The Warrior’s Homecoming

Today is Remembrance Day.

On November 11th, at the eleventh hour, I’ll be at my local cenotaph, standing alongside my fellow civilians, veterans and emergency services crews to honour and remember those have served, and those who have fallen in the line of duty.

I suspect that most of us have a connection to someone who has served in one of the many conflicts across the world since WWI and WWII to the present day. Or perhaps you know someone who battles to save lives on the streets of our cities?

For myself, one of my grandfathers served in both World Wars, and my other grandfather in WWII.

This is a time of year when I think of them more than usual.

The Normandy Landing – WWII

I write a lot about warriors in the ancient world, and the struggles they face on and off the battlefield.

My protagonists have fought long, bloody campaigns, far away from the comforts of civilization.

They’ve faced enemies that will not come out into the open, and sometimes must rely on supposed allies that they cannot trust.

For the warriors in my books, life is a constant fight for survival. They fight and kill and die for Rome, all for the purposes of advancing the Empire’s plans for conquest.

Artist impression of Roman cavalry ala engaging Caledonians

Indeed, one of the themes running through all my books is that of the powerful few sending many to die on the battlefields of the Empire. The soldiers are at the whim of those roaming and ruling the corridors of power.

Sound familiar?

My, how history does repeat itself.

Always at the back of my protagonist’s mind is the family that he misses. But if he thinks on them too much, if he loses his focus at any time, his enemies will tear him apart.

The warrior’s life has never been an easy one, especially when you have something to lose.

Mother and son reunited

But what happens when it’s time for the warrior to ‘come home’?

How is it even possible after the life they’ve led? Can they really ‘come home’?

How have warriors, men and women, dealt with the aftermath of war?

In his book The Warrior Ethos, Steven Pressfield asks a pertinent question:

All of us know brothers and sisters who have fought with incredible courage on the battlefield, only to fall apart when they came home. Why? Is it easier to be a soldier than to be a civilian?

In one way, perhaps life at war is more straightforward. Every day, every moment perhaps, your thoughts, your purpose, are focussed on the objective – take that position, hold that region, protect your brothers and sisters in arms, stay alive. In some situations, it’s kill or be killed.

We’re back to primal instincts here.

Stepping from the world of war into the civilian world is an unimaginable transition.

Today, we have any number of soldier’s aid societies and government programs and guides that are intended to help veterans of wars reintegrate into society.

These groups do good work that is much-needed, but is it enough? How can non-combatants in civilian society understand the physical and emotional trauma that is experienced by warriors after the battle?

In the ancient and medieval worlds, there were no societies or organizations whose purpose was to help returning warriors.

British Troops in WWI

Granted, in warrior societies such as Sparta, the majority of warriors probably enjoyed the fighting. All Spartan men were warriors. That was their purpose.

But in the Roman Empire, returning warriors would have had to reintegrate in a way similar to today, rather than ancient Sparta. Later Roman society valued not just fighting prowess, but also political acuity, the arts, rhetoric, skill at a trade, generally being a good citizen in society.

Many veterans are homeless when they come home…

Going back to peace time in a civilian society after the straightforward survival life of a prolonged campaign would have been tough.

We read about legionaries coming back to Rome and getting into all sorts of trouble, their days and nights taken up with gambling, brawling, and whoring.

It’s no wonder that generals and emperors created coloniae for retired soldiers on the fringes of the Empire. In these places, veterans would not be able to cause trouble in Rome, but they would also be given the opportunity to have some land and make a life for themselves.

Thamugadi – A Roman colonia in North Africa for retired veterans

In my book Warriors of Epona, my protagonist is reunited with his family. He has to face peace time.

How does he deal with this? How does his family deal with him?

War changes a person, whether it’s in the past or the present day. It’s an experience unlike any other and I salute anyone who faces the conflict that comes with stepping from the world of war into the world of peace, and vice versa.

In the Roman Empire, they were two very different battlefields, as they are, I suspect, today.

I imagine that reconciling the two worlds can push a man or woman to their very limits.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is real.

I’ve often thought that governments should step up more when it comes to helping veterans. How about free college education for veterans and their families? Or exemption from taxation for them and their families for all they have risked and sacrificed? What about a good pension?

Veterans today shouldn’t have to worry about finances or a roof over their heads. They have enough to deal with when the fighting is done.

I’ve read that Alexander the Great actually did these things for his veterans, and the Roman Empire granted lands to hers.

Any government people who happen to be reading this should take notes.

We can also do our part, whether it’s wearing a red poppy, thanking a veteran for their dangerous work, or donating to an organization that directly helps veterans and their families.

The very least we can do is be quiet for a minute at 11:00 a.m. on November 11th.

As ever, at this time of year, I feel like my words fall short, that they are not nearly enough. I’d like to close this by expressing my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the men and women in uniform who have risked, and are risking, their lives to keep us safe and free.

THANK YOU.

And thank you, dear readers, for following along.

In future, when you read a novel about warriors in the ancient world, do bear in mind that there are modern equivalents. The homecomings for many of them are far more difficult than we can imagine.

 

Today, there are numerous organizations whose sole purpose is to help veterans, young and old, to make the transition from war zone to home front.

This year, Eagles and Dragons Publishing has made donations to two organizations whom we believe are making a real difference in the lives of veterans.

Wounded Warriors Canada’s mission is “To honour and support Canada’s ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, Veterans, First Responders and their families.”

Eagles and Dragons Publishing has donated to the ‘Couples Overcoming PTSD’ program.

VETS Canada is committed to helping homeless and at-risk veterans reintegrate into civilian life.

Eagles and Dragons Publishing has made a general donation to this wonderful, volunteer-led organization helping veterans in need.

 

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Rewarding Sacrifice: What today’s world leaders can learn from Alexander the Great

corinthian-helmet-with-poppy

Every year around this time, I try to write a post dedicated to the theme of Remembrance Day, something of a hat-tip to the service men and women who are scattered over the Earth trying to protect the world from itself.

After all, everyone one of my books deals with warriors, the struggle of war, and the changes war wreaks upon the fighters, their families, and the world around them. Eagles and Dragons Publishing’s #1 best selling book in 2016, A Dragon among the Eagles, is dedicated to men and women in service (and I mean that with utmost sincerity), and every year I attend my local Remembrance Day ceremony and think of all those who have laid down, or are currently risking their lives for the rest of us.

D-Day at Omaha Beach, Normandy

D-Day at Omaha Beach, Normandy

I think of my two grandfathers who fought in the World Wars as part of the British Army and Greek Merchant Navy respectively, and of my cousin who lost her husband outside of Kandahar more recently.

poppy-field-remember-banner

But is this enough of a tribute?

I don’t think so.

Frankly, I feel like anything I do or say or write, no matter how sincere and heartfelt it is, is not enough to be of sufficient thanks.

And I’m not talking about honouring war or the politicians who send men and women to war for their own selfish ends. I’m not going to sully this post with talk of political motives.

The troops are not responsible for the wars that happened in the past, or that are happening as we speak.

British Troops in Afghanistan

British Troops in Afghanistan

Sadly, we’ve seen a whole new generation of veterans emerge, people younger than you or I. When I was young, the word veteran was relegated to grandparents wearing poppies, or stories from history.

Not so anymore.

And we’ve a seen a resurgence of anti-war, pro-soldier art in the form of books, music, illustration, poetry, film and more. So much that seeks to honour the sacrifices being made.

Is it important to create these works of art?

Absolutely.

But again, is it enough?

I still don’t think so…

A new generation of troops

A new generation of troops

Let me say this now. I don’t have any answers. You won’t leave this post thinking, wow, he’s hit it on the head!

That is not my intent. But my hope is that we can all be a bit more aware and leave this post with some questions in our minds.

My original intent with this post was to rant about the lack of support for troops returning from various tours in the current hell-holes of the earth.

But ranting isn’t productive either.

WWII veterans visiting a cemetery in Normandy

WWII veterans visiting a cemetery in Normandy

In truth, when I started research for this post, I did some digging on-line for programs intended to support veterans and their families here in Canada, as well as in the USA and United Kingdom.

To my surprise, there are a lot of support systems in place.

That’s good, because veterans of any age are dealing with a tonne of shite that you and I can only imagine. Here are just a few:

  • extreme uncertainty

  • re-integration into civilian society

  • proper health care for injuries sustained in line of duty

  • PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

  • relationship difficulties

  • unemployment

  • homelessness

  • financial uncertainty and debt

That is a pretty heavy list, and there are a lot more that could be added to it.

pained-serviceman

The support that is out there is largely charity and foundation-driven. Many groups seem to be doing some outstanding work, and they do get some government support, but perhaps not enough.

Shouldn’t the people sending troops into danger do their utmost to help those same troops when they return home and are in crisis as a result of combat?

Alexander riding into battle at the head of his troops

Alexander riding into battle at the head of his troops

This leads me to the title of this post: Rewarding Sacrifice: What today’s world leaders can learn from Alexander the Great

Whenever I think of the prime example of a true leader, I think of Alexander the Great.

Yes, I know many think of him as blood-thirsty tyrant, a maniacal conqueror, maybe even a selfish psychopath.

Whatever you think of Alexander the Great, however, you can’t deny that he shared in his soldiers’ hardships, and led by example. He inspired his troops to do what many thought was impossible, and after it all, including looming mutinies, they still loved him.

Alexander led from the front in every engagement, and when the battles were over, he knew how to reward his soldiers.

He knew that they had given everything to him, that they had been away from their families for years. They had fought and died, and Alexander, though disappointed with their grumblings at times, knew how to reward their sacrifices.

So what can world leaders learn from Alexander the Great?

be-a-marine-wwii

What prompted this question was a passage I came across while doing some research for the (still ongoing) Alexander novels.

When Alexander’s army had crossed the Gedrosian Desert at the end of their long march to India, and they arrived at Opis, the troops, jealous of ranks given to Persians, threatened mutiny again.

Alexander delivered his famous ‘speech at Opis’ then, speaking to his disgruntled troops, not as the son of Zeus, or the new ‘Great King’, but as one of them. He could do this, and his words did move them, for he had shared their toils. If you would like to read the full speech in Arrian’s Anabasis, CLICK HERE.

But what we are concerned with here is not the mutiny, or the speech itself. It is how Alexander rewarded the veterans, those unfit for service due to old age and injury, or those unwilling to go further.

According to A.P. Dascalakis in his book Alexander the Great and Hellenism, Alexander:

“…had paid off all their debts, without asking how they had been contracted: they received high pay, besides what they seized as booty after every siege. Most of them had golden wreaths, as immortal guerdons of their valor and of honor from him. And if any died, their death was glorious, their burial splendid; bronze statues of most of them were set up in their towns, their parents were honoured and were exempt of all tax or levy.”

Think about some of that for a moment…and then think of the list of things troops returning home have to deal with after serving.

Canadian troops in Afghanistan

Canadian troops in Afghanistan

From what I can tell, there are support programs to help veterans with PTSD, injuries, and general health care, but we still hear a lot about veterans living on the streets, unable to afford a home, however small, or even get a job.

Some might say ‘Hey, a lot of other people are out there facing those same things!’, and that is true, but not everyone steps forward to defend their fellow citizens on the battlefield.

Alexander the Great honoured his soldiers with wreaths and statues and his love, but more practically, he paid off their debts, gave them good pensions, and rewarded their families by exempting them from taxation. He also ordered that soldiers’ children be given a proper education.

This got me to wondering…

If returning veterans did not have to worry about debt, taxation, homelessness, little to no pension, or further education for themselves or their children, they could focus more on the intense healing needed for them to deal with PTSD, health issues, new disabilities, and re-integration into the society which they had stepped up to defend.

Out of the trenches in WWI

Out of the trenches in WWI

I think Alexander the Great had it right. Give your veterans the rewards they deserve, commensurate with the sacrifices they have made.

I know this is more practical, but sometimes I’m guessing that is what’s needed.

Here are some crazy ideas Alexander the Great would approve, and that world leaders could implement for veterans:

  • Forgive all debts for veterans and their families so that they can have a fresh start

  • Give them boundless health care to overcome their wounds (mental and physical)

  • Ensure all vets get high-level pensions

  • Create legislation that forces all colleges and universities to provide free tuition for veterans and veterans’ children

Some of this may already be done in some countries, but I suspect most not.

Does this mean higher taxes for the rest of us civilians?

Likely, yes. But these are things that I think we can do for those who put themselves on the line for the rest of us.

Greek Resistance fighters in WWII

Greek Resistance fighters in WWII

Call me naïve and idealistic, but with everything else vets are dealing with, money worries should not be among them.

As I said before, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know about all the programs for veterans and their families that are out there.

Here are a few that I know of and which I came across while researching this post:

In Canada:

Vets Canada

Veterans Transition Network

Wounded Warriors Canada

Veterans Affairs Canada

In the United Kingdom:

Veterans Aid

Veterans’ Foundation

Royal British Legion

Veterans UK

In the United States:

Disabled Veterans National Foundation

Veterans Support Foundation

United States Veterans Initiative

US Department of Veterans Affairs

If any of you know of some particularly helpful charities or programs in the country where you are, please do share the information in the comments below. You never know who will be reading and whether something here might help.

Also, if you haven’t heard about Theatre of War, you may want to check out this post on healing PTSD with ancient Greek tragedy. PTSD was a condition that afflicted ancient warriors as well as modern ones, and this particular theatre group has been making great headway in helping veterans to cope with PTSD. CLICK HERE to check it out.

As for what us civilians can do, it may not be enough, but every little must help.

Pin a poppy on your jacket, donate to a veterans’ charity, go to a ceremony, write a blog post, shake a vet’s hand, say thank you to a veteran.

It’s all better than doing nothing, lest we forget…

Thank you for reading

lone-poppy-lest-we-forget

 

This year, Eagles and Dragons Publishing is happy to make a donation to Wounded Warriors Canada and their COPE program which provides therapy to military families dealing with PTSD.

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