“Support The Troops” has become a cliché that’s now as harmful as it is helpful. The notion of “Support The Troops” came from noble beginnings, an alternative to the unfair abuse and mistreatment of American veterans returning from Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The public, as a whole, was so determined to acknowledge the commitment and sacrifice of our veterans after Gulf Wars I and II that over time we’ve now moved too far in the opposite direction.
Indeed, there are some people in our society who ascribe super hero status to our veterans, asserting that somehow they can do no wrong. To many of us who’ve served, this practice is a bit over the top and silly. But to many veterans who suffer from combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), throwing the “support the troops” blanket over the national tragedy that is using American service men and women as pawns in imperial wars contributes to a dangerous sense of isolation.
The new graphic novel Terminal Lance–The White Donkey sharply illustrates this sense of helplessness and isolation. Terminal Lance is a wildly popular comic series by Marine combat veteran Maximilian Uriarte. Both the book (which Uriarte originally wrote and illustrated entirely by himself) and the Terminal Lance series have a universal appeal to all Marines, active and inactive. Uriarte is able to capture the real Marine Corps, not the garbage you see on TV or in the movies.
(By the way, the term “Terminal Lance” is historic Marine Corps slang for someone who’s counting his or her last days on active duty. Most Marines who are discharged after their first tour of duty are at the rank of Lance Corporal (the last of the “non-rate” ranks); they are committed to returning to civilian life as soon as possible and are, by default, “terminal” lance corporals.)
The White Donkey follows two contemporary Marines in both peace (Oahu, California and Oregon) and the Iraq war. Given that it’s a graphic novel, it’s a quick read even as it touches on life in the Marine Corps and goes much deeper into isolation, guilt and PTSD. The title’s white donkey first appears in Iraq, and has a surreal, near-mystical presence in the story.
In fact, I read the book in one sitting at Chang’s Beach. It’s a vivid and gripping tale, and for a while I wasn’t sitting on a sunny beach in Wailea–I was back in the barracks, the chow hall, the armory, the field, talking shit and trying to stay out of trouble.
For my brother Marines: this book is mandatory, as is the entire Terminal Lance series. And for our civilian friends that are always asking, “What’s it like in the Corps?” this book will help you to understand. Even more importantly, it could help you help someone who may have returned to the civilian world with invisible wounds–wounds Marines and anyone else in the service usually hate discussing with civilians.
John Absalom served on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1984-1988. The White Donkey will be available in stores on April 19.