Exit Wounds

October 22nd, 2012 at 12:35 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Australia has lost another soldier in Afghanistan.

This is the 39th Australian soldier to have been killed in the war in Afghanistan since 2002.

The soldier’s next of kin have been notified.

Australia currently has about 1550 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

In August, the ADF suffered its darkest day since the Vietnam War when it lost five soldiers in two separate incidents.

This included two soldiers in a helicopter accident in Helmand Province and three soldiers in a  “green on blue” attack north of Tarin Kowt.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith will speak from Sydney later this morning.

By coincidence I read yesterday the book Exit Woundsby Major General . The synopsis sums it up:

As a country boy from Queensland, John Cantwell signed up to the army as a private and rose to the rank of major general. He was on the front line in 1991 as Coalition forces fitted bulldozer blades to tanks and buried alive Iraqi troops in their trenches. He fought in Baghdad in 2006 and saw what a car bomb does to a marketplace crowded with women and children. In 2010 he commanded the Australian forces in Afghanistan when ten of his soldiers were killed. He returned to Australia in 2011 to be considered for the job of chief of the Australian Army. Instead, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Exit Wounds is the compassionate and deeply human account of one man’s tour of the War on Terror, the moving story of life on a modern battlefield: from the nightmare of cheating death in a minefield, to the poignancy of calling home while under rocket fire in Baghdad, to the utter despair of looking into the face of a dead soldier before sending him home to his mother. He has hidden his post traumatic stress disorder for decades, fearing it will affect his career.

Australia has been at war for the past twenty years and yet there has been no stand-out account from these conflicts—Exit Wounds is it. Raw, candid and eye-opening, no one who reads this book will beunmoved, nor forget its imagery or words.

I highly recommend this book.

The section on the Gulf War was fascinating. He was a Major and meant to be a liaison officer between the US and British forces, which meant travelling all over the place to liaison points, to find no one there. Several times they almost got killed by friendly fire – and once found themselves 20 kms in advance of the coalition forces, meaning that had to drive towards the coalition forces from the Iraqi side.

Also he describes the scenes of bodies buried in the ground as tanks with blades had crushed all in their sights. That was the start of the nightmares.

In Iraq in 2006 he was a Brigadier or one star general. He dealt regularly with senior Iraqi leaders and his stories of their duplicity and betrayal are eye openers. He also has several near misses with death and see first hand the results of a massive bomb. You get a feeling of what it is like having 100 or so people a day die, mainly civilians.

Then in 2010 he was a Major General and the commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan. He disobeyed orders to go out on patrol with some of his men, and again there were many close calls with death. However it was the 10 Australian men who died that hit him hardest, and the scenes of him fare-welling them after he has formally identified them are incredibly moving.

Generals are not meant to admit that they can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and Cantwell’s book has probably done his fellow soldiers a great service in allowing them to recognise and get treatment also if they need it. It is hard to imagine anyone being totally untouched by the scenes of carnage Cantwell describes. One can only imagine how much worse great slaughters such as WWI were.

 

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20 Responses to “Exit Wounds”

  1. Redbaiter (9,080 comments) says:

    “I highly recommend this book.”

    I don’t.

    Most other members of the armed forces served alongside this guy and saw what he saw, and did what he did, and didn’t end up in a psychiatric hospital.

    [DPF: Such brave words from someone who has probably never seen a day of combat. If you think it is that easy to see five year olds splattered around the place, then head over there and let us know how easy it is not to let it get to you]

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  2. thedavincimode (6,777 comments) says:

    Still fantasising about going over the top through a hail of hot lead ‘baity boy? Mowing down the commie hordes?

    Don’t you think you’d better get onto the lunch dishes before you get told off?

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  3. Redbaiter (9,080 comments) says:

    How about commenting on the issue?

    (Just had to scratch that itch didn’t you you sad old obsessive?)

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  4. Viking2 (11,484 comments) says:

    The issue actually points out the toll on men at war and leaves the lasting imporession that we should question the wisdom of committing Kiwi’s or aussies to someone else’s war.

    Probably that doesn’t suit you red but none the less Kiwi’s have paid some huge price for acting out politicans follies and sense of loyalties to other countries rather than our own citizens.

    Yet to see a valid reason for us being involved in any from the Boer war until today.
    If someone choses to volunteeer for some other countries wars then that’s their choice. Other than that we have no need to go there.

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  5. Redbaiter (9,080 comments) says:

    [DPF: Such brave words from someone who has probably never seen a day of combat. If you think it is that easy to see five year olds splattered around the place, then head over there and let us know how easy it is not to let it get to you]

    Are you saying that because I don’t agree with your review of the book that I am immune to the horror of war?

    I have seen this man interviewed. I do not agree with his perspective and I do not agree with the conclusions that he draws and I do not agree with the conclusions you draw.

    That I so disagree is my right, and to do so should allow me a more suitable response from you than an ad hominem argument alleging heartlessness.

    I repeat. Many other servicemen who have been engaged in similar campaigns do not share this man’s views and neither have they ended up in psychiatric hospitals.

    (How about the feelings of the families who lost sons there and are now told by the author that their deaths were worthless?)

    [DPF: He did not say their deaths were worthless. I think it is a good idea to read a book for itself, rather than go off the media reporting of one line of it. I also did not blog on his conclusions. I blogged on the experiences he described. You effectively implied he was soft and couldn't hack it - and frankly I don't think anyone who has not served is entitled to that opinion of someone who has. You can disagree with his conclusions all you like, but you effectively said he was just not manly enough to cope]

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  6. thedavincimode (6,777 comments) says:

    Silly old arsebaiter.

    I was commenting on the issue silly old thing; only, it would seem, more obliquely than you appear to be capable of comprehending.

    The issue that arises from the post is that war affects all sorts of people in different ways that cannot necessarily be controlled by the individuals concerned or comprehended by those who haven’t been in one.

    The issue that arises from your post is your inability to comprehend that point which sits in a stark and very amusing contrast with the puerile fantasy you so generously shared with us a while ago in which you dream about going over the top and going down in a hail of bullets as you fight the invading commie hordes.

    The real point in this context is not that some people are “inferior” to others simply because, having fought in wars and been at the sharp end of the gore, and having dug down inside themselves and willed themselves to continue to do they job that people depended upon them to do, they subsequently go off the rails in civvy street or wind up in the nuthouse.

    The real issue here is that some overblown windbag is quite happy to denigrate those who have been at the sharp end in order to make himself feel important and succour a laughable puerile fantasy that he would somehow have done a better job than those who did the biz. Someone who would have no idea what it’s like to be in that kind of environment, yet whose first response to such an environment would, no doubt, be to soil his panties.

    Sorry, I should have said that at the outset. I gave you far too much credit in thinking you would get the point.

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  7. thedavincimode (6,777 comments) says:

    Gosh, stopped beating yourself have you ‘baity? Now beating an implausible retreat. :lol:

    And complaining about ad hom!!!!!!!!!! You are just such a fuken tool. :lol:

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  8. hmmokrightitis (1,590 comments) says:

    Ah ‘baity, one handed typing again? Youd be surprised if you knew how far and wide these issues go. But then armchair strategy is always right isnt it old boy?

    My Dad was Royal Marines. Saw combat in various places. Hard as fucking nails. Used to beat the shit out of us, until one day I nailed him when he tried it. Changed in the last 10 years, stopped his drinking, took a grand daughter to do it. Now watching his wife slowly die is bringing it all out. Poor bastard doesnt have an emotional leg to stand on.

    One of my running mates is ex SAS. Makes my father look soft. Last time we ran, we started at 10PM, finished at 10AM. He had a stated goal of running for 12 hours, never done it before, was glad I could help him. First 4 hours were in silence. Stop for food and sock change, he starts crying, just quietly to himself. Dont say a word, just saddle up and we keep going. 8 hours in, he finally grunts a thank you. I shrug a whatever. He rocks his twelve hours, and hugs me outside our place. His wife rang an hour later and explains. Long story. That is one fucked unit, but a beautiful man. Glad Im part of his journey.

    Not everyone is as hard as you ‘baity boy. Well, apart from the SAS dude who would break you with one hand. He just might be.

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  9. labrator (1,850 comments) says:

    …and neither have they ended up in psychiatric hospitals.

    Many people have lived similar lives and neither have they died of cancer.

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  10. Akaroa (557 comments) says:

    Hmmm. Big subject this. And the only people really qualified to state an opinion are those who served with the good General in those theatres of conflict. I didn’t. So I’m not commenting on his reaction to what he experienced and saw.

    However, I DID serve for a year in the British military in Belfast and Northern ireland and I know from that experience – when you didn’t know which Irish person to trust, or where the next sniper was going to pop up or when the next car-bomb was going to go off, that individual responses to that environment and residual long term effects differ widely according to the personality of the individual.

    I don’t know the good General, but in my humble (and critisise-able) opinion, he may have been a bit too sensitive-natured for the life choice he made in pursuing a military career. I don’t think there’s any sure fire way of insulating oneself from the sort of thing that eventually ‘got to’ him, but I do know from personal experience that a lot of the people i served with in NI just had to ‘harden up’ as they say and either joke about, dismiss or ignore-as-far-as-possible the ghastliness of the situation in which they found themselves. The General didn’t. Hence his subsequent suffering.

    This means the projection of a callous, unfeeling carapace to the – I’ll say it – ‘horrors’ of that sort of expeerience, but a refusal to

    . .

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  11. Akaroa (557 comments) says:

    Aw! Delete that last unfinished sentence!!

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  12. Viking2 (11,484 comments) says:

    Many returned service men after ww2 were in a similar state and were bought home, sent home and told to get on with life.
    Many were profoundly affected as were many Pommie immigramts that came here after the war.
    Some were able to talk about their experiences, many didn’t and all suffered some form of emotional trauma.

    We have policemen and fireman suffering the same after major accidents. Do they all just have to harden up or do we treat them as a casualty as well.

    We can do better and we should think seriously in future before we send young men into this situation.

    The thing that pissess me most is that it is the pacifists of Labour who agree to send these young men into someone else’s war.

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  13. Redbaiter (9,080 comments) says:

    [DPF: He did not say their deaths were worthless. I think it is a good idea to read a book for itself, rather than go off the media reporting of one line of it. I also did not blog on his conclusions. I blogged on the experiences he described. You effectively implied he was soft and couldn't hack it - and frankly I don't think anyone who has not served is entitled to that opinion of someone who has. You can disagree with his conclusions all you like, but you effectively said he was just not manly enough to cope]

    Gerard Henderson says it much better than I can-

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/commanders-regret-over-afghanistan-proves-the-case-for-public-silence-20121001-26vf3.html

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  14. thedavincimode (6,777 comments) says:

    Oops. Slithering to find a graceful exit by the look of it. Hard nut.

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  15. Redbaiter (9,080 comments) says:

    So does this guy-

    THE Commander of Townsville-based 3RAR Task Group has rejected suggestions by retired Major General John Cantwell that Australian soldiers have died in vain in Afghanistan

    http://www.news.com.au/national/major-general-john-cantwell-says-efforts-in-afghanistan-not-worth-lives-of-38-diggers-but-serving-officer-disagrees/story-fndo4ckr-1226485737064

    Lieutenant Colonel Trent Scott was Maj-Gen Cantwell’s lead planner when he was head of efforts to reconstruct Victoria following the bushfires, and so knows him well.

    He said while he respected Maj-Gen Cantwell’s right to an opinion, he disagreed with it.

    “You just need to look at the map and where the ANA 4th Brigade are across the province and you need to see the economic activity in town, the fact that schoolchildren are going to school and not having the Taliban throw acid in their face for girls to go to school,” Lt Col Scott said.

    “I think all those positive signs suggest it’s a little early to be saying that the lives lost here haven’t been worth it.”

    He said the three men who the 3RAR Task Group lost believed in their mission.

    “All three of them wanted to be here, all three of them were with their mates, all three of them were doing something they loved, all three of them, and all their mates now, believed in what they do and believed that they were having an effect, as do I,” Lt Col Scott said.

    “Gen Cantwell (ret) is fully within his rights to have his opinion; mine differs slightly.”

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  16. Viking2 (11,484 comments) says:

    Great humanitarian George McGovern dies
    DAVID BAILEY
    Last updated 12:37 22/10/2012

    Former US senator George McGovern, a liberal Democrat and fierce opponent of the Vietnam War whose 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon led to one of the worst electoral defeats in US history, died on Sunday at the age of 90, his family said.

    The McGovern family said he died Sunday morning at Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, surrounded by family and friends.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/americas/7847401/Great-humanitarian-George-McGovern-dies

    Slightly of topic but has just been announced.

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  17. RF (1,402 comments) says:

    Whatever the looney left think. This brave Aussie gave his life for something he believed in so let him rest in peace. The arm chair critics should STFU.

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  18. Shunda barunda (2,983 comments) says:

    One of the best accounts of combat (if not the best) I have read is the book “With the old breed” by Eugine Sledge. It was used in the television series “The Pacific” that was aired a few years ago.

    Eugine was a fairly sensitive character, yet was also one of the toughest marines of his unit. He was described as “bookish and frail” as a teenager yet was able to deal with the horrors of war and the heat of combat better than much ‘tougher’ men.

    His account is absolutely riveting reading, you really get as good a sense as is possible of what war was like at it’s worst.

    He talks of his hatred for the Japanese, but it was a hatred born not of racism, but because of the fact that they refused to surrender thus forcing him and his buddies to kill almost every last one of them. He and his fellow marines valued their own lives and the Japanese didn’t, it is a stark reminder of the dangers of extremist ideology.

    His book is a great example of how it isn’t always the seemingly ‘toughest’ men that cope with such extreme circumstances, quite frankly, I don’t think any of us would know how we would cope unless we were put in that situation.

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  19. Viking2 (11,484 comments) says:

    Light hearted moments away.

    http://screencast.com/t/xLF7h3elC9W

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  20. Dean Papa (784 comments) says:

    @redbaiter

    “He said while he RESPECTED Maj-Gen Cantwell’s right to an opinion, he disagreed with it.”

    that’s good advice, you should take heed.

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