Friday, 30 November 2012

Veteran’s deepest wounds

I enjoy listening to ABC radio The Conversation Hour with Richard Fidler and not so long back there was an interview with John Cantwell.

It is interesting to learn of John Cantwell’s career, born in country Qld, joined the army & rose through the ranks from a humble private to reach the rank of Major General. He served in the 1990/ 1991 Operation Desert Storm campaign as a major in charge of a British tank squadron. In 2006 he returned to fight in the second war in Iraq. He was given command of all Australian troops in Afghanistan, 2010. After 38 years’ service he retired to Cooroy, Qld. A more complete bio is available at Wikipedia.

The good thing about radio or audio is that you can take in another world, gain insights and learn while you continue with your daily tasks. The audio is available [here] of Richard Fidler’s interview with retired Major General John Cantwell; I thoroughly recommend you doing so. Cantwell does well in expressing what attracted him to the military and why he felt the challenge to prove himself in the field of battle. He gives accounts of his times in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and lays open his life to the main subject of the book, Exit Wounds, that he released earlier this year, post-traumatic stress.

Radom House offers the following observation in its brief review of Exit Wounds 

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.

Exit Wounds: One Australian's War On Terror, John Cantwell With the article, Home safe,but left torn by the horrors of war, the Canberra Times published a lengthy extract from John Cantwell’s book. Here we are introduced to the book when Major General John Cantwell returns home from Afghanistan and retires from the army and was forced to face what he had worked hard to supress for many years.

 Released from responsibility, it is as though a dam in my mind has cracked, flooding me with despair. The barriers I built and shored up over the years, especially over the past 12 months, start to shift and buckle, releasing a pent-up misery.

The sadness and regret that I had pushed deep down inside resurface, amplified. Memories flood my mind: cold bodies in a morgue, torsos violated by bullets or explosives or a shattered helicopter; the pain and uncertainty of the wounded whose lives have been forever changed; the horror in the eyes of men who have picked up pieces of their mates. My nights are tormented by ghastly nightmares, punctuated by sudden shouts as I come awake, shaking and confused. The melancholy that has lurked in my heart begins to tear at my sanity.

In retirement John Cantwell does what he can to support veterans with PTSD. In a Herald Sun article, General says he has no mortgage on PTSD, defense force chief General David Hurley is quoted as saying:

“But for some the stigma remains, with soldiers reluctant to come forward because of fears their careers will suffer.

"What I really felt we needed, and John provided an answer there, was for someone of seniority and significant experience to come forward and say, 'Hey, it's okay to be open about this,'"


  1. Good article Dale. I saw a very good ABC interview with him not long ago.

  2. If you do a google search you will find plenty more items about retired Major General John Cantwell including youtube interviews. My internet speed has dropped down this last week to a point that I can't even consider trying to view a youtube.


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