A few words about the acknowledgment of suffering.
It was the children that were the hardest to deal with, that's what all the folks from our medical unit in Iraq told me. Babies needing amputations. Six-year-old boys with shattered bones from stray bullets. Little girls caught in IED blasts. Mentally, it was hard. It should be hard, they said. Like when the corpsman with the three-year-old daughter back home saw the three-year-old Iraqi girl missing half her face, bleeding heavily from her torso, limbs and head, well past the point of saving, and volunteered to hold her hand and care for her as she died. That was hard. That was really, really hard.
But how long should that experience remain hard? How long is she allowed to process before we start to think—she should get over it? That seems to be the question, ever since Donald Trump told an audience of veterans that they had been through worse than those suffering mental health problems but "you're strong and you can handle it." The veteran community immediately objected, though many civilians who read the full transcript of Trump's comments came away confused. "The full quote is actually sympathetic," tweeted Boston Globe columnist Scott Gilmore. One of my own family members told me, "I saw the video and it didn't seem that bad."
Personally, I don't care whether you think the comments disqualify Trump for the presidency, or are an honest mistake, or are just an offhand comment blown out of proportion by the media—so long as you understand why we should all avoid using similar language in the future. That corpsman who held that little girl's hand while she died, she may or may not suffer psychological effects from all the suffering she saw in Anbar. She may or may not suffer anxiety, depression, or sleeplessness. She may or may not wake up in the middle of the night, still seeing the image of that three-year-old girl and her injuries as clearly as she did nine years ago. But if she does, the critical thing to remember is this: it's not because she's weak.Read the rest of Phil Klay's open letter to Trump HERE.
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