The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You About What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War
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What is it like to kill? What is it like to be under fire? How do you know what's right? What can you never forget?
In The Things They Cannot Say, award-winning journalist and author Kevin Sites asks these difficult questions of eleven soldiers and marines, who—by sharing the truth about their wars—display a rare courage that transcends battlefield heroics.
For each of these men, many of whom Sites first met while in Afghanistan and Iraq, the truth means something different. One struggles to recover from a head injury he believes has stolen his ability to love; another attempts to make amends for the killing of an innocent man; yet another finds respect for the enemy fighter who tried to kill him. Sites also shares the unsettling narrative of his own failures during war—including his complicity in a murder—and the redemptive powers of storytelling that saved him from a self-destructive downward spiral.
can’t wait to go home. I wanna get . . . um, my motorcycle only got three hundred and fifty miles on it. I can’t wait to get back and . . . KS: What kind of bike you got? WW: Just bought that new, uh, 636 Ninja. It’s Kawasaki. KS: What’s wrong with you, man? You guys always buy those when you go home. WW: Nah, I bought this, uh . . . I bought it before I came out here. I always wanted a bike. KS: Is “Willy” short for “William,” or is that what you go by? WW: Uh, William. I
are therefore immortal . . . Perhaps their own wounding is necessary. The look of shock and outrage on such a soldier’s face when that happens is likely to be unforgettable. At one cruel stroke he loses forever the faith in his physical immortality. His psychological adjustment to the new world he has to inhabit is certain to be harder than the physical recovery from his wounds.” After our Christmas meeting, my correspondence with Sperry over the next year is sporadic and shows his
to help me with my feelings. Nothing.” Nearly twenty years later Shelton is still overcome with the imagery, just as vivid and real as if he were looking at it now. After he tells me the story, he begins weeping, inconsolably, into the phone. I begin to realize what a risk I’ve been taking in asking these soldiers and Marines to take me back to their most difficult moments, to relive their most painful memories of war. While I might be able to get them to take me there, I wonder, while
bottles clipped beneath us on the D-rings of our web harnesses, which, with 32 percent concentration of oxygen, will be toxic at the depth we’re going to but life-sustaining in the shallows of our decompression time, once—if—we make it back up. For my friend and me, fellow dive master and former sniper in the Dutch army Sebastiaan Schoonhoven, this is not just a foolish endeavor but nearly an idiotic one, yet we feel compelled to do it anyway, to test our courage, to test our limits, to flout
drinks too much, despite stomach problems that indicate he shouldn’t drink at all. He tells me about one night when a woman kept pushing him to give her his seat at the bar. She became annoying to the point where he lost all patience. “At that moment I was in Afghanistan in my head. That’s why I couldn’t take it and I snapped.” He began flinging over plastic tables until the staff and other male patrons got him under control, finally ejecting him from the bar. Part of what bothers