More from the Delicious Day blog interview (4-24-2009) with Clint.
How would your wife Sara, say PTSD has affected her life.
It definitely changed her life. It was a rough 5 or 6 years. Over the last few years it has gotten better. There are still moments where I am a complete asshole but I try to rein that in or go off by myself. It was hard for her to read my book because it brought back such bad memories.
In the moments where you are an asshole, are you aware of it? Can’t control it? Or do you just don’t care?
A lot of times I just don’t care or I can’t control it. I am usually pretty aware of it especially when I am around my wife becasue she has no problem telling me. PTSD has elements of depression in it. I wouldn’t say I am hopeless but a lot of people with PTSD are hopeless. Sometimes they switch back to warrior mode where they are just able to yell at someone to get things accomplished. It is not like we as Marines are the easiest people to get along with to begin with and PTSD just adds to it.
There are reports about veterans coming home from combat and killing their wives or children. Were you ever afraid you would do that?
No, I was not worried I would kill a family member. Maybe a civilian. I was not homicidal. I was afraid of what would happen if I did get to that point. I did not know how far PTSD would take me. I did not know how bad it would get. It scares me that PTSD leads people down that road.
In Soft Spots you talk about your compulsion to commit seemingly random violence on others when you returned home. What do you think was your primary motivation in that?
It was because I was so angry. It was not a release because it does not feel good to be that angry. To be on the verge of losing control is a horrible feeling.
In Soft Spots, some of the things you write about are pretty shocking – a dog being intentionally shot, you killing a young Iraqi girl, a Marine’s body being left behind – is it possible if there were more control over those events your PTSD would not be as severe as it is?
No, I don’t think those things have any bearing on it. Most of those things as out of control as they sound were pretty controlled. We were always within our rules of engagement. I always shot at what I thought was a target. I shot the little girl when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Those things happened randomly. Shooting a dog was out of control, but that was done by a guy in the Navy.
In Soft Spots you ask yourself, “What kind of person would shoot a little girl?” Now that you have had time to think about it, do you have an answer to that question?
That was an accident. The thought of it really bothered me. We were not trained to do that. We were trained to help people. Whether or not the war in Iraq is right or wrong we should have been over there helping, not killing civilians.
In Soft Spots, you said “In some messed up way being home produced withdrawal symptoms. I’d experienced some of the most exciting events of my life. Nothing compared to the feelings that war induced.” It is hard to read that and not think this had become some sort of game or high to you. Is there any truth to that?
It is definitely a high. You are hunting people. You have to have that adrenaline going. It is like going into a game almost except if you lose you are dead or your friends are dead. I do not think civilians understand that very much. It is something I did not understand until I went there. I thought I knew a lot about war but I realized I did not know anything until I experienced combat.
In Soft Spots you said when you first landed in the U.S. the thought going through your head was “Turn back. Turn back. Turn back.” Why was that?
What was I supposed to say to my wife? I was killing people everyday. I didn’t have anything to say to her or anybody. When I was over there, we all understood each other perfectly. When I got off the plane we were all going our separate ways.
I have interviewed a guy who was a sniper in the Vietnam War. He said he was afraid no one would understand what he did, what he experienced. Do you think this is why you wanted to “turn back?”
That is exactly what it is. I relate to combat veterans really well. You do not have to say certain things to them. You do not have to worry about what they are going to think of you. They know when you go into combat shit happens. Maybe you killed a little girl but they understand I did not do it on purpose. But if you try to explain that to a civilian they think you are an asshole. I am not an asshole. It is just something that happened and combat vets understand that.
Painful as it is, this is how we get a glimpse of the true reality of combat. Tomorrow I’ll post the third and final installment of the interview with this courageous and frank war veteran.