Words cannot describe...

© J. Francois Barnard – January 16, 2021

The year is 2021, and by now, we should have placed the South African Bush War in our past. But many cannot do so. We try to live in the here and now, but what happened pops up again.

In a WhatsApp group I administer, Joe told us on December 31, 2020: "Boys, it has been 37 years now, and it still haunts me that we lost so many men. Men like you and me. A Steenkamp, a Pretorius - regular guys with regular hopes and dreams."

Today we talk about "expectation management" in business. We recognise that what we say and do creates expectations with other parties, and if it is wrong, it backfires on us. We meticulously choose our words, underpromise and overdeliver.

But it is different in times of war.

In times of war, words are used to motivate troops to do extraordinary things to survive extraordinary circumstances. The problem is that we were only 18 or 19 years old, and we could not judge those words. We look back today, and ask ourselves why we believed all of it?

I recall a speech our captain made during basic training. I listened to him and knew I would follow him to hell and back. It made a deep impression on me. Years later, I read the same speech. The captain borrowed John F Kennedy's address to the American troops on their way to Vietnam.

I felt betrayed.

Today I see how desperate our leaders were, and how they would have used any words, true or untrue, to keep us motivated to fight. In the end, politicians nullified our efforts and revealed their true colours.

We trusted that someone would have our back and needed treatment for PTSD and other conditions. It was not there. We trusted that well-negotiated peace would give everyone a level playing field. That never came.

military06However, some men developed an inner strength to take on the demons of the past. I see them reaching out to others to support them and give them the vocabulary to describe their feelings. It does not change what happened in the past. But it does give them choices to make today. It helps them turn the focus ring on the lens to see what else surround them.

We were formed by what happened when we were young. We take pride in it, and will never forget our past. But today we see our spouses, children, and grandchildren - and we know the focus ring has shifted. We work towards giving the next generation a future and hope.