Category Archives: post traumatic stress

‘Suck It Up’ Sucks

Former Secretary of the Navy and Virginia Senator James Webb voiced an often heard sentiment in a CBS Sunday Morning interview last week. He talked about the great impassable divide that separates those who have been to war from those who haven’t. Webb said, If you were there, I don’t need to explain. If you weren’t, I can’t explain.

Secretary Webb has given much to his country. I am grateful for his service and respect his intelligence. That said, I want to challenge the belief that non-combatants can never know what soldiers endure.

It’s true that those of us who have never seen a war zone don’t know the searing pain of having a leg blown off in an IED explosion. We haven’t experienced the anguish of a friend dying suddenly, violently, a result of our mistake, powerless to help.

But we are human beings, capable of imagining. Capable of imagining the worst. We have the capacity for empathy, for fellow feeling. We can smell the burnt flesh, feel the concussions, see the outstretched hands, hear the cries for help.

I struggled for months to support a friend suffering from post traumatic stress and depression, among other injuries. I failed.

My efforts are multiplied countlessly around the globe – loved ones trying to welcome their soldiers home. Our failures inflict new wounds and create many more walking wounded. Left unresolved, these stories repeat and repeat.

Phil Klay, author of Redeployment, describes these failures. Believing war is beyond words, he writes, is an abrogation of responsibility – it lets civilians off the hook from trying to understand, and veterans off the hook from needing to explain. Other projects that attempt to engage PTS and TBI sufferers through writing or performing offer initial glimpses of success. They convince me that “suck it up” is a slow poison.

I think soldiers have one final duty to their county – to describe the war they experienced on our behalf as authentically and to as many people as they can.

We noncombatants have a moral obligation to listen to their stories with care and compassion. We cannot judge them, we can only imagine future bad places.

This seems the only bridge over that impassable divide and the only path toward healing on a survivable scale.

And, just maybe, the only small hope for addressing future conflicts more adroitly than we have in the past.


Linda Beeman is the author of a poetry chapbook, Collateral Damage, published by Finishing Line Press. Its stories describe our Afghan War experience.


Whidbey AIR interview

adult contentWednesday afternoon’s interview with Perry Woodfin at our online public radio station, WhidbeyAIR  about my upcoming chapbook, Collateral Damage, from Finishing Line Press challenged and intrigued me. We explored questions about post traumatic stress and drone warfare. Perry expanded my definition of the damage trauma can inflict, and engineer Gwen Samuelson updated me on our shared D.C. hometown.

I didn’t know much about WhidbeyAIR before. I kept looking for it on my radio dial until I realized, “Duh — it’s only online.” Organized by Langley artists in the late 1980s, it aims to connect creativity on our island with the world. An all-volunteer staff keeps it up and running.

My interview with Perry will air Saturday, the 19th at 10pm, Sunday the 20th at 2pm. Otherwise, just link to WhidbeyAIR and click “Listen” to hear streaming content.

Collateral Damage Cover

Cover design: Buffy Cribbs

Here is a courageous book, one where men pray to rain, where men are executed in “retaliation for scorched words” that “are sacred.”When the word “heat” becomes a moving elegy and “Traffic” a boy’s name–the reader realizes that poetry’s power, its impulse, is to name the world anew despite all the sorrows–or maybe because of them.   Ilya Kaminsky

As our agonizing engagement in Afghanistan winds down, some reflection seems timely. My connection with a friend posted in Kabul and my concern for his safety led me into that turmoil. It focused my attention on the war’s actors, its reporting, its mean failures and small successes. Lesser known individuals with amazing stories riveted me. Sgt. Lynn Hill flew Predators from her base in Las Vegas, while Mohammedullah guided heavy trucks over Afghan passes with his Pepsi bottle baton. Robert Bales’ name seared our national conscience after that Panjwai massacre, and who could help loving Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis for his halting recitations of Pashto poetry.

     Collateral Damage is a scrapbook of poems, of personalities who confront us with unanswered questions. What have we accomplished after 12 years in that blue land? Is it enough that we did our best to offer Afghans a chance at self-determination? Were the countless heartbreaks of loss and estrangement worth that effort? Is the effort, itself, the ultimate reward?

You can reserve your copy of the chapbook online at Finishing Line Press,

My thanks.

Linda Signature