Imagine ducking behind a deteriorating wall as bullets ricochet off buildings, searching for you as adrenaline surges through your body. You're the target of the bullet and there's nowhere to hide. Your life is on the line.
This thought, though reminiscent of a nightmare, describes one of the many scenes from The Forever War that has motivated me to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering in order to help those returning from war to overcome hardships due to remerging into society.
Dexter Filkins, the reporter who wrote The Forever War, explains that soldiers, when in combat, experience slow changes in their ethics that are easily disregarded in the chaotic excitement of war. Everyday soldiers face challenging obstacles that force them to compromise what they once believed in order to survive. These compromises create a vein of violence that becomes embedded in many of the soldiers' brains. The army condones violence, so the soldiers supply it. Eventually, a violent reaction becomes instinct and no authority attempts to change this behavior.
The part of this novel that inspires me wasn't written in any chapter—it's hidden between the lines and left unanswered. There are pages about the degradation of morals and the horrors of death but there remains a void in the end of the novel. Filkins all but ignores what happens when a soldier survives fighting in the heart of the war and comes home.
True, Filkin recalls drinking with other reporters that were involved in the war, but he describes the scene awkwardly, as if a veil of silence restrains them from engaging in conversation. They want to bring up the war, but they refrain. The memories from the war are too harsh to rehash, so all emotion is kept bottled up inside.
One of my first thoughts upon reading this passage is how terrible the pain must be. It seems that there's a necessary transformation that each person must go through to regain their place in society. They need to forget the violence, or at least move past it, to enjoy their life. But what if that transformation from soldier to civilian doesn't fully transpire? What if the soldier is left with disturbingly violent thoughts and nightmares about Iraq? I'm left with an image of a grown man flailing helplessly as he tries to cope with post traumatic stress disorder and behavior that outcasts him from everyone he knows.
Chemical Engineering, my intended major, offers numerous opportunities in pharmaceuticals, many which include synthesizing drugs. The majority of the antidepressants and stress relievers that soldiers are prescribed upon their return fail to completely treat their disorders or include terrible side effects. This book has inspired me to create new cures for the depression and violence of these soldiers so they can return to their families without the fear that their life will never be normal again.