Blog: David Jackson

One of six veterans of the Falklands conflict taking to the stage at Home describes meeting his one-time foes. Minefield opens Home's ¡Viva! celebration of Spanish and Latin American culture

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I am a war veteran and I served in the Royal Marines for 21 years before a medical discharge in 1995. I saw active service in the Falklands conflict and Northern Ireland. In 1996 I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety disorder as a result of my experience of war.

Despite the nuances of having a mental health disability I have resiliently managed to have successful second careers. I work as a psychotherapist who specialises in veterans and families, and I am a leading academic in the cultural and social difficulties of war veterans and families within society.

This might appear to be a good example of a successful transition from one culture, the military, to another, civilian street. However, living with the aftermath of war cannot be neatly packaged into a streamlined process of assimilation. It is complex and individualistic.

What is it like to live in my skin?

To answer that question I could describe the process of objectification through my psychiatrist’s assessment and my subsequent experiencing of symptoms as defined with a medical diagnostic manual. However I believe the medical narrative is too limited and relies on tick boxes. A sense of war and its embodied effects cannot be defined within a single representation where there is little or no room for individual subjective narratives – it silences that embodied voice.

To get a sense of who I am, and my experiences of living with war, you have to hear my embodied voice. It is true that over the last 20 years I have also had to find that embodied voice. I spent years hiding behind masks of hyper-masculinity and acting out the dichotomised archetypes about veterans as heroic, stoic, and proud, or conversely, as vulnerable, dysfunctional, and dangerous.

At times it has felt like I have been living in an alien world because of those archetypes and the perpetuating of stereotypes about war veterans. I have felt there has been a real struggle to be understood as someone who is living with such an experience.

My embodied voice has been found and heard through sporadic diary writing in black moleskin journals; through poetic and lyrical representation to illustrate and give meaning to living with my remembered past; through autobiographical explorations within my research writings; and using alternative representations of narrative to find connections between the personal and political.

As I reflect on the enormity of first stepping out onto the stage at the Royal Court Theatre for a 10-day run of Minefield I wonder whether the project has been part of finding my embodied voice. Undoubtedly, there have been opportunities of reflection in my moleskin journal over the 100 day period of rehearsing in Buenos Aries and London. However, the stories that I told were tried and tested narratives I have told and retold over many years. Also, I know that sitting together as veteran performers we have shared stories about our wars that are not for public consumption or even the production team’s sympathetic gaze.

Don’t get me wrong – this experience has been full of the emotional ups and downs of living with an experience of war. Importantly, it has been about challenging some of the stereotypes and assumptions that the Argentinians have held about us for many years.

For example: we do not have an emotional response to the war because we were professionals; we were paid overtime on the weekends – that is why some of the battles were fought on Saturdays and Sundays; and perhaps most interestingly, that after 34 years we would still have some residual animosity against one another because we fought against each other.

So as an illustration of the connection of an unspoken knowingness between men who have experienced war I will finish by sharing some reflections from my black moleskin journal after meeting Marcelo, Rubin and Gabriel – the Argentinian veterans – for the first time. Of course some of my writings in these journals are not for public consumption – yet.

“I do not know what the expectation of the crew were when we met. The meeting was how I expected it to be. In the rehearsal room there were five men who were bound together by common experience. This binding or connecting is not something tangible. It can only be felt through a form of common embodiment by those who have experienced the intensity of war. It is what will bind us together and it is a knowledge and experience that needs very few words, if any. We may not have a common language but we do not need one.

“I experienced this sense of knowingness; there was a massive sense of loss.”

Minefield is at Home, 12-14 April

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