimal understanding, I will take issue at one point.

    Not all of us have his drive to potentially self-destruct in ambitious discovery. I will never bungee jump. But I am not less a full human being, just because my “bungee jumps” are internal. There are many ways of being a warrior even if the potential outcome isn’t physical death.

    The world needs librarians, accountants, and bureaucrats. Mr. Popp, whether he grasped it or not, relied on them as he did what he did.

    Nevertheless, it appears he is contributing well to our dialogues.

    Like

  3. wqjcv August 17, 2014 at 02:39 #

    Terrence Popp – warrior and comedian.

    Like

  4. judgybitch August 17, 2014 at 02:59 #

    That was the point I was trying to make. Not every war is physical. I know he would agree.

    Like

  5. Ferrum August 17, 2014 at 04:32 #

    As a practicing blacksmith, I’m always glad to see folks using the terminology correctly. Popp does so, and with power.

    I honestly believe that PTSD is the result of a culture that doesn’t sing songs about their heroes. Instead, we raise them up with the idea that killing is wrong and that everybody should just get along. And when they come back from the war that we sent them to, they don’t get windfalls like a kid right out of college joining the NFL.

    That creates a schism in the subconscious and I can’t help but think that the vikings and the knights of the round table didn’t suffer from PTSD because they were regarded as the best their society could offer. There were songs sung about their deeds, and little boys were raised with the idea of living up to the standard they set.

    Like

  6. JShaft August 17, 2014 at 08:00 #

    Hmmm… I get where you’re going, but you miss the basic mechanisms. PTSD is a direct adaptive response to overwhelming trauma. Get brutally raped, fear all men. Get tortured for days, fear dentists. Get blown up in a humvee, have trouble ever getting in a car. Then there’s the other side, things like being more sensitive to certain stimuli… Being in prison for 10 years will give you a tendency to react violently to someone standing behind you while you are sitting down.

    Being a soldier would, I’d imagine, possibly involve a lot of these sort of adaptive responses. Those who don’t develop them either weren’t in need of these adaptations, or aren’t with us now. The problems only happen when removed from the war zone. Same as with ex-cons, people who were abused as kids etc. The issue is one of extreme adaptation to environment, followed by an environmental change. Being ready at all times to kill strangers at a moments notice isn’t an adaptation that makes life easier in modern everyday society. It can be fatal not to have in a war zone, but it’s not much use at the DMV.

    TL;DR: What’s great behavior at the bus stop gets you killed five times before lunch in a war zone. What’s useful in a war zone doesn’t help you stay out of psych ward in the “civilized” world. While the process of adaptation is relatively rapid in one direction, it’s very slow and intensive in the other direction. Singing songs, though nice, has fuckall to do with it.

    Like

  7. JShaft August 17, 2014 at 08:17 #

    Also, in the olden days, Vikings who were adapted for war, well, they’d just have a few meads, get together a boatload of mates and go raiding. When Germany was filled with post-WWI shellshocked soldiers, it didn’t take long for the rhetoric of total war to gain currency among the masses. I think group psychology explains a lot of history when one factors in PTSD, or whatever it’s best described as in those parts of the world where being a veteran in the army leads to political power.

    Note: I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing, just that it’s a thing. Beat someone enough in relationships, they seek the relationships they’re adapted for. Shoot at someone every day, but they still survive, they’ll be looking for where the next shot’s gonna come from.

    Hell, I had a very brief (like 2 days) relationship with a girl when I was way younger. She’d (apparently) been in seriously abusive relationships before, and we got into an argument on the second day. After about 5 seconds of raised voices, she fell to the floor and curled up, screaming “Don’t hit me!”. Freaked me right out, that did. But… She broke up with me later that day. The only rationale she gave was that I was too “confusing” to be with. Being a fish out of water isn’t just difficult, it’s also embarrassing as hell… Better to engineer the circumstances so that we’re back in our waters than jump out of the pond…

    Like

  8. Ferrum August 17, 2014 at 09:21 #

    I see where you’re coming from, but you’re not acknowledging the basic point that there are two messages being given and that can cause problems at the foundational level.

    The “overwhelming trauma.” starts when we raise our boys from the cradle with messages of “violence is bad” and “killing is awful” and then send them off to commit great violence. We feminize them, castigating them for rough-housing around with the other boys. We take contact sports out of schools and make gym class as PC as possible so nobody gets their feelings hurt.

    And while their overseas, we give ‘fuckall’ about them. When they come back, we give more ‘fuckall’. The living conditions in the sandbox are awful. The pay is lousy. And they don’t have better to look forward to when they get back. So, we are basically continuing the basic teaching that violence is bad. If we supported our soldiers like we say we do, base housing wouldn’t be wretched and most enlisted personnel wouldn’t be on food stamps.

    So, you’ve reinforced that these people are being punished and that society doesn’t really like them or approve of what they do. Of course, there is going to be a problem reintegrating into “polite” society. You’re demonizing the behavioral traits that a professional soldier gained while honorably serving his nation, and you’re celebrating the wretched behavior of a drug-addicted pop star, or a kid that hasn’t actually done anything more than be good at catching a ball.

    The dichotomy between words and actions is going to cause problems in anybody, especially if they’re on the receiving end of the shit. You cannot raise someone up with a constant diet of “killing is bad” and then expect them to be all hunky-dory when you send them off to kill.

    Yes, singing songs about valiant heros will lower the rates of PTSD. Treating them like strong and courageous warriors, heaping accolades on them, will only help things. But it starts at the beginning, in childhood.

    Like

  9. wqjcv August 17, 2014 at 20:04 #

    You sound like a romantic who has read too many novels about Sparta. North American society glorifies violence and there is ample opportunity for anyone who wishes to indulge their violent tendencies.
    Sing a song about PTSD being a sign of cowardice – that would lower the rate as well.

    Like

  10. JShaft August 17, 2014 at 22:54 #

    Um… You do know that PTSD as a concept, if not under that name, has existed since WWI, right? I’d love to see how “feminised” men were then.

    Seriously, just because you want this to be the case, doesn’t make it the case. The simple fact is that humans can be adapted for two environments, one of peace and one of war, to put it very simplistically. Adaption between the two is highly rapid in one direction, and very slow, painstaking and incredibly difficult in the other direction. This is the direction you want to fix with songs and praise. I’m sure they may have somewhat ameliorated some symptoms, otherwise no-one would have done it in the first place.

    Maybe you need to do a little light reading on PTSD and what it does to people before you offer a cure-all…

    Like

  11. JShaft August 17, 2014 at 22:55 #

    Yeah, what you said 🙂

    Like

  12. Spaniard August 18, 2014 at 09:33 #

    A war novel?
    Good luck.
    One of my favourite essays on war: “Blood rites” by Barbara Ehrenreich.

    Like

  13. Spaniard August 18, 2014 at 12:15 #

    Talking on war…

    A few days ago, pro Palestinian demonstration (with lot of Palestinian flags) in front of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, located in the old hood of Madrid, very touristic area. A bunch of Israelian tourists (they were speaking in Hebrew), and they were walking close to the demonstration and they were scared the living daylights out of…

    LOL!!!!! 🙂

    Like

  14. Jack August 18, 2014 at 17:11 #

    “Once broken there, it’ll never break there again” – This is a great philosophy for the life of a man.

    Right on, JShaft!

    Like

  15. Goober August 18, 2014 at 17:49 #

    I don’t know shit about shit. I’ve never been in a shooting war. Never been in a fight to the death. Never had a shell or an IED go off in the same State as I’m in, much less anywhere in my near proximity.

    I think that I, along with a lot of other people in the same boat as me here, would do well to not necessarily jump to conclusions on what PTSD is and how it works, and why it exists.

    The fact is, men have experienced PTSD since time immemorial. The ancient Israelites had a ritual where after they went to war and killed enemies, that they’d have a mandatory 7 day “cleansing” period where they bivouacked outside their towns and cities upon return, praying, cleansing themselves, and becoming right once again, before they were allowed to return to their families. It is obvious to me why their God demanded such an action – killing a man in those days was not peering over a rifle’s sites and squeezing a trigger from a distance, or firing an artillery piece from 2,500 yards. In those days, you crushed his bones, stabbed him through, and hacked and cleaved him to pieces. At the end of the battle, if you still stood, you were covered in the blood of your victims. At the onset, your mind’s eye was full of the horrific injuries that you’d created on other men before, wondering if it was your turn. The sound of your blade scraping across your enemy’s bone would have been worse than fingernails on a chalkboard, and would have been far less easy to forget. You have to look into his eyes as you take his life – you have no choice.

    It seems a decent idea to give a man a bit of decompression time after that experience, before throwing him back into fatherhood and sowing seeds in the fields.

    I don’t know what causes it. I don’t know how to avoid it. But what I do know is this – it damn sure exists, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the “feminizing” of America and so forth. PTSD has been around as long as humans beings have been around, and any keyboard commando that’s trying to minimize the PTSD of combat soldiers needs to take a second and think about it, first.

    Like

  16. Spaniard August 18, 2014 at 19:19 #

    There is a village in the middle of the Spanish plateau named “Castillo Matajudíos”, build in the Middle Ages. This name “Castillo Matajudíos” means, literally, “Jewkilling Castle”. Probably the origin of the name comes from the fact that in the castle of the village was a kind mini medieval Auschwitz during the Middle Ages.
    A few time ago, the Spanish Jewish lobby (very weak in this county, thanks Jesus Christ) tryed to force the village council to change the name of the village because they considered it was very offensive and politically incorrect.
    Well, so the council did a referendum in the village, and the local people overwhemingly voted “NO”, to the change of their historic name.
    So Jewish lobby try to forced the central Governmet to change the name and central Goverment said that they had to respect the will of the people of that picturesque village.

    The Jews broke their vestments.

    LOL!!!! 🙂

    Like

  17. JShaft August 18, 2014 at 22:33 #

    Wow. It’s been a really long time since someone shat me enough on this front, but could you please STFU with the Jew stuff? If you got a problem with Israeli governmental policy (And you wouldn’t be alone there) call it that, but please…

    My grandmother was the only member of her family to survive Dachau. We’ve never been religious (I often joke that I’m half Jewish, from the waist up), we’re not political, and I’m none of the things you constantly, gleefully describe with the word Jew. I’m also not what Feminists describe when they say men. I’d love it if at least one of you would shut the fuck up with the blanket statements.

    Seriously, if you could just not say Jew unless there’s a JB article about Israel and it’s actually fucking relevant, that’d be really charming…

    Like

  18. JShaft August 18, 2014 at 22:41 #

    Thanks, Jack! It was a long time coming…

    Like

  19. Spaniard August 19, 2014 at 08:07 #

    I understand.
    No offence, I am a Catholic with Jewish blood. In 1492 they had two doors: or convert to Christianity or the highway (the Strait of Gibraltar crossing to the North of Africa).
    Milions of them remainded in Spain with the name “conversos” (“converted”) or “Cristianos Nuevos” (New Christians). So, there is a lot of Jewish blood in this country.
    I am not anti semit but anti NaZionist.

    All my support to Jevier Bardém and Penélope Cruz, ant to Oliver Stone too.

    Mel Gibson and John Galiano they have my sympathy, also.

    Like

  20. Spaniard August 19, 2014 at 08:26 #

    “A feminist is a woman that when she is taking her knickers down, she is talking you about the hungry children in the Horn of Africa”.

    Francisco Umbral (Spanish writer)

    Like

  21. Spaniard August 19, 2014 at 08:26 #

    “remained”.

    Like

  22. Spaniard August 19, 2014 at 13:32 #

    “A feminist is a whoman WHO while taking her knickers down she is talking to you about the starved children in the Horn of Africa”

    Still struggling with my English.

    Like

  23. Spaniard August 21, 2014 at 13:51 #

    Before the Iraq war, there was a powerful Christian Maronite minority in that country.
    After the war there is a powerful Yihad and Christians are being slaughtered.

    Like

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