Through the years, I have met thousands of Vietnam veterans, and I have lived to see this truth.
The Vietnam veterans who still hold bitterness, hatred, and unforgiveness toward any entity that they have perceived to be the cause of their suffering and pain (the communists, Lyndon Johnson, Jane Fonda, Agent Orange, etc.) are wrecks. They inevitably exhibit haggard faces and hollow eyes. Often they have serious health complications due to substance abuse. Their downward spiral has put them on paths to spousal abuse and the fostering of dysfunctional families.
For them, the unforgiveness has been so internalized that the enemy in Vietnam, now decades later, has finally succeeded in what could not be done on the battlefield. The enemy has defeated the soldier. Choosing not to forgive, the soldier self destructs; he fails miserably and, in essence, surrenders to the very enemy he thought he had defeated. It is as if he threw a grenade at the enemy, who in turn pulled the pin and threw it back.
The sad reality is, as young warriors return from the current war zones, it is the same ol’, same ol’. History repeats itself as the warrior internalizes and finds a long, perceived list of people and circumstances to blame for his problems.
Importance of Forgiveness
Forgiving is imperative! Based on the principles of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us,” (Luke 11:4 Today’s New International Version) we must forgive. Unforgiveness will gnaw away at our very existence until we are destroyed.
Truth or myth, I know not, but a story has persisted for centuries… A murderer received an unholy and almost unimaginable punishment for his crime. The body of his victim was tied to the murderer: hand to hand, foot to foot, face to face. The perpetrator of the murderous act was confronted with, restricted by, and attached to the consequence of his behavior. Decomposition of the victim in such close proximity became the death knell to the guilty, he could not eat or sleep and was avoided by everyone, losing contact with friends and family. His body was soon infected by the putrid decaying flesh, which in turn, would ultimately cause his death… not unlike the cancer of unforgiveness, which destroys those who choose not to forgive.
It breaks my heart to see a young man who feels he has won the war only to lose his direction, his peace of mind and his family.
A Modern Tale
Conversely, one story comes to mind. It is the story of a warrior who is an excellent example, a shining star of a young man who discovered the power of forgiveness. A sergeant with the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army stationed in Afghanistan was hit by a suicide bomber. Months earlier the armored vehicle in which he was riding was totally destroyed by a roadside bomb. Miraculously, he walked away unscathed.
This time, the suicide bomber detonated approximately 36 inches from the door of the sergeant’s up-armored Humvee. The powerful explosion was devastating, resulting in his being burned extensively and experiencing Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The TBI was so severe, that several years after the injury, he could not remember things as simple as what he had eaten hours before. He could not recall a conversation or even an assignment of duties just minutes after being told what to do.
As I worked diligently with the sergeant, helping him recover from his emotional and psychological trauma, I began to see small but promising changes. Recovery was beginning. Our most frequent conversations dealt with forgiveness. To forgive the suicide bomber would stretch him to a near-breaking point. After all, the bomber was already dead. But the sergeant, intent on total recovery, proceeded to write a latter of forgiveness to the suicide bomber. Upon completing the letter, the transformation in the sergeant was as distinct as night from day.
His memory has been restored, and the impact of TBI has been greatly reduced. His experience of post-traumatic stress has allowed him to help others going through the consequences of war. He is one of the most outstanding young speakers of all those trainees who have gone through the program at Eagles Summit Ranch. I truly believe the sergeant would still be enduring endless counseling sessions and making zero progress toward his recovery if he had not learned to forgive. He declares that two weeks at our program in Colorado did more for him than two years of counseling prior to his arrival at the ranch.
Forgiveness must be Chosen
The secret of a warrior’s recovery lies in the willingness to forgive. I learned to forgive. So must the warrior. So must you.
Forgiving does not imply forgetting. Forgetting is choosing not to remember the offense against the offender.
Forgiveness is not an option. It is a pleasure. The consequences of unforgiveness are far and away more serious and devastating than swallowing your pride and forgiving those who have scarred you.
Forgive and begin to live.
In article photo: USS Boxer arrives in Pearl Harbor. by the U.S. Navy licensed under the U.S. Govt.