Comics / March 19th 2018

The War Journal

By:Dwight Thomas Jr

                             The Punisher’s Netflix series has been an unparalleled success in my eyes and is easily on the same level as its peer shows, if not better. The brutal, dark, and gritty story of Frank Castle, the Marine Corps veteran turned vigilante, starts off simple enough but then reveals a surprisingly deep backstory. The main subject on the show I didn’t expect to receive a lot of attention was the effects of PTSD on the human psyche. That is something that has challenged our veterans daily for many decades and is showing no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, being prior service himself, the Punisher hasn’t escaped the shadows of war and in the comics; he understands that he never will. At the beginning of the show, Curtis, who is on friendly terms with Frank and other veterans trying to adjust to civilian life, hosts "sit downs" where they can discuss their issues. These consist of all of the veterans present routinely sitting down and airing their specific grievances against the government and sometimes each other.

Dwight Thomas Jr. is a contributor for the GoG and serves in our nations military

The government related issues stand out to me foremost because all through history, Military service members have expressed the same sentiment to varying degrees. We can break it down by war and mention how certain conflicts, such as Vietnam for example, painted veterans in a bad light adding to the stress they were under when they were back home, in addition to the PTSD inducing incidents from the war. We could also break it down by race, where black troops served during wartime and felt abandoned by their nation and were treated as second class citizens by the country they fought and possibly bled for. However you slice it, feeling abandoned by the government is a real thing, and our servicemen and women, whether currently serving or from wars past, are right on the money.

 

We have a multitude of mental health related issues attacking our best and brightest now as they were then. Talking about Frank himself, he mentioned at one point in the show, as well as the comics, that at one point he preferred to be over “there” than with his family even though he loved them. I see no reason to not believe him as his family was basically the reason he became a vigilante in the first place after they were unjustly murdered.  I’m not saying it’s necessarily right but I understand it. A common theme among those who cite these feelings are that life is easier in some aspects. You have yourself to worry about so it’s easier to take care of yourself in regards to working out to get in better shape, taking classes to improve one’s education level, or just catching up on movies, tv, etc. Another thing is, through all of the shared sacrifice, struggle, and even through loss, if there is any, members of a unit can and do grow close together. That bond will at times be equal to, or even surpass that of an actual family and Frank had that in his warfighting days. Marvel showed this relationship on Netflix as well, which is why he was so shocked and taken aback when he finds out that Russo, his good friend, is not who he seems. That strong bond being severed by one of the parties I’m sure felt equal to the betrayal of an actual blood relative.

 

Another area where they show the cost of war is the missing limb from Curtis, Frank’s friend. Going to war has the capacity to change one’s life in multiple ways. Seeing lethal force applied to opposition could scar the individual forever as well as seeing friends injured or killed in the line of duty. The way someone sees the world, various levels of government, politics, and the Military itself can be warped permanently based on these events. For people who’re actually injured, they have other battles to fight after the return home. For people missing limbs, they have to adjust to moving around and getting simple things done with less control than what they had before. We’ve come a long way with prosthetics and other devices to help our men and women adjust, but that’s still not a 100% effective substitute for an actual missing limb. Curtis has fought that battle and is still fighting as we see. In the midst of that, he decides to help his fellow veteran as well in hopes that they can improve their quality of life as he did. I rooted for him during the show even when it looked like he wouldn’t make it, because he proved himself to be a champion among us. I actually had thoughts at various times during the show about the other guys in the circle. I would think to myself, “If he dies what about them”? Thankfully he didn’t and resumed his activities at the end of the show, but I’ll talk about that later. As I said, Curtis shows the best in us, but even with all of the resources and care we can ever imagine, not every story ends well.

 

Another price of war shown was the character, Lewis. He held promise earlier in his career and he was also in the veterans group talking about problems he ran into in his life. Unfortunately though, he was never quite right upon returning home from war either. Due to events within and outside of his control he gradually becomes an antagonist. It’s hard to explain I think, but what you can handle before you break, that level will vary from person to person. Him being there showed that sometimes people can go too far and can’t be pulled back into society correctly. He is a shining example of the government failing at buying what it has broken so to speak. I was initially nervous about the reception to his character thinking he would make us look bad as a whole. I then thought to myself that if this story will be told correctly it’ll need this part told as well because it’s reality. I remember a long time ago during my own travels, I think I was coming back from Osan Air Base, South Korea, I was asked something along the lines of “Do you think you’re expendable”? The answer is a resounding yes. We tend to get lured into a false sense of security at times, when in truth, as soon as you’re done and can’t go on anymore, the government will find someone who can and the mission will continue. I guess it makes sense in a way, that being on call to serve a nation won’t leave much room for anything else. You come in, do what you can, and then the next person will take over; that’s been the ritual since forever and it will never stop. It seems that in the rush to fill the next spot or the next mission requirement, the government still has serious deficiencies in how they handle us, especially when we return home. Even now, we have investigations ongoing that I don’t think are getting the attention they deserve from the media, including your bigger outlets like CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, etc. We have the investigation going on for the water at Camp Lejeune, where folks are developing cancer and other ailments from drinking and bathing in water contaminated by multiple chemicals. We have another investigation going on highlighting people’s consistent exposure to burn pits, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops out there were breathing in smoke and ash over time from the pits, where hundreds of pounds of waste were burned a day. This led to ailments like Bronchitis, Cancer, and other breathing problems. Of course, we also have to mention the VA, who has been failing as well in my eyes. They’re supposed to be here to support the troops, but I hear mostly the opposite. Some are able to navigate things and get decent care, but it seems the majority do not. They’ve been investigated as well  for not cleaning instruments properly and covering up backlogs among other problem areas. They’ve been deficient for as long as I’ve been in the service, which is almost 10 years as of me writing this. I certainly don’t mean to condemn 100% of the staff, as I’m sure there are great folks in there, but they can get lost in the shuffle of red tape, politics, and if applicable corruption. With that said, it’s a wonder more people don’t snap like Lewis did. I’m not condoning the things he did on the Punisher, but when weighed against everything else I’ve said, I understand to a degree. When you feel nobody is listening or even trying to help you, one could lash out as a last resort. Even Frank did the same thing when he didn’t get the full justice he was due because of the crimes committed against him. Some things about the culture need to change as well. I believe it is inherent within our collective culture that people seeking mental health assistance makes them weak or inferior to the rest. I look at it as quite the opposite, because it should show strength that you know something is wrong and want to talk to someone. I see nothing wrong with that. I believe we demonize people going to these facilities for help, which is why people decide to suffer in silence. I myself have had reasons to go to Mental Health throughout my career but never did. I’ve had good friends die and multiple commit suicide. Earlier this summer I had two friends commit suicide a day apart. Still reeling from the first one and the very next day another one kills himself. All of them having military backgrounds drive the point home further that we need to take care of everyone. I need to practice what I preach because I was about to go to mental health myself but decided against it, as I wasn’t sure how it would affect my career. I was wrong for that, because I needed to talk to someone and get my feelings out. I just kept on trucking like nothing happened, but that’s unrealistic because something did happen. Just keeping on may not work for everyone and we have to realize that. I’ve also felt wronged on some level when my father Dwight Thomas Senior didn’t get the care he needed before deploying to Operation Desert Storm. He ended up having a stroke and subsequent brain surgery but had the Military taken him seriously from the outset maybe his quality of life would have been different maybe he’ll still be here. Unfortunately, I’ll never know but I can’t help but feel that his life was cut short because his situation wasn’t given the attention it deserved from the outset.

 

 I didn’t feel the need to kill random people, but I feel the people who let us down needed to be disciplined, which is hard to do within the government, it seems and the Punisher showed that as well when after their operation goes badly the man in charge is promoted. That greed in valuing money and status over lives screwed Agent Orange over but many today get away with multiple failures in the realm of leadership. And frankly speaking for myself, and myself only, I’m tired of it.

 

I’ve seen some say the show is propaganda in showing that you should enlist and serve. Personally I thought the parties making those comments are grossly misinformed. The show didn’t show much great about the Military in the first place and honestly I’m ok with that after thinking about it longer. I think Hollywood in its movies and TV shows romanticize what being in the Military is actually like. Not everybody lives the life of say a Pilot, or a Special Operations member, so that excitement is always there. Sometimes it could be 6 days of mind numbing boredom with one exciting day in there. You never know what you’ll get in all honesty. The Punisher took a realistic look at what you stand to gain and what you could potentially lose by dedicating some or all of your life to your country. I personally believe people need both sides of the story to see if that’s for them and to make an informed decision. My uncle had a saying “Do what you can afford”. If you feel the risks are worth it, then by all means, but if you do not, I understand. As a fan of the character, and approving of the tone they took, I’ll be watching again soon. I approve of what Marvel did as I feel the Punisher can’t be portrayed any other way.