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BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…

KARL MARLANTES: I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. To the story of a warrior, told in his own words. What he has to say is for all of us to hear, but especially those of us who have never been in combat.

Karl Marlantes, a small-town boy from Oregon, the son of a soldier, a graduate of Yale, landed in Vietnam in October 1968, and was placed in charge of 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. One year later he came home with two Purple Hearts, the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, ten Air Medals, and memories that screamed at him.

He finished his degree in philosophy at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship and spent the next thirty years in business, all the while wrestling with the demons that came home with him.

Finally, in the late 90s, he asked the Veterans Administration for help, and began treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Two years ago he published a novel. He had been working on it ever since he came home from Vietnam; Matterhorn, the story of a young second lieutenant leading a rifle platoon of 40 marines on a remote jungle hill. Critics called it "a powerhouse: tense, brutal honest," "unforgettable," "moving and intense."

Karl Marlantes has now written a second book, a nonfiction memoir and meditation on what it is like to go to war. Read it and you will be closer than you can imagine to the mind and heart of the warrior in battle and after. America has been at war for over a decade now – two million Americans have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and most of us here at home still don't get it. Karl Marlantes and his book will help immeasurably.

Karl Marlantes, welcome.

KARL MARLANTES: It's nice to be here, thank you.

BILL MOYERS: I haven't been sure about how to start this interview. I've never been to war. I've never looked a man in the eye, who was trying to kill me, and kill him before he could. I'm not even sure that I can ask a question that doesn't strike you as banal, against your experience. I guess what I'm saying is that there's this divide between the warrior and the rest of us. And that divide can't really be crossed, can it?

KARL MARLANTES: No. But I think that what has to change is this inhibition that we all feel about asking. You know, you come back and there is this code of silence, you know? And both, I call it the civilian and the veteran have it. And it gets in the way. And it's all done out of trying to be kind. But you know, it's like, "Well, I don't want to say something that upsets him. Or I don't want to--" and the fact of the matter is if someone would genuinely ask, "Well, you know, can you talk about it?" I think most guys would be delighted, you know?

And sure there are those who are going to say, "I don't want to talk about it." You know, the classic. And there are going to be those. So then you wait a year or two and ask him again. And believe me, at some point, they're going to want to talk about it. I mean, it's a horrendous experience that people just need to talk about, to connect. And there is this divide, our culture reinforces it.

BILL MOYERS: So I'll start with this. When you have killed, for the rest of us, are you ever to feel that you are one of us again?

KARL MARLANTES: That's a great question. There is a sense of alienation that I think most veterans deal with. And it is because you have done something that most people think is horrific. And the fact of the matter is, if you were a proud soldier or Marine, you felt good about it. And then you say, "Hm, maybe I should feel bad that I feel good about this." And so you get these moral reverberations going around in your head that you're sure that no one else is going to understand. I think that that's probably not true. I think people with a certain amount of wisdom can certainly try to understand it. But you do have a sense of alienation. I think it's one of the issues of trying to reintegrate.

BILL MOYERS: Talk a little bit about that further, about that estrangement. Is it guilt? Is it… what is it?

KARL MARLANTES: Well, it's hard to say that it's guilt. Because I've killed people, more than one. And I feel sadness about it, a great deal of sadness. That's different than guilt. And-- but I think that if someone's going to talk about it, you have the fear that they won't understand what you're saying. And that they'll judge you badly.

And so why open yourself up to that kind of a wound? Just, you know, it's just better to just keep it quiet, because if they do misunderstand what you're really trying to say, how you really felt when you were 19 and pulled the trigger, and they don't get it, then you're in this morass. And then maybe you'll lose a friend. And maybe the girl won't like you. And I mean, there's all these things that when you come back for more, most people, like Vietnam veterans were 19 and 20 years old. And so, you know, you're worried about, you know, whether your hair looks right at that age. So, you know--

BILL MOYERS: Were you able to tell your friends why you were no longer like them?

KARL MARLANTES: No, I didn't talk about it. It was just-- that was the code. And it was, again, that war was highly politicized. We were just a little bit afraid to, you know, at least I was to just-- to come out, because a lot of my friends were virulently against that war. And how would they judge me, you know, if I let them know?

BILL MOYERS: You write in "What It's Like to Go to War" that "the violence of combat assault[s] psyches, confuses ethics, and tests souls." This is the result, not only of the violence you suffer, but the violence you inflict?

KARL MARLANTES: Absolutely. Yes, you have to take that into consideration. I mean, we are raised in a Judeo-Christian culture. I mean, "Thou shalt not kill,” even for the atheists in our culture is a tenet you just do not violate unless you're, you know, crazy or a sociopath or something. And so all your young life, that's drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you know, you're 18 or 19 and they're saying, "Go get 'em and kill for your country."

And then you do that. And then you come back. And then it's like, "Well, thou shalt not kill" again. Well, believe me, that is a difficult thing to deal with. And I think what's even more difficult is that the only being that should actually take life is the one that gives life. And that's God. Or the gods. And you take a young man and you put him in the role of a God where he is asked to take a life, that’s something that no 19-year-old is able to handle. I mean, that's-- you know, without really, really having to stretch. And so that's a big part of this, when you say, you know, “Is the infliction of death or pain on others part of it?” Absolutely. Because you've stepped into a role that ordinary people never taught you.

BILL MOYERS: You write in here the "lack of mature judgment" is what makes young men, especially teenagers, "ideal weapons of the state."

KARL MARLANTES: Yes, absolutely. When you're 18 or 19 years old-- well, you know, you've had kids. I have kids. You can't get them to put a raincoat on when they go out in the rain, because they're not thinking that way. They don't-- I mean, apparently, we've got the brain science today that the part of the brain that does judgment and foresight is not even developed until you're at least 21. And so you have these young people who have got the incredible bodies of a 19 year old, the stamina, the speed, all of that. And they don't hesitate to do what you ask of them. Can you imagine the platoon of Marines, who are 35? "Oh, wait a second, Lieutenant, let's think about this. Maybe we should have the Air Force come in and hit them for a couple of days before we do this." I mean, a 19 year old is just-- they're going to say, "Take the hill. They're going to do it." That is exactly right.

BILL MOYERS: What makes an effective killer in combat?

KARL MARLANTES: First of all, competence with weapons. He can shoot straight. He can make sure that his weapon works. The second one, I think, is very important, is the ability to do ultimate teamwork. You lose your sense of being an individual. You are part of-- I can only go back to-- the hunting group-- that feeling of “It's ‘we,’ not ‘me.’” And that you are willing to sacrifice your "me ," both as a physical body and as an individual, to make sure that the "we" of the unit gets through this okay.

BILL MOYERS: You describe a scene in which one of our helicopters has crashed on a hill, while trying to come to the relief of some of the Marines. And they're going to be taken out, the crew's going to be taken out, the enemy's at-- the North Vietnamese are after them. And all of you guys are below the summit of that hill. And suddenly, without even a command, you begin to act not as individuals, but as one. And you're all moving up the hill like an organism.

KARL MARLANTES: Exactly. Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: And you say it's not "me," it's "we."

KARL MARLANTES: Exactly. We are-- we can't be killed. I can be killed, but that is an important part of the infantry.

BILL MOYERS: How does that happen?

KARL MARLANTES: I think it's genetic, in a lot of ways. I mean, you think about the way that our species evolved. The way we got protein was groups of young men, who would go out and basically be willing to risk their lives so that the group would bring back some meat. And if one or two of them were missing, well, the tribe lived.

And I think that the ones who didn't feel that way got weeded out. Not only because-- they didn't bring the meat back, as well. So I got a feeling there's a deep genetic component to it. And then, again, you go through training. And I think that the military can, in fact capitalize on that. And I don't want to use that in a pejorative sense, at all.

BILL MOYERS: It's their job.

KARL MARLANTES: It's their job. And they, for example, in the Marines, when you screw up, you stand to the side, and everybody else in the platoon is punished. That's the way they start to get you to think that if you screw up, these people are going to die. They don't punish you. They punish the other guy. Well, then you, it starts to get through your head, "Oh my God, I better not screw up." And you become part of a group that way. And that's important training.

BILL MOYERS: So does boot camp teach you to kill or does boot camp strip away the restraints and the strictures, the corsets, so to speak, that have contained that primitive spirit?

KARL MARLANTES: That’s what I think is that it removes, I call it the “cobwebs of civilization” because they’re so fragile. I mean, there is a dark side that can come out instantly if the bonds are removed.

BILL MOYERS: You were in boot camp.

KARL MARLANTES: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: How did you go from being a Yale graduate, a Rhodes scholar, a nice guy from Oregon to a really, a killing machine? You killed. You say in your book there were twenty or more people dead because of you .

KARL MARLANTES Yes, yeah

BILL MOYERS How did you get that inhibition out?

KARL MARLANTES: I'll have to think about that. Can you give me a second? I can remember there was, the Marines have something called pugil sticks. They're large staves. And they have sort of a padded, like it looks like one of the old cannon ramrod things on the end of it. And they teach you how to fight another person with these. And you get knocked around. I mean, you know, they put a football helmet on your head. And away you go, okay?

You're young. You're very strong. You're fast. And you've got a whole bunch of people in a circle around you. And when we were in high school, we used to have kids fight like that. I mean, the champions would fight and the people would be in a circle around them. It was identical. And I remember saying, "Okay, one of us is going to lose." And I just went wild. I mean, I remember, I think I terrified the guy.

I mean, they-- I think I won, because I just started screaming. I just let this stuff out. And I'll tell you, it was an unbelievable feeling, this raw, raw animal that had been sitting there a long time. I mean, it was just, it felt wonderful. I just beat the hell out of this guy.

BILL MOYERS: In boot camp?

KARL MARLANTES: In boot camp. And I went, "Wow, that felt good. And it was like suddenly I didn’t care if I hurt him. One of us was going to lose and one of us was going to win. And that's all that went through my mind. And so it wasn't like I was taught something. It was like I was put in a situation where you either have to do it or you're not going to do it.

And when you get in combat, you're going to die if you don't do it. And believe me, the old civilizing things that's saying, "Well, let's be nice. Let's see if we can be good to the guy and stuff." It's like when it's your organism at stake, all that stuff finally disappears. And that's why I think there's a deep genetic component to us. That we just don't want to admit. It comes out. Carl Jung talks a lot about shadow, how we have a violent side of us that we don’t like to talk about.

BILL MOYERS: So that moment the North Vietnamese soldiers, young men like yourself stood up opposite you, about to throw a grenade at you. Do you think there's a correlation?

KARL MARLANTES: I think there is.

BILL MOYERS: What did you do?

KARL MARLANTES: Well, the thing was, I can remember-- we were in an assault. And suddenly, we could see what we call CHICOMs, these potato masher hand grenades, flying through the air. And I got knocked down and blinded in one eye. And my radio man was hurt. And so it was serious. And we threw grenades back. And they threw some grenades back. And finally, I go like, "We're going to run out of grenades." So the lieutenant finally gets his brains working. And I said, "Okay, you throw some grenades." There's three guys that were with me. "And I'm going to sneak around the side. And when these two guys pop up, I'll get 'em. When they pop up to throw the grenades back at us."

I got around in the position. And I could see that one of them was already dead. And they were young. Same as our guys, just, you know, I guess they were 17, 18 years old. And the one who was still alive was wounded. And I was wounded. And I was laying on the ground. And had him across the sights of my M-16. And I remember clearly wishing I could speak Vietnamese. I couldn't.

And I can remembering whispering out loud, "Don’t throw it. I won't pull the trigger. Don't throw it. I won't pull the trigger." And the kid snarled at me, literally, like that. And he threw the grenade right at me. And I pulled the trigger. And the feeling was, like, "Okay, we're in this fight. One of us is going to come out." And so I killed him. And it was years later that I was driving down I-5, which is the interstate that goes through Oregon and Washington. And, dark, middle of the night. And, you know, I love country music on the radio. And nobody bothers you, you know? You're just, everything's under control. And his eyes appeared in the windshield.

And I'm psychologically aware enough to know that, "Uh-oh, this guy is coming back. And he's coming back. And you need to deal with it." And that was the genesis of that second book. I started to write down what I was really trying to think about to reconcile, “What was that?” I mean, there we were. He would have killed me. I would have killed him. And both of us probably didn't want to do that.

I mean, as soon as we got out of that situation, we'd go, like, "What was this all about?" And especially the Vietnam War, you never knew what that was all about. He at least had the moral, whatever the word is, side of saying, "Well, these guys are in my country. And we want them to leave." But it astounds me how young men will get into that situation. And they'll do the job. Both of us were going to do it.

BILL MOYERS: Both of you going to do the job. One of you will win.

KARL MARLANTES: One of us will win, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Was that the first time you felt any emotion at having killed?

KARL MARLANTES: Yeah, no, it wasn't. It was one of. The first time that I ever felt the emotion about killing, I was in one of these sort of typical California groups, where everybody's, you know, sharing their deep experiences. And the leader of the group asked me--

BILL MOYERS: A therapy group? A therapy--

KARL MARLANTES: A therapy group, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: Were you in therapy?

KARL MARLANTES: Well it wasn't therapy. It was, you know, we were a bunch of hippies. I mean, you know, we were sort of, you know, sharing our deep experiences. You know, I mean, God, it's hard to remember the '70s. But that was part of it. And my wife had said, you know, "This is a good thing. We should go to one of these things." And so I was there. I'm game, you know? And one of the group leaders asked me to imagine telling the mother and sister of somebody I'd killed that I was sorry.

BILL MOYERS: You mean going to the Vietnamese family and saying--

KARL MARLANTES: So I started to imagine that. And I fell apart. I mean, I fell apart. I started sobbing. I started, I mean, I couldn't stop crying for three days. And then I got it under control. And I shoved it back down again. And it wasn't until that night that this specific guy came back again. And you can only shove it down so long. And it finally comes out.

BILL MOYERS: And you had felt no emotion at the moment you had killed him?

KARL MARLANTES: Other than exhilaration, because now he wasn't going to throw any more hand grenades at us.

BILL MOYERS This happened in 1968-69. It's years later that you go to the therapy group. And then you have this apparition appear before you in the car. But it's 30 years later or so before you seem to really come to terms with it. Were you wrestling with this trauma? With, I think, its unhealed wounds?

KARL MARLANTES: Yeah, that's right. Not really. What was happening is that I was exhibiting behaviors that had indicated that I wasn't wrestling with it. I mean, I was doing-- things would start happening that would puzzle me. I mean, one day I can remember I bumped my head against the cupboard in the kitchen. And I turned around and took the thing out with my fists.

I mean, there was shattered crockery and tin cans all over the kitchen floor. And the cupboard was shattered to shreds. I beat it with my fists. And then I came back from that. And I was like, "Huh, wow, I was really mad." You know? So but I didn't for a moment think that it had something to do with the war. Well, it's a classic post-traumatic stress reaction. You are taken by surprise. And you aren't thinking.

The way that PTSD works is that most casualties occur early in a person's tour. Because his brain hasn't adapted to combat. And the way it adapts to combat is we think, okay, hear a noise. "Oh, wonder what that is? Is that a bird? Or is that the wind? Maybe it's the NVA" Well, by the time you'd gone through that process--

BILL MOYERS: North Vietnamese.

KARL MARLANTES: North Vietnamese. It’s too late. You're dead. So what happens in extreme adrenaline modes is that the wiring changes so that it no longer goes through the frontal cortex. You hear the sound. It goes immediately to the amygdala, which is fight/flight/freeze. There's no thought anymore. You just turn toward the sound and fire. And after you've gotten into that position, you are likely to survive way more than someone who hasn't.

The trouble is you can't turn it back. Because you're now rewired. And that's why it's so difficult for combat veterans. So you get surprised like that. You get, you hit the cupboard. There's no thought. "I wonder what happened?" I just hit the cupboard. The cupboard was destroyed before I finally started thinking again. I wasn't thinking.

And I mean, it's sort of funny. But it's pathetic at the same time. I remember a guy came up behind me in an intersection. He honked his horn. Because I was slow off the mark. I was trying-- I had my little girl with me at the time. Sophie, one of my five children. And when I came to my senses, in other words, when I started thinking again, I was on the hood of his car trying to kick his windshield in.

I had jumped from the car, out of the door, back to this, you know-- name any expletive you want, and I was kicking on his windshield. I went, "Holy moly." I mean, this is weird. And I didn't for a moment think, so I wasn't dealing with it. All this stuff started happening. And then finally I figured out that, "Oh, something has to be done."

BILL MOYERS: What did you learn in combat about heroism? You were a brave man.

KARL MARLANTES: Yeah, I got medals. And, they're medals that I can go into any Navy base or Marine base and get free drinks with. They're that good. And-- two things. The first is how do you deal with the fact that you get such a high medal? Navy Cross is the highest medal that the Marines can hand out. A Congressional Medal of Honor is handed out by Congress. It's like being the halfback on the football team.

If you're a little narcissistic, you actually think you made the touchdown. But if it weren't for ten other guys blocking, you wouldn't have made the touchdown. And so the guy that gets the medal is the one that gets recognized. But he's alive because there were a bunch of other people that were doing their jobs. And they didn’t get medals for it. So that's the first thing.

So I kind of, I like to wear that medal thinking about the rest of them. More importantly, and I had personal experience with this, this is one of the things that troubles me, is that I wanted a medal. I saw my dad's medals from World War II. And they were nothing big, but to an eight year old, they were bigger than life, you know? And I want one of those, just like my dad and my uncle. They got medals.

So I wanted that. And when I was 22 years old, I still wanted one. And we got into a situation where we were assaulting a hill. And one of the kids had-- his rifle was jammed. And he couldn't get it to fire. And he was just shaking and nervous. And so I'd been there while by that time, I was pretty experienced. And I knew right away that he hadn't seated his magazine properly. So I just grabbed it from him and I seated it properly and I fired a round.

I said, "Okay, now don't go up there." Because I could see that the NVA had cut away the brush about two foot off the ground. So that there was probably a machine gun uphill. And what they would do is they'd see the legs and they'd shoot the legs. And then you'd fall down into the-- where the machine gun fire was going. That was plain as day to me. I said, "Just don't go up there. There's a machine gun up there. Go around this way."

And I figured, "Okay, he's on his way. We’re fine." I was on to the next task. And he sprinted up the hill, right up where that stuff had been cleared away. Why? He was embarrassed that he had jammed his rifle. I don't know what it was. He was going to show me. He just lost-- anyway, he got shot.

And I heard him go, "I'm hit." Because the machine gun had opened up. And I wait and I wait and there's no sound. And my former platoon sergeant was there. And so I said to him, I said, "This kid's hit. And I'm going to go get him." He said, "Don't go get him, you'll get killed." I said, "Look," and I got sort of this, like, "I'm in a movie," feeling.

It was odd. I said, "I'll tell you what, I'll go get him, but if I get him, will you write me up for a medal?" And I was joking. But I really wasn't joking, either. I mean, I kind of wanted a medal, you know? And I thought, "This is a good chance. I'll pull a guy-- I mean, I saw that-- you know, John Wayne did that, right? And so I should be able to do that.

And I remember this guy. I mean, you know, he was an old man, as far as I was concerned. He was probably 25. He said, "Sure, Lieutenant. I'll write you up. It'll be posthumous. But that's fine." And I went up to get this kid. And I had to fire my rifle to keep the machine gunners heads down. And so I was firing my rifle. And he was laying with his head down this way toward me, feet uphill, head down.

And I got up there. And I couldn't move him. He was bigger than I was. And so I finally got him sideways and I started to roll down the hill with him, just me wrapped around him, to get him. And the machine gun was firing at us. And I can remember going like, "If they hit us, I hope this guy's on top." That was going through my mind. It's like, "I hope he's on top, not me, when the bullet hits."

I got down and we fell over a little ledge. And there was a Navy corpsman there that started to work on him right away. And he-- you know, I mean it's just so amazing when I think about this scene. It's just-- talking about it. The kid was vomiting. And this Navy corpsman was taking the vomit and spitting it out and then blowing air into him. And taking the vomit and spitting it out and blowing air into him.

And-- then he stopped. And he looked me and said, "There's no use, Lieutenant. I just saw this." And he held the kid's head. And there was a bullet hole right in the top of his head. And I thought, "Well, okay, he's dead." And I went off, I was busy. That night, after the battle was over, I thought, "How did that bullet get in his head? He was laying face down, head down, toward me. And I was shooting uphill, over the top of his body to try and keep the machine gunners' heads down. Maybe I put it there." Well, believe me, I got a medal for that. Now what was wrong with that medal was that I had personal ego needs intertwined with what was the real function of a hero.

BILL MOYERS: You write about how there is some mystical quality about killing. And that brought me up short, because it's hard to imagine anything so brutal and so cruel as killing having any kind of religious or spiritual ecstasy with it. What did you mean?

KARL MARLANTES: Well, there's two things that are involved here. The first is that our idea of religion, in this culture, is pretty much all sweetness and light. We like Christmas. We don't like Good Friday. And other religions have terrible demons. I mean, you think about the Aztecs or some of the Native American cultures that the religions had ritual torture.

There were dark-- there's darkness to religion that our particular culture doesn't want to encompass the whole breadth of the spiritual experience. That's the first thing that is worth remembering. The second-- in other words, it's like the mystic may see heaven and maybe the soldier sees hell. But it's the same kind of experience.

And I'll explain why I think it's the same kind of experience. I don't know if it is the same experience. But if you look at all the mystics, they have four things that they strive to do. One is they are always aware of their mortality. Don Juan says death is always over your shoulder. Soldiers for sure. Second, they're always in the present moment. In combat, there is no thought about the future or the past. You are completely focused, completely focused on the terrible present moment.

The third thing that mystics do is they overcome their own sense of ego in terms of seeing that they have to move beyond that to the good of others. And in combat, time after time after time, you see people sacrificing their lives or their limbs to help their friends. It's the same thing. And then the fourth thing is that almost all of these mystics are part of a group. They're, you know, in a convent or a monastery. They're part of the Sangha, if they're Buddhist. They're a part of the Umma if they're Muslim. They're part of a larger group.

BILL MOYERS: A church if you're--

KARL MARLANTES: A church, absolutely. Yeah. And what is a soldier? He's part of a larger group. So these things are very similar. But as I said, maybe it's just the vision of heaven and hell, which Blake said was sort of the same thing, as well. And I think that that's what we're dealing with.

BILL MOYERS: What did you learn in war about evil?

KARL MARLANTES: You know what I learned about evil is that it is a real something that exists. And that it's always possible for us to tune into it. It's like it's part of being in the world. We personify-- the Christians came up with the concept of the devil. And I don't believe it that way. But I do believe that we are in a world of opposites. And that somehow we have to make our choices. And that evil exists.

I had an experience with it that was pretty profound for me. I had gone to a mass for the dead with a Capuchin monk, talking to my friends that had died and talking to the enemies that I had killed. It was a very moving experience. When that was done, I went back home. That night, there was a presence that came into the room that absolutely terrified me. I mean, it was beyond anything I had ever encountered in my life. It was the archetype of all shadow.

It was-- it felt like it filled the room. And it was going to get me. And I did everything I could. I mean, I reverted to a five year old. I had a crucifix. And I was like, "Don't get me." You know, I was going to, you know, strike his heart with a wooden stake. I mean, I didn't know what was going on. But it was something that I felt that was absolutely real.

Now some people could say, "Oh, well, you were just projecting your own darkness out on the--" I don't care which way it happened. It was a very real event. And so it is there. It's waiting.

BILL MOYERS: What came of that experience that night?

KARL MARLANTES: Well, this was fascinating. I went back to the Capuchin monk. And I said-- and he said, "Whoa, I think we've been messing with something that might be bigger than we are." And he called a guy up from his order, who was in the Vatican someplace, who was more familiar with the particular ceremony. And he said that, you know, "If you're going to break evil's hold on someone's soul, evil's going to fight back."

And he said "This is probably what's happening." In other words, I had gone through this ceremony where I was beginning to distance myself. And I was beginning to understand. And I was no longer acting in this unconscious way, like, jumping on people's-- you know, hoods of their cars and kicking their windshields in. And it was sort of like he used this metaphorical language. Evil was fighting back.

And what was so funny about it is that I was in a veterans' group at the time. And was a Chumash Indian named Bear who was in the group with us. And he was a long-range patrol veteran from the Army. And I was a little bit shaky, you know? And so Bear comes up to me after the meeting. He says, "What's the matter with you today? You're jumpy as hell."

And I start telling him about this experience I had. Then he looked at me and said, "Oh, evil spirits. We know what to do with that." So we went to his uncle, or great uncle, who was a shaman. And he came back with a bowl, I mean, this was, you know, took a few hours. He said, "Just wait here."

And he came back and he had a little tape recording. His uncle had made a little tape recording. And he had some sage and stuff like this. He goes, "My uncle says just go back to your house and light this stuff on fire and play these chants and sing along with it. And the evil spirits are going to be taken care of."

So I went back and I did that. And it all evened out. And I was like, "What is this all about? It's just this symbolic, ritual stuff that we ignore in our current culture. That gets into some very deep parts of our soul that the Chumash Indians did understand. And I'll tell you a funny ending to this is that actually, after this experience, I joined the Catholic Church. And I told a friend about it. And he said, "Marlantes!" He said, "Why didn't you become a Chumash?"

BILL MOYERS: The paradox to me is this side of you that you've just described versus the other Karl Marlantes, who not only killed in Vietnam, but as you say in the book, burned men with napalm, spewed burning white phosphorous that burned deep holes right through their bodies. And then you go on to say, but this was not like killing humans. This was like killing animals.

KARL MARLANTES: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: It was when I finally killed one very young fellow that I realized I had killed the enemy.

KARL MARLANTES: Right. Again, if you are raised not to kill another human being, how you psychologically get around that -- I use the word "pseudo-speciation." It's a large word, but it means you basically turn someone else not into a human, but into an animal. And we're very good at this, in our culture. We have all kinds of names that dehumanize people. "Kraut, nigger, gook--" you know, you can name them, "towelhead, haji."

And what that does is that that suddenly makes that person not human anymore. It makes that person an animal who's not only trying to kill you, he's trying to kill your friends. Well, it's way easier to kill an animal than a human. And so there's this sort of thing where you just slip into it. They aren't human anymore. And you get the job done.

The trick is to come back. And we don't deal with that a lot in military training. There was none when I was in the military. This idea of slipping into the point where you're killing an animal and then saying you've got to come back. And a couple of things happened to me. One is kid who broke through that. But there were some guys that had cut off the ears, I mean we had been fighting for days. And their friends had been killed. And the dead bodies laying around the hole. So they cut some ears off.

BILL MOYERS: Of the corpses of the enemy?

KARL MARLANTES: The corpses of the enemy. And they stuck them to their helmets. And like I said, these are 18-year-olds. So it's like a high school letter. "Hey, look, I shot these two guys." You know? And I said, you know, "You can't do this." You know? And so I punished these two kids. And I said, "You're going to bury those bodies."

And this is not trivial, because we were still being shot at. There was a sniper around, who kept, you know, dinging at us. And so they had to go down below the lines and dig a hole. And they both started crying. And I went, "This restored--" I didn't know that, at the time. Twenty years later, I'm remembering it. That restored their humanity. They realized they were burying another person. And they felt sadness.

Again, I don't think the word is guilt. Those people were trying to kill us. But the sadness that those people were there just like we were. They were 18. We were 19, 18. And there we are killing each other. That broke through for that moment. And that's how you get around it is that you kill them when they're animals. And then you have to try to come back. If you don't, then the atrocities can start. I mean, you think of My Lai. You think of any of the atrocities, whichever enemy has contributed to them. It's because you're no longer seeing humans.

BILL MOYERS What did you think when you read that story back in the early part of this year? Sergeant Bales in Afghanistan went on a rampage and killed, I think 17--

KARL MARLANTES: Seventeen.

BILL MOYERS: --civilians, many of them were kids or children. Did anything flash through your--

KARL MARLANTES: Oh yeah. The first thing that flashed through my mind is, "What in the world is that guy doing over there on his fourth tour?" I mean--

BILL MOYERS: Fourth tour?

KARL MARLANTES: Fourth tour. And he had been wounded. And he was from the Stryker Brigade, which is at Fort Lewis, near where I live. These guys consider themselves elites. And they are not the kind of person that wants to-- that says, "Well, I think I'll stay back this time." They want to go with the unit. They're an elite Army group.

And yet he raised his hand. And he said, "I don't-- this'll be my fourth tour. I don't feel too good about this. I'm a little shaky. Things are not going well for me right now." And that's a cry for help. And someone should have listened to that.

So they sent him anyway. And I think he snapped. Clearly he snapped. And I think about, there's sort of several ways that the mind can go. In World War II, there was only-- several ways out. The war had to be over or you had to be wounded bad enough that they never sent you back or you could die. And about a quarter of the casualties were psychiatric. A quarter.

What that's telling me is that the mind says, "I've got to get out of here. This is just not good for me. This is not good for me. How am I going to do it? I'm going to go crazy. That's how I'm going to do it." And how did they solve that? They said, "We’re going to give them all a length of service, so that they know when it's over." Vietnam, you know, the Army had 12 months, the Marines had 13 months. The psychiatric casualty rate dropped to something like two percent.

But afterwards, the PTSD rates and all that stuff were just as rampant as they ever were. But it's because of that psychological thing. "There is a way out. All I have to do is survive this long." I think if a guy goes over there, he either can commit suicide or he can go crazy.

BILL MOYERS: I was going to ask you if you thought suicide was a way out in their minds? Because as you probably know the rate of suicides of our troops is now back up. It's about one a day, so far this year. And that's higher than it's been in several years. Now I know every example is different. But generally, from your experience, what do you think about the rising number of suicides in our troops today?

KARL MARLANTES: Well, I'm with you. I mean, who am I to say? But I have my theories. And I'll be happy to tell you. First of all, I think it is because we've laid an enormous burden on a tiny percentage of the population. I was at Fort Bragg-- actually, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and a young man and his wife came up to me. And they looked like they were four years out of high school. I mean, they were young. She had a baby in one hand and a toddler in the other. And she starts crying at the signing table. And finally, she gets it under control. And, "What's the matter?" And she turns to her husband and she says, "Well, he's shipping out again tomorrow." So I turn to this young man. I say, "Wow, is this your second tour?" "No, sir, it's my seventh."

BILL MOYERS: Seventh?

KARL MARLANTES: Seventh. Is this a Republic? We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. And you lay that kind of a burden on—

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean "is this a Republic?"

KARL MARLANTES: Well, who's participating? And why should someone do seven tours? I mean, aren't there other people that could at least do two or three, you know?

I mean, you think of the percentages of people that are actually engaged in combat as part of the military is very small. And so it's not just that the military, which is about, I think, a half of one percent of the population. Within that, the people who are actually doing the majority of fighting are a tiny percentage of that, as well. And the whole weight and the whole burden falls on those people.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, before Vietnam, it was called "combat neurosis," "battle fatigue," "shell shock." Then your generation gave us the post-Vietnam syndrome, which now we know as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Have you thought about how combat was different from what's happening in Afghanistan today or in Iraq over those last--

KARL MARLANTES: Oh yeah, I've thought about it. And you think about the average World War II veteran. I mean I don't have my stats, but it's something like 40 days of combat in a three and a half year war for our side.

And they would go into combat, like the Marines would take an island, fierce, ugly, terrible stuff. And then they'd pull them out. And they would be safe. They'd go to Australia or someplace to refit. And then they'd hit another island. In Vietnam, it was the first time that when you finish a firefight, you were still there. You were-- there was no safe place to go.

And so you were always on alert for the entire time you were there, if you were a grunt. Afghanistan and Iraq are just more of the same. Because again, there's no place where you're safe.

If you need to go on the road, well, you're going to get an IED. And it's going to, you know, kill you. And you have no control over that. You don't know where it is. You can't fight back. There's no enemy to sort of take the hill from. You're just suddenly blasted and dead or, you know, serious brain trauma. And then the next day, you know, if you're one of the l-- survivors, well, then you're back on the road again. And so again, the number of days that you are exposed to the fear is way higher. Way higher.

And I think that the inability to see that you're making progress, you have this sense that we're just here doing this every day and nothing is changing. How do you know when you've won the hearts and minds? My dad knew when he crossed the Rhine. He knew that they were making progress. My uncle knew when they when they went to the Philippines and they got one island than another one. It's like we're making progress here. Vietnam was the first war where the goal was just not clear. So you're in combat all the time. And there's no sense of what are we trying to accomplish? So the meaning gets hidden. And I think that's an important part of it.

BILL MOYERS: Once upon a time, everyone knew someone who had been or was at war. And I can't tell you I know anyone today who is fighting in Afghanistan or even the family of somebody who's fighting in Afghanistan. That has to have some effect, does it not, on the social contract that we all share?

KARL MARLANTES: Oh, I think it does. I think it has an enormous effect on it. I went to Yale. And there's Woolsey Hall, which is a big hall in Yale. And it has a bronze plaque that's a massive size that has the names of hundreds of dead Yalies from World War I, World War II, Korea. One, I think, died in Vietnam who I knew. And I don't know if any-- I don't wish it on any. But the elites do not send their kids into the military anymore.

BILL MOYERS: I wonder if that has some effect on the suicides, the feeling, "What does it matter? You know, who cares?" Because soldiers, I read, sometimes feel double crossed, twice. Once when they go and discover they've been lied to about the war. And then when they come home and find nobody gives a damn about what it costs them.

KARL MARLANTES: Exactly. No, I think it does have an enormous amount of-- because it's the sense that you're carrying the entire burden. And no one is aware of it, no one wants to cop to it. I mean, you think about what it takes to get a soldier over to Afghanistan. You and I have to pay taxes. People have to train scientists to build bombs. People have to finance factories to do the building. Everyone in this country is involved in that war.

What the soldier did is at the end of an enormous long chain, he pulled the trigger. That was his part. But we all like to believe that he did it. We didn't do it. And that is going to alienate a person right away. It's like, "Yeah, I did it. And I'm the only one that is responsible for this? Why are you laying it all on me?" That's one big problem. And I think it's a problem of alienation, when people come back, and they realize that nobody really cared. And they don't even want to take responsibility for the fact that they were part of the enormous machinery that had all this take place.

So I do think that it's important. And I think that these people are proud. They're proud to be in the military. They are volunteers. And they generally want to do a good job and all that. But I can't think that they're not getting a bit resentful. Seven tours? It's like, "What are you guys doing to help here? Aren't we supposed to all be rowing the same boat?"

BILL MOYERS What do returning veterans need?

KARL MARLANTES: Here's my ideal of a return. First of all, they don't need cheering. It ain’t football. And I think that a lot of non-veterans think that they're supporting the troops by doing, you know, hullabaloo and "Let's cheer. And let's salute the flag and fire off a few cannons and some fireworks." What they need is recognition that what they've just done is something that should be thanked not cheered.

If you've got a guy with a leg that's got gangrene, and a surgeon is called in to clean up the mess, and he has to cut the leg off. Do you cheer the surgeon? No, totally inappropriate. What you have on your hands when a veteran comes back is that the adults in the society have failed to come to some kind of an agreement with the enemy. Whose fault it is doesn't make any difference. There are times, I'm not a pacifist, when you cannot convince the other side to come to terms.

Osama bin Laden is not somebody you can reason with. That's where you say we have to send them in. But what you're doing is that you're sending them in to clean up a mess. It's a failure that they're being sent in to clean up, to try and bring back to some order. And when they come back, that's not something you cheer about. What you should do is there should be a solemn parade. The rifles should be put upside down over their shoulders so that the sense of sadness can come through. And then what they need to be is to be hugged and thanked. "You just did something for us that was incredible. And we appreciate this." Cheering just trivializes it and puts it in a whole different context.

BILL MOYERS: Is the war finally over for you?

KARL MARLANTES: Yes. I think that now I've pretty much worked it all out. And I don't have the-- I still get, my wife will say, "Well, you know, you were thrashing around last night." I still have that. But it's-- you know, and my eyes will start darting, I mean, you know, because I'm still in that mode that I no longer am troubled by it. It’s almost become sort of like, "Well, have you had your meds today?" You know, I take medicine for PTSD And it's part of who I am now. It's a part of my life.

But it no longer troubles me. And these two books have done it for me. I'm through with it. I want to write more fiction, but none of it's going to be about war.

BILL MOYERS: So whatever the clinical definition, however it varies from one warrior to another, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is all those unhealed wounds you bring back?

KARL MARLANTES: Yes. It's the wounds to your psyche and to your soul that you bring back. The wounds of war are certainly apparent. You see someone coming back without limbs. But you don't see these hidden wounds. And yet they are carried. And they're a huge part of it. And they're a part of it that, again, when we decide as a nation to go into war, when the peace treaty is signed, if there even ever was a declaration of war, which I haven't seen since World War II-- the war isn't over.

The people that fight it are going to be fighting these battles, these spiritual, psychological battles most of their lives. And they need help. And I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband. And why is this-- what's going on here? She needs help and the kids need help.

I mean, I dedicated my first book to my kids. Because I said, it's "to my children who grew up with the good and bad of having a Marine combat veteran as a father." And there's some good, you know, discipline and that sort of stuff. But there's a lot of bad, which is crazy behavior. And gosh, you know, go in and wake up dad and scare him, you know? You're apt to get the lamp thrown at you.

And this is something that a five year old has a terrible trying to come to terms with. That five year old needs help. So we need, as a nation, to remember that it ain't over when they come home. Now we have to also deal with what their struggle is still going to be. It's not against the enemy anymore. It's against their own psyches that they need help with.

BILL MOYERS: The first book was Matterhorn, a novel, a true novel. The new book is What It Is Like to Go to War. Karl Marlantes, thank you very much for sharing these experiences with us.

KARL MARLANTES: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. After listening to Karl Marlantes, we are putting on our website, BillMoyers.com, some very important information for members of our armed forces who are in trouble and need help. For those of you watching or listening, we hope you’ll go there. We also know that many in our audience will want to know how you can contribute or volunteer on behalf of active service members, veterans and their families. They really need our support, and we can help. We’ve put together a list of agencies and other resources. You'll find it at our website, too -- BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next week.

Watch By Segment

  • Karl Marlantes on the Mindset of a Modern Warrior

    Bill talks to Vietnam veteran and author Karl Marlantes about what we need to understand about the minds and hearts of our modern warriors.

    Air Date: July 27, 2012
    Karl-Marlantes_3916_SG1
    Karl Marlantes on the Mindset of a Modern Warrior

Full Show: What It’s Like to Go to War

July 27, 2012

America has been at war for over a decade now, with millions of soldiers having seen death and dying up close in Afghanistan and Iraq. But most Americans, watching comfortably on their TVs and computers, witness mostly to statistics, stump speeches, and “expert” rhetoric, don’t get what’s really going on there. Bill talks to Karl Marlantes — a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor — about what we on the insulated outside need to understand about the minds and hearts of our modern warriors. Marlantes shares with Bill intimate stories about how his battlefield experiences both shaped and nearly destroyed him, even after returning to civilian life.

“’Thou shalt not kill’ is a tenet you just do not violate, and so all your young life, that’s drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you’re 18 or 19 and they’re saying, ‘Go get ‘em and kill for your country.’ And then you come back and it’s like, ‘Well, thou shalt not kill’ again. Believe me, that’s a difficult thing to deal with,” Marlantes tells Bill. “You take a young man and put him in the role of God, where he is asked to take a life — that’s something no 19-year-old is able to handle.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ckmorrow Curtis Kojo Morrow

    What it’s like to go to war? by Karl Marlantes. no doubt a very enlightening memoir..

    My question would be, What it’s like to go to war, as a Black man in a segregated army, of a racist country?

  • Jim Byrnes

    I feel not gratitude but great sorrow for the countless victims of this cruel, predatory system which sacrifices its young people in endless wars for its own aggrandizement and to profit the wealthy elites who manage the country and the world.

  • davidp

    I just shake my head and say to myself, “Not again!” Every time I hear the drum beats of war…even the potential of more war…what is wrong with these leaders and see where I Nation is now…struggling to be #1 through muscle and guns. Lord have mercy…Lord have mercy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/walter.martin.338 Walter Martin

    Respectfully I would like to respond to your heart felt comment regarding what it’s like to service your country as a Black man in a segregated army, of a racist country ? I can only speak from personal experience when I say that for a great many men who served in an infantry line unit in Vietnam as I had, racism was a luxury none of us could afford. We fought, loved and in so many cases, died together in those jungles. Racism seemed more the rule then the exception in the support units. I am not qualified to comment on just why this seemed to be the case. As a young middle-class white boy fresh out of high school and answering the call of “do for your country” I had little contact with black kids my own age. The experience of combat straightened my resolve to never take life cheaply. If I had any racially discriminatory attitudes before entering the military they quickly vanished under the heat of battle. I am not naive to the point that I would say there wasn’t occasional tension all I am saying is when a person is put into a fierce do-or-die combat situation racism rarely enters the picture. wmartin288@gmail.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/bert.sacks Bert Sacks

    The best line in the interview (to prevent future tragedies) was this one from Bill Moyers: “[S]oldiers, I read,
    sometimes feel double crossed, twice. Once when they go and discover
    they’ve been lied to about the war. And then when they come home and
    find nobody gives a damn about what it costs them.” Maybe we should stop lying (often to ourselves, first) about going to war. How many Americans really knew that the ’91 and ’03 wars on Iraq were to control their oil … and lied to themselves about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacqueline.s.laughlin Jacqueline Strachan Laughlin

    Bill…once again….

    Another excellent thought provoking conversation. Especially on a Friday night after coming home from work as a nurse at my local VA hospital. Love the warriors

  • john clapp

    thank you Karl and Bill, for this show, I was a medic, 69 to 72,burns and traumatic amputies, you come home, and home is not home, you never look at the human race the same, at some point, you actually can sleep through a night. I have a son in Afghanistan, his choice, not mine. I hope that home is still home when he gets back.You got it right in this show.

  • Anonymous

    Moving interview. I have trouble with the idea of saying thanks to the troops when I believe that the war itself was a travesty. What would I be thanking them for? For me it would make more sense to say, “I”m sorry.” Sorry for failing as a citizen to stop this unnecessary killing, failing to defend you from this evil machine that took you from your family and made you do and experience things no one ever had the right to ask you to do. I suppose there are times when soldiers could actually be protecting us from harm, but for the most part what happens nowadays is that they are protecting us from enemies who are motivated by hatred or revenge for something we did to them such as stealing their oil or other means of wealth, or destroying their freedom by trying to make puppets out of their leaders. Read the interview of Peter Arnett with Osama bin Laden. He told us why we were his enemy. We were lied to. Our soldiers were lied to. We are all damaged by the illusions we live by generated by the evil lies we have been told by our government, the corporate media, and other ruling elites who profit from war. And of course we are all complicit not only because we fail to prevent war, but because we all accept the gains of plunder that we inflict on others under the threat of war or by attacking them when they resist.

  • Anonymous

    there’s a big difference between being a volunteer, and conscripted soldier, an unfortunate indiginous resident, or an articulate journalist, when it comes to “what its like”. I once diverted a member of UPI into doing a story on me rather than going to the “front”(the golan). We were made to believe than journalists could inflame a situation(either by starting the war as history demands, or by exacerbating a situation by simply telling the rest of the world

  • Julie

    What would happen if there were laws that required the people who instigate these battles to serve on the front lines of their own wars – shouldn’t they be the first to step in front of the opponents? Or, what if laws were created that required those who choose to initiate wars to be executed once the wars are over, regardless of who wins? If the issues are worth dying for, then those who have the issues should volunteer to die for those issues, just like the people they victimized. Currently, everyone but those who instigate the wars are pawns. How many of them put their own lives, or the lives of their loved ones, in danger? There should be consequences for leaders as well as followers. Our leaders should be as willing to die for their beliefs as much as they expect us to die for their beliefs.

  • marty hughes

    I am very proud of every soldier that ever served in order for me to be here right now, looking at my wife and children and feeling such freedom and im saddened to see people ever cheepen the sacrifice made by All who ever served. Thank You all for all that ou have done and I support you completely!

  • Maria

    Amen

  • Kathy Z

    I appreciate this gentleman’s honesty, and pray that he will find healing from his experiences. Given Mr. Moyers’ interest in healing such deep wounds, I would really like to see him do a piece with the people from Silent No More, and explore the post-traumatic pain of women (and men) who have allowed their own children to be legally killed in the womb by a medical professional because they thought it was a good idea at the time. Mr. Marlantes’ pain echoes so much of what these men and women have reported going through in their own journeys.

  • larry blair

    I can understand but I can’t justify blind loyalty to a cause (war) in the name of supporting our troops. As a nation, our most precious resource are those among us who would fight and die for our freedom. When we use, abuse and squander that resource because we did not question the leadership, we run the risk of losing it.
    We have a duty as Americans to question the leadership in every war.
    Our most recent history lesson came in germany bettween 1932-1945. In hindsight, would the german people have asked more questions in 1932 ?

  • A Roy

    Wow!! That was an amazing interview. Thank you, Bill for having Karl on your show and thank you, Karl for sharing. I haven’t read Karl’s books yet but plan to after watching the interview. I wish all of our military personal that have been to war and their families
    could see this interview.

  • guest

    Mr. Moyers, This will be the very first of your shows (ever) I will have purposely missed. I do not care to hear how difficult waging war is and what toll on human life it takes. I have known it for a long time. I made my decision as a young man not to support war. I do not support our troops. By God, they are not mine.

    I have been thinking lately of average German citizens during Hitler’s reign of terror. Surely, some of them were kind and generous lovers of peace trapped in that maniacal episode of history unwillingly. . . just as I feel trapped in this one.

  • Anonymous

    excellent interview… i wish everyone could listen and absorb this kind of thoughtful exchange about the ugliness of war…

    as a vietnam army vet and with 8 visits to afghanistan under my belt (fortunately not connected with the military), i never cease to be amazed at how constricted and narrow is the “news” reporting from the regions where our prized young adults and the future hope of our country are being psychologically scarred, physically wounded and dying… not only is our media reporting all about glorifying our troops and body counts (theirs and ours), it is also conspicuous in its complete disregard for the fact that the “enemy” consists of fellow human beings who, for the large part, want nothing more than we want – food and clothing for their families, a roof over their heads, access to education and health care, the chance to live in peace and quiet, and the opportunity and means to support themselves… dehumanizing those we are told we must kill is just part of the brainwashing…

    i have received my health care from the veterans administration for the past ten years and it is among the finest health care i’ve been privileged to receive… i would strongly recommend that every american citizen should regard it as his or her sacred duty to spend one hour a year in the lobby of a va hospital to personally witness the ceaseless parade of human wreckage that is the legacy of our endless wars…

    http://takeitpersonally.blogspot.com/

  • Anonymous

    p.s. i object strongly to the use of the term “warriors”… in our society which has already been heavily indoctrinated to accept endless war as a way of life, substituting terms like “warriors” and “warfighters” for “soldiers” and “members of the military” is a subtle means of further glorifying the means by which our rich elites send off struggling members of the lower classes to insure that their access to even more riches goes undisturbed…

    http://takeitpersonally.blogspot.com/

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3YC56CVU6LSZMBUF3AL5X5J2YY David

    Good interview with an excellent subject. One comment – Mr. Marlantes may have it a bit wrong when he suggests that the group fighting sense comes from aeons of evolution as hunters of meat. While success as hunters was surely important for our predecessors, even more important was success fighting against competitor tribes that could eliminate us entirely. Our psyche has been honed by generations of selection on our ability as cooperative fighters against other humans – our most important hostile force of nature.

  • T M Kara

    While I sympathize with those who out of a socially induced sense of duty, “patriotism”, adventurism, or in some case economic necessity, find themselves joining the armed forces and fighting in immoral wars, this doesn’t change the fact that with the exception of WWII the wars of this country have been largely immoral and unnecessary. I also understand that physical psychological traumas endured by any human being (including the victims of war) need to be addressed. Unfortunately, this interview mostly centered on some vague idea of overcoming these traumas and the conflicted feelings of those who participated without dealing with the underlying cause of their trauma – that the wars had no purpose, no justification. We do not need to glorify “warriors” even if we want to help them return to a peaceful society. We need more programs about those who refused to serve, who protested, especially those “warriors” who deserted or otherwise came to their senses.

  • Victor Greentree

    What is missing in the dialogue is that some, much, of this has to do with the ending of the draft: when all of us, including myself, didn’t want to be drafted and go in the military during Vietnam. Our military then decided it was better for morale and cohesion to make service voluntary. They offered substantial benefits and rewards to enlistees. Before this happened, all segments of our society were involved in wars, with all off-spring eligible. Now there’s a huge split between the segment of those who want to volunteer and the rest of us. Personally, I believe that is good. Just imagine how much trouble we might have carrying on wars that our leaders believe are necessary if they had to convince a majority of people to agree to them. Ain’t democracy great!

  • Jeanne and Frank

    your programs are not to be missed at our home. your guest, Karl Marlantes, was exceptional–we hope to read his book. thanks

  • katskrach

    no, no, no…you’re forbidden from asking such questions. count backwards to every american war and ignore the fact that you fought for a country that reminded you as soon as you returned home that you were not a full citizen. the wars are not fought for the likes of you…double slap in the face.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcy.timberman Marcy Timberman

    As a military dependent who waited for my father and brothers to come home from Vietnam, while protesting the war to bring them home, I am now reading deeply about the war then and wars now. I have read Marlantes’ book and also recommend Veterans of Peace, Veterans of war, edited by Maxine Hong Huston. We need to make certain our young military men and women and veterans receive the care and respect they deserve. Don’t forget the families–we also served–who need assistance as well.

  • http://twitter.com/realkrs krs

    Marty, was that your good deed for the day? Do you not realize that your freedom has not been at risk since WW2 and that these wars since have been propogated for reasons that have nothing to do with the USA’s national defense?
    We don’t want your thanks; we want you to help stop this country using it’s forces to intrude into the affairs of other countries.
    As a combat veteran of Vietnam I hoped for years that since nothing else worthwhile had come of our service and sacrifices, at least perhaps our country’s leaders had learned a lesson which might serve to prevent future like offenses.
    I do feel that South Korea needed our help and so, perhaps, did Kuwait. But no sooner was George Bush ‘selected’ I knew that my hopes had been in vain.

  • Jean Bernard

    On July 8, New Hampshire welcomed Iraq vets home with a parade that was appropriately patriotic but also distinctly sombre. See http://youtu.be/e5Ws-VqIqJo
    The young soldier who speaks at the end of the video says it all, almost in the same words as Mr. Marlantes. I hope he would agree that this kind of event should be taking place everywhere around the country.

  • notquit

    WOW, since 1968 and now, I have rarely been mesmerized by a war/PTSD anything. I am an LCSW with some spec. in PTSD – but with a origin of earthquakes & AFTERSHOCKS & childhood sexual abuse – I wish I was wealthy and could buy this book for the whole nation – maybe someone with clout needs to call Oprah as she has started the book club again. To see and hear a person be able to range from his own – apparently very present and personally available memories to my one of my own personal rages of a citizen military and/or service to our Republic for one year. The obviously many years of his drive to comprehend the small and big picture and the paradoxes with such emotion, honesty, and intellectual acuity is WOW again – I’m still in pure wonderment Thank you so very much for your service, honesty, and all your time. A. Julie Holt

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681224374 John Mundinger

    Was anyone else struck by the irony of LBJ’s former press secretary interviewing a Viet Nam veteran whose catharsis helps us all understand the evils of war.

  • Barry in Melville

    Thank you… as so many have said, while this program always meets the highest standards, this one in particular is absolutely gripping – such a quiet, civilized, intelligent, authentic conversation about that very subject that defies all attempts to address in conversation… with complete, open, honesty and integrity; a magnificent interview on both sides; as a child of the fifties and sixties, I can thankfully say that while I may not be able to state yet precisely what it is that I now understand as a result of viewing this conversation, I definitely do, in fact, understand that horrific concept in ways that I did not until now… probably thanks to an insight into “how it FEELS to go to a war, which never quite ends”… thanks to Mr. Moyers for providing the interview, and to Mr. Marlantes for your service, for your ongoing quest for peace in all its forms, and for helping the rest of us to connect to such a grotesque aspect of human life – incredibly, in a way that actually makes us feel safe enough to attempt to do so. A genuine achievement. I will view this program again, for sure. Thank you.

  • Mike D

    Marlantes talks of the mysticism behind war and killing but he doesn’t go far enough.

    There is a direct correlation between the endless wars of the U.S. and its deep religiosity. It is not boot-camp that undoes the “cob-webs of civilization” but a self-righteousness stemming from the “fact” that God is on our side.

    In Afghanistan, the U.S. has been trying to stand up an Afghan army for the last 10 years with pathetic results. On the other hand, look what a bunch of medieval tribesmen have achieved armed with that same Judeo-Christian heritage – the belief in a tribal God.

    The problem here is that someone called Jesus has been totally overlooked. If we are to change our attitudes to war, I would suggest that memorization of Mark Twain’s War Prayer made mandatory in every High School.

  • Just_another_nobody

    Yes – you are right about being complicit in the meaningless acts of our so-called-leaders,diplomats and the rest of the hierarchy. We are yet to build intelligence in to our societal-processes. There is no linkage between our theology, our value systems, our economics/reward systems for us to understand the consequences of either individual or collective actions. These linkages when created and applied will clearly help humanity live its potential. As of now, our civilizations are only evolved enough to talk about them in Bill Moyer’s interview with his guests…

  • Froggy

    Bill, thank you for this. So many civilians life in blissful ignorance of the lasting wounds our warriors bring back with them. We need to do better by them.

  • http://twitter.com/marcusdbyrne Marcus Byrne

    From the first question, the best interview of a veteran about war I’ve heard in my 13 years of military service. This, and your interviews with Andrew Bacevich are priceless. Thank You Mr. Moyers.

  • mcav

    Thank you Mr. Malantes, your remarks renewed my compassion for our soldiers, however, the endless vague “mission” our soldiers embark upon and their need for financial aid for college tuition make it more difficult to share the sacrifice. Unlike WWI, WWII and Vietnam becoming a soldier now is less “noble”, i.e. threats to resources are different than threats to loved ones.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=766796753 Gordon Graham

    He got that one right on, Bert.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=766796753 Gordon Graham

    Karl Marlantes’ presentation of his dark side in a matter-of-fact way was excellent. Being “here,” “now,” when there is no doubt I’m being shot at; it is “them” or me; that clarity; that level of control … I’m still breathing; I’m still here; T.S. Mack; I won – this time. I chose to stay longer, to return; for the current crop of combat vets, having no choice about returning, 7 times … for what? For SEATO, GW, Romney and their 1%? NOT IF I CAN PREVENT IT! The lesson of “Every Nation For Itself” applies to us 99% types, too, regardless of whatever the PTB’s and their media say. Why should we ever fight & kill for “them” again? Especially when to the rest of the world all Americans/white folks/we are their 1%. And rightly so.

  • Todd

    This story changed my life I now know I suffer from PTSD I would love to know what meds Karl takes so I live a normal life. Thank you for helping me realize something that no psychologist has been able to pinpoint for over 20 years!

  • ConchitaNc

    Karl, in a business suit and tie, thank you for speaking thoughtfully, introspectively, frankly. Bill, a bit squeamish, thank you for being brave enough to ask the questions we all want to ask.

  • Sheila Calanni

    Having been married to a Vietnam combat veteran with PTSD, I would like to thank Mr. Marlantes first for his sacrifice, and secondly for so openly sharing his covert emotions, and often unspoken aspects of what it feels like to have experienced the Vietnam war as a combat veteran, I wish my husband was still alive to hear this. Listening to you speak brought back memories of conversations and life with my veteran husband. I have the greatest respect and admiration for soldiers who at such a young age had lost their innocence. My husband used to say, “l feel like I left my soul in Vietnam.” My children and I, all suffered the trickle down effects of the war. However, I always was, and always will be proud of my soldier for his courage and for the wounds to his psyche that he struggled with for the remainder of his life.
    Very insightful for people unfamiliar with PTSD. I can’t wait to read the book! A great interview Mr. Moyer! Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ayres.ed1 Ed Ayres

    This was a
    very good show explaining why it is all our job to help our vets and their families,
    the war does not end when they come home, it has already started on our shores
    and with these families. I SUPPORT: http://www.vetsjourneyhome.org

    Years ago it
    was called The Bamboo Bridge, they do excellent work and don’t get any support
    from our government… unfortunately . Please go to the web site to learn more
    about staffing these weekends for men and women returning, who need our hugs and help. Please send
    donations to if you can’t serve or have the time. Read the testimonials of what
    this great group of Vets and citizens are doing for our heroes returning.

    Vets Journey Home is a unique
    weekend program for veterans, designed to help heal the emotional wounds of
    military service. The program was created in 1989 as The Bamboo Bridge,
    co-founded by VietNam veteran Christan Kramer, and a Sergeant Major’s daughter,
    Patricia Clason. They were committed to giving VietNam veterans the Welcome
    Home they deserved and helping them heal their hearts and bring peace to their
    souls.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ayres.ed1 Ed Ayres

    Tood, check out the nearest weekend coming up in your area for http://www.vetsjourneyhome.org
    Its Free to all Vets…

  • N. Trabulsy Jr.

    I left the US 6 years ago. This interview solidifies my view that the US is a sick, sick nation. I never miss a Bill Moyers interview. I am 53 years old. In my lifetime there has never been a reason for the US to enter armed hostilities against another people. The fact that well educated people can speak as they did in this interview illustrates how we have all become lesser people for accepting and glorifying the worst, not best, of humanity. Are the mass killings, the death of our planet and our celebration of violence not proof enough of how misguided we have become. I fear for all living beings on this earth, due to the death culture we have cultivated in the US. Good riddance.

  • Joel A. Tobias

    I was in Vietnam shortly after Mr. Marlantes as XO of a Marine medical battalion. Reading the comments on this extraordinary show, I am impressed how pet peeves are trotted out. The important thing that all should realize is that he is speaking Truth as opposed to the news. This should be required viewing for all Americans.

  • E. Johnson

    I wonder if people would have taken to the streets to protest the Vietnam War with such fervor, if the Draft had not been in effect?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Mark Goldman for articulating what I am feeling so intensely in my gut. Really bright guys like Mark Marlantes don’t see that they have been betrayed. Our soldiers are bullies for the empire. I was a bully for the empire. Marlantes says he’s no pacifist. Neither was I, but I just can’t think of a war that wasn’t instigated by the 1%, a war that wasn’t undertaken to crush some popular movement to empower the people of a land that the 1% wants to exploit, a war that wasn’t undertaken to stop people from organizing an economy that they determined was best for them. Two million kids were sent into hell over the last decade because sociopaths want to pursue globalization which is ultimately going to kill the species. That includes each of the mainstream candidates for president. That’s why I’m voting for Jill Stein. I can’t vote for the mob any longer.

  • Janice

    I am the mother of a soldier who went to Iraq and who suffered and is still suffering from PTSD. Thank you for such a program, I now understand the medical as well as the spiritual aspect of this disease or whatever it is. My son volunteered and when he got sick, they let him go. This made him feel worthless and a failure, so now he has not only PTSD, but is also suffering from depression. I pray every day that my son will be restored to the fun-loving young man he was.

  • conscientious objector

    Was Mr. Marlantes drafted or did he volunteer? As a Yale graduate, about 1968, he should have informed himself about the war. He might well have realized that the domino theory, which scared Johnson into the war, was absurd, that the Vietnamese and Chinese were ancient enemies and were only pushed together by a common enemy, the American invaders. After we left, the Vietnamese domino fell against the Chinese in a war that made a mockery of the reason we were there. I am sorry for the Americans who were drafted into the war. I have less sympathy for the volunteers, especially well educated officers. I knew a 25-year-old army captain in Missouri in 1968 who was itching to get to Viet Nam, he said, where faster promotions could be expected. The killing and the dying seemed secondary to him. I wish Mr. Moyers had asked Marlantes what research he had done into the justification for the killing in Viet Nam before he had gone over to take part in it.

  • Joan

    Thanks you for sharing your wisdom and experience.
    As an Episcopal priest, I wonder if the church should be involved in healing the soul. Indigenous cultures have had special cleansing dances and ceremonies for returned warriors.We seem to have little or nothing beyond counseling, which, of course, is certainly important.

  • stngr17

    As a vet I would ask that you don’t say thank you. But also don’t launch into your highly articulate but ultimately self serving soliloquy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/teddy.nolan Tim Nolan

    It is always heart wrenching to hear another story about war.Angry that the chicken hawks still sell war, gut less spine less people only con people to believe there is always an enemy out there. These war criminals must be brought to justice. Love & Peace be with us all

  • Jerry Gerber

    Marlantes is a hero because he killed 20 soldiers in Vietnam and showed physical courage through a life-or-death loyalty to and integration with his fellow marines. I know physical courage has value, the physical courage of a fireman running into a burning building to save a child is profound and noble. While the physical courage of a soldier can also be noble, war itself is not. War is not sacred, it is not noble, it is a savage’s way of attempting to negotiate living with other human beings. It can be historically valued, necessary at one time to contribute to evolving civilization, but modern war is no longer being called upon to perform this task, we’ve already found better ways. Our current state of civilization is requiring of us a higher type of moral courage that is difficult to sustain. Without that , the mediocre will triumph and materialism, nationalism and corporatism will “win”, at least in the short-term. The progressive human spirit is ingenious and capable of change. Better to progress beyond glorifying war, pay our respects to the soldiers and begin examining and dismantling the ideas that keep war alive and well. If another war in which nuclear weapons are used, and tens or hundreds of millions of us are killed, perhaps humanity will learn from its failures and barbarity enough to figure out how find out how we can finally allow war to become no more than an ancient relic of our early struggles as homo sapiens. Wouldn’t it be fine to live in on a planet in which those who have no qualms about killing and ordering others to kill will have the type of education that trains their minds and hearts so that they simply won’t want or need to engage in war any longer? I hope one day a good game of chess, or basketball, or some other competitive play will engage man’s will and energies without violence and war. War is now species-sadistic and is not helping to sustain and stabilize civilization as it has done in earlier times. The current state in Iraq is a good example of the modern failure of war in achieving peace and security.

  • Mike Anna Griffin

    Blaming the troops is an easy way out for you. You use self righteous information that you are parroting to justify your ignorance of what a soldier is and does when his country sends him to war.

  • KikiRose

    This made me cry for a lot of different reasons.
    This video should be a “MUST SEE” for anyone contemplating volunteering to the military.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Enrique-Vega/1272124231 Enrique Vega

    Bill, I have 8 first cousins that served. Is it possible to interview them?

  • Vickie

    Imagine soldiers trained to non-violent methods for fighting. Check out Gene Sharp’s “From Dictators to Democracy” and the new DVD “How to start a Revolution,” A documentary about his non-violent methods that are taking hold across the planet.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for that perfect comment. “I’m sorry” seems most appropriate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000152406930 Linda Fisher

    Karl’s story meant a lot to me and I really felt he touched on something I could hold onto. He will be a light for many suffering on their journey. Thank you for sharing your insight and for articulating your experiences so well.

  • ASOMFAB

    I was fortunate. I was 28 when I went to Viet-Nam and able to reason. I am 70 and the dumb stuff I did when I got back hauntS me. I would go to Iraq or Afghanistan if it meant the one 18 year old would be spared. Save One 40 y.o. National Guardsman ripped from his family to be ground up in the meat grinder that is there. Why are we there, good question?? Viet-Nam I was a medevac Corpseman (sic) WE SAVED LIVES, why do we insist that we put our values to the test with a population that is satisfied with remaining in the STONE AGE.

  • http://www.serendipit-e.com/blog Chris Boese

    Wow. Karl Malantes talks about how his violent side came out in Marine boot camp. I’ve felt that, and for years, I never really knew what to do with that feeling. I mean, it literally saved my life in an attempted rape on a deserted gravel road in Alaska in the early 80s. But I never knew or understood what came out of me at that time, literally came out of every pore in my body.

    I’ve never been in war, never killed anyone, and hope to never do so. But two truths emerged for me in that experience.

    One, I was not invincible. At one point, I was pinned on the ground and powerless, and recognized the element of chance that no amount of fighting could overcome. Death could just happen. That alone gave me nightmares and kept me sleeping with a light on for more than 10 years (I was just 21 when it happened to me).

    Two, I could kill without a second thought. I had it in me, in that rage, that reaction that exploded out of me. I didn’t want to, but that trigger, a mortal threat, turned me into a pure fighting animal. And a dirty fighting animal, poking hard in eyeballs, pulling hair.

    I’d played sports many years, had always been a competitor. I liked contact sports, though could play basketball without fouling much (quick point guard, didn’t need to), but in soccer, I liked to play forward and cleat people. Then, after many years away from team sports, I took Karate and discovered, it was an outlet I valued for the force and contact, for the outlet it gave that side of me.

    I think the two experiences go together. One without the other may even be dangerous, leaving one dangerously passive (no, this person won’t really try to kill me) or dangerously violent (invincible violence often is the primary cowardly characteristic of the bully).

    I had a peeping Tom once, and felt that violent defense mechanism explode out of me again, even if only yelling at a fleeing peeper through an open window. The words came from somewhere deep in my gut with such power and force, I knew my inner wildcat dirty fighter was still there, in reserve. It’s never gone, and always with me.

    It’s a little frightening, to think about. And reassuring, if not invincible.

  • Mevashir

    Great questions! I detected a few more untruths from this remarkable book:

    1. The claim that soldiers will fight for principles of protecting life but not to protect oil companies. That of course depends on slick propaganda to pretend that the latter is really the former. And now that I have discovered that Marlantes spent his civilian life working for international oil companies, this argument of his really seems sleazy and dishonest.

    2. The claim that there is no moral context to “heroism.” According to Marlantes mentor Joseph Campbell, heroes are anyone who sacrifices for a cause, even if others might reject that cause. So in a war it turns out that all sides are heroes since the men doing the fighting killing and dying all imagine their cause is noble. Even Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Stalin’s Red Army thought so. So in the end Marlantes seems to depict war as just a glorified football game, of course with lethal results.

    3. Marlantes argues that one reason war is inevitable is because boys like to play wargames. What kind of argument is that?

    4. Marlantes gives many examples of the immorality of war: lies, deceit, savagery, blood lust, etc. But in each case he backs down from the opportunity to dismiss war as a fatal delusion and instead “man’s up” to just follow orders. This is especially so when he completely ignores the fact that we LOST the war in Vietnam and that our feared Chinese Communist enemy is now our largest trading partner and creditor. He also makes weak excuses for Bush’s false claims against Iraq and Afghanistan and seems just to shrug his shoulders about the awful inevitability of it. And certainly he never gets a clue about the apparently totally contrived nature of the 9-11 false flag attacks.

    5. Marlantes seems to whine for popular approval and acclaim for his actions as not reprehensible but necessary dirty work for the nation. He glosses over the economic riches realized by the power elites due to war, whether they are won or lost. He mentions openly his membership in a Yale secret society, and one wonders how many fellow Yallies Marlantes needs to protect in his long annoying apologetic for war. He speaks of the rehabilitation he gained when he returned to continue his Oxford scholarship and was welcomed by adoring British women.

    In the end I feel that Marlantes craves approval for his role as a warrior and the rewards of breast and womb from a grateful class of females who will ooh and ah at his virile expoits.

    Marlantes does not condemn war so much as those who condemn war and make it harder for people like him to return to a hero’s welcome, female adoration, and lucrative job offers from a grateful citizenry.

  • Mevashir

    This is what I posted on Amazon:

    This is a very well written book that exposes the dark underside of war. But there is much untruth and dishonesty in it, which makes it seem, in the end, like a sophisticated justification for the horrors and depravity of modern warfare.

    Here are some dubious claims that stood out:

    1. The claim that soldiers will fight for principles of protecting life but not to protect oil companies. That of course depends on slick propaganda to pretend that the latter is really the former. And now that I have discovered that Marlantes spent his civilian life working for international oil companies, this argument really seems sleazy and dishonest.

    2. The claim that there is no moral context to “heroism.” According to Marlantes’ mentor Joseph Campbell, heroes are anyone who sacrifices for a cause, even if others might reject that cause. So in a war it turns out that all sides are heroes since the men doing the fighting killing and dying all imagine their cause is noble. Even Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Stalin’s Red Army thought so. So in the end Marlantes seems to depict war as just a glorified football game, of course with lethal results.

    3. Marlantes argues that one reason war is inevitable is because boys like to play wargames. What kind of argument is that?

    4. Marlantes gives many examples of the immorality of war: lies, deceit, savagery, blood lust, etc. But in each case he backs down from the opportunity to dismiss war as a fatal delusion and instead “man’s up” to invite us all to “just follow orders”. This is especially so when he completely ignores the fact that we LOST the war in Vietnam and that our feared Chinese Communist enemy is now our largest trading partner and creditor. He also makes weak excuses for Bush’s false claims against Iraq and Afghanistan and seems just to shrug his shoulders about the awful inevitability of it. And certainly he never gets a clue about the apparently totally contrived nature of the 9-11 false flag attacks.

    5. Marlantes seems to whine for popular approval and acclaim for his actions as not reprehensible but necessary dirty work for the nation. He glosses over the economic riches realized by the power elites due to wars, whether they are won or lost. He mentions openly his membership in a Yale secret society, and one wonders how many fellow Yalies Marlantes needs to protect in his long and annoying apologetic for war. He speaks of the rehabilitation he gained when he returned to continue his Oxford scholarship and was welcomed by adoring British women.

    6. I found it particularly dishonest that Marlantes, who was raised Lutheran, continually dismisses German support for the Hitler regime as a terrible aberration, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of his fellow Lutherans viewed Hitler as a great leader for their once proud nation. Marlantes so often seems to parrot bland stereotypes and propaganda, which makes it very difficult to trust him. His book reeks of American Exceptionalism and a complete inability to see his nation as fallible and corruptible as any other. He excuses his own behavior and that of his men in Vietnam as necessarily following orders and obeying the chain of command even as he castigates the identical behavior of the Germans in the show trial at Nuremburg.

    7. Following the sleazy example of military chaplains, who perhaps are the greatest war criminals since they invert the teachings of Jesus to justify militarized mischief, mayhem and murder, Marlantes alludes repeatedly to the “Christian example” of soldiers who selflessly “serve and sacrifice” for others, conveniently ignoring the fact that Jesus and His followers never posed a lethal threat to anyone, and in fact Jesus taught His followers not to wield the sword! (When Jesus remarked that they should sell their cloaks and buy a sword, He immediately said two is enough, implying that He spoke with deliberate irony since He was now being labeled by the Jewish authorities as a wicked person deserving of death.)

    In the end Marlantes craves approval for his role as a warrior and the expected rewards of breast and womb from a grateful class of females who will ooh and ah at his virile exploits.

    Marlantes misses a golden opportunity to condemn war and chooses instead to condemn those who condemn war and make it much harder for people like him to return to a hero’s welcome, female adoration, and lucrative job offers from a grateful citizenry.

  • Lefty Dunne

    sense of alienation has gone from the military feeling alienated in the 60′s & 70′s to civilians feeling alienated on the issue of war in the past 20 years. either way, we are incongruently grieving, unable to agree with each other on what is ok in certain situations.