TIME History

After the Fall: The Day the Captain Didn’t Shoot My Father

Lev Golinkin is the author of A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.

25 years ago, a confrontation at the Czechoslovakian border drove home the reality to me and my family that the Berlin Wall had fallen

In the early hours of December 24, 1989, I was standing perfectly still inside an examination chamber at a border post on the very edge of the Soviet Union. I barely noticed the broken plates strewn across the floor, or the four soldiers with AK-47s in the corners, or the rest of my family huddled around me. My entire existence had shrunk to the only thing that mattered: my father and the captain of the border guards, screaming at each other in the middle of the room.

I couldn’t process the scene; 25 years later I can still remember my brain playing the image over and over like a GIF, reminding itself that yes, this was my father, and yes, he was screaming at a guard. We had been a few steps away from the exit door to Czechoslovakia, and freedom, when the captain accused Dad of hiding documents and threatened to detain us in the USSR. Dad began to argue. My jaw was squeezed so tight it felt like my cheekbones were about to shatter. My forearms ached with a dull pain spreading out from my clenched fists. I kept waiting for the captain to do the inevitable, to bark orders to the soldiers, beat Dad, shoot Dad, handcuff him. But the captain… the captain just shouted back.

Even as a nine-year-old child, I knew that what I was witnessing was incomprehensibly, fundamentally wrong. Complaint forms, lawsuits, civil disobedience didn’t exist in my world, not even as concepts. The police decided, arrested, and killed. They weren’t argued with, or screamed at. Waterfalls flowed down, not up. The sun rose in the east. The police were obeyed.

Six weeks before the standoff between my father and the border captain, another rumor, just as baffling, shook the USSR to the core. The Berlin Wall had fallen. The news snuck into our Ukrainian apartment late at night, borne aloft forbidden airwaves beamed into the country by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. The Berlin Wall had fallen. A group of East German citizens armed with sledgehammers had scampered atop and demolished the dreaded symbol of Communist power, and the guards on the Wall were ordered to back off and make way for the cameras. The Soviet Union had taken away the soldiers’ ability to destroy lives…but it did not take away their guns. What happens when people accustomed to wielding absolute power, people whose only answer, only training, only reason for existence can be summed up by the word “fire,” are suddenly told to stand down? No one knew, and – just as with my family at the Soviet border – the world stood perfectly still.

The silence didn’t last. For forty years, Eastern Europe existed as a bloated cultural Frankenstein, with dozens of ethnicities, religions, and nationalities lashed together by Communist dictatorships. Forty years of grudges and dreams, yearnings and hatreds simmered inside unwieldy entities like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and suddenly the Wall had collapsed. Families reunited with families; neighbors slaughtered neighbors. East Germany merged with West Germany. Czechoslovakia peacefully split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Romania had a revolution. Yugoslavia burned.

Whether by fate, or a hiccup, or pure chance, the Soviet border captain had relented, angrily waving my family across to Czechoslovakia and then Austria, to seek a better life in the West. Two months later, we were stationed at a refugee safe house on the outskirts of Vienna. Most of the inhabitants were ex-Soviet Jews, like us, but one night, a family of Bosnian Muslims showed up at the shelter. We didn’t have many belongings – a change of clothes, spare blankets, bits of cookware which had survived that awful night at the Soviet border – but compared to the Bosnians we were barons. The Bosnians didn’t speak to us and mostly kept to their room, only venturing out to use the communal bathroom, and even then, they moved as in a trance. Rumor had it they fled to Vienna because of the Orthodox Serbian death squads operating with impunity in the new post-Communist world, settling scores and launching a campaign of ethnic cleansing that would rage across southeast Europe for years.

The Wall had collapsed and echoes still ring across Chechnya, and Central Asia, through eastern Ukraine, and the Balkans. The Wall had collapsed and my family ran toward freedom; the Bosnians across the hall from us ran for their lives.

Lev Golinkin is the author of the memoir A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, out this week.

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY investing strategy

12 Business Books You Should Read Right Now

Stack of books on pedestal
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/Caiaimage

The surprising key to business success: reading.

Reading is the best way to gain experience without having been there yourself. As Warren Buffett’s business partner Charlie Munger said, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads — at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.” While there are mounds of terrible business books out there, there are some hidden gems. Read on for what I think are the best 12 business books and why you should read them.

Self-improvement

1. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Carnegie’s classic book was first published in 1936 and remains a best-seller today . The crux is Carnegie’s idea that “the person who has technical knowledge plus the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people — that person is headed for higher earning power.” Buffett took a course on the book when he was 20 and said the experience “changed my life.”

2. Choose Yourself! by James Altucher
In this book, Altucher demonstrates that it’s up to you, and easier than ever, to take charge of your life and create both inward and outward success. He offers lessons learned through accounts of the trials, tribulations, and heartbreaks of his own life.

Leadership and management

1. The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker
This is the classic management book by business guru Drucker. For Drucker, executives’ key job is to “get the right things done.” He identifies five essential practices to business effectiveness for executives: “managing time, choosing what to contribute, knowing where and how to mobilize strength, setting the right priorities, and effective decision-making.” A favorite of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, this book offers many valuable lessons.

2. Turn This Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
Marquet was a submarine captain who turned around the USS Santa Fe from the worst submarine in the U.S. Navy to the best. The book teaches timeless principles of empowering leadership. Fortune Magazine called the book the “best how-to manual anywhere for managers on delegating, training, and driving flawless execution.”

Strategy

1. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
The book teaches the theory of disruptive innovation and why great companies fail when they ignore disruptive products in their competitive space. A favorite of Bezos, Steve Jobs, and countless other great CEOs, the book challenges conventional wisdom on what businesses should be focused on and when they should deviate from business as normal.

2. Competition Demystified by Bruce Greenwald and Judd Kahn
Written by the current head of the Columbia Business School’s Value Investing program, Bruce Greenwald, this book presents a way to analyze the competitive structure of any industry, and pairs it with the idea of moats, market niches, and competitive advantage.

Marketing

1. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
This book could also be titled defense against the dark arts of marketing and persuasion. It explains the psychology of marketing and persuasion, which you can learn for using yourself or for defending yourself against it. In the early 1990s, Charlie Munger gave a series of talks on the psychology of human misjudgment (which have been combined and condensed in his book, Poor Charlie’s Almanack ) in which he heaped praise on the book for filling gaps in his knowledge. This is the book that I give most often as a present and is my top recommendation on this list.

2. Purple Cow by Seth Godin
The book that made the word “remarkable” clear to me (worth remarking on). This book delves into the importance of differentiation and of creating things that other people find worth pointing out. I would also highly recommend Seth Godin’s blog where he has published once a day for 12 years now.

Entrepreneurship

1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Written by a successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist, this book doesn’t sugarcoat how hard it is to run your own business. Filled with practical wisdom from Horowitz’s business experiences, including the near failure of his own company, this is a worthwhile read for aspiring entrepreneurs and managers alike.

2. Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
This book came out of the notes Masters took when Thiel (founder of PayPal, Palantir, Thiel Fellows and Clarium Capital, and lead investor in Facebook) taught a Stanford University class on start-ups. The book title comes from the idea that “Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1.” You can read the book, or go straight to the notes if you are curious.

General business

1. Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
The book on rethinking how businesses work. This book provides a new framework for thinking about how businesses create and capture value through an intense look at how customers, distribution channels, partners, revenue streams, costs, and a business’s core value proposition all interconnect.

2. The Essays of Warren Buffett by Warren Buffett and Lawrence A. Cunningham
Buffett has long been praised for his concise writing and easy-to-understand metaphors of complex business concepts. This book compiles and condenses the best of Buffett’s letters to investors and other writings into a single book organized thematically. Everyone can learn from this book, but I would still highly recommend investors read Buffett’s collected letters to shareholders in full; they can be found on the Berkshire Hathaway website.

Learning is the key to success

The most successful people in the world become that way by continuously learning and improving themselves. It doesn’t happen overnight. Pick one of these books and start reading, you will be surprised at how much you’ll learn.

TIME psychology

These Are the Top Six Books That Will Make You More Creative

books
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

If you read What are the four principles that will lead you to breakthrough creativity? and want more information, look no further.

Six of the best sources I came across are below, with links and descriptions:

1) Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Drawing on 100 interviews with exceptional people, from biologists and physicists to politicians and business leaders, poets and artists, as well as his 30 years of research on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi uses his famous theory to explore the creative process. He discusses such ideas as why creative individuals are often seen as selfish and arrogant, and why the tortured genius is largely a myth.

Check it out here.

2) Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson’s answers are revelatory as he identifies the seven key patterns behind genuine innovation, and traces them across time and disciplines. From Darwin and Freud to the halls of Google and Apple, Johnson investigates the innovation hubs throughout modern time and pulls out applicable approaches and commonalities that seem to appear at moments of originality.

Check it out here.

3) Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Based on deep and extensive research, including more than 200 interviews with leading innovators, Sims discovered that productive, creative thinkers and doers—from Ludwig van Beethoven to Thomas Edison and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos—practice a key set of simple but ingenious experimental methods—such as failing quickly to learn fast, tapping into the genius of play, and engaging in highly immersed observation—that free their minds, opening them up to making unexpected connections and perceiving invaluable insights.

Check it out here.

4) Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)–the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.

Check it out here.

5) Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi

…Gardner examines seven extraordinary individuals—Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Martha Graham, and Mahatma Gandhi—each an outstanding exemplar of one kind of intelligence. Understanding the nature of their disparate creative breakthroughs not only sheds light on their achievements but also helps to elucidate the “modern era”—the times that formed these creators and which they in turn helped to define. While focusing on the moment of each creator’s most significant breakthrough, Gardner discovers patterns crucial to our understanding of the creative process.

Check it out here.

6) Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas are Born

“Drawing on interviews with 40 winners of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship—the so-called “genius awards”—the insightful study throws fresh light on the creative process.”

Check it out here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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What are the four principles that will lead you to breakthrough creativity?

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How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

‘Lost’ John Steinbeck Story To Be Published, 70 Years On

Author John Steinbeck
Author and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck, early 1960s. Underwood Archives—Getty Images

The story centers on a black WWII pilot

A John Steinbeck story titled “With Your Wings” will be published Friday in The Strand magazine, 70 years after the Of Mice and Men author read it in a radio broadcast that until now was thought to be undocumented and unrecorded.

The quarterly journal’s managing editor recently found a transcript of the story while going through the University of Texas at Austin’s archives.

“With Your Wings” tells the story of a black WWII pilot who returns home after training feeling out of place and apprehensive. When his father sees the silver wings pinned to his chest, he expresses how meaningful his service will be at a time when the U.S. Army was still segregated. “‘Son,” he says, “every black man in the world is going to fly with your wings.”

[AP]

TIME Books

Netflix to Adapt Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Netflix

Netflix will produce a new series based on the books A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (author Daniel Handler’s pseudonym).

The darkly funny series follows Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents die in a fire. And as the title implies, the trio consistently has bad luck going forward. Paramount Television will produce the series with Netflix, the Hollywood Reporter says.

“I can’t believe it,” Snicket told THR, adding some characteristically dry humor: “After years of providing top-quality entertainment on demand, Netflix is risking its reputation and its success by associating itself with my dismaying and upsetting books.”

[THR]

TIME Combat

Exclusive: A SEAL Recounts a Kill Mission and the Emotional Aftermath

Mark Owen is the pen name of Matt Bissonnette, a veteran SEAL and the author of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden and the forthcoming No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy SEAL.

The only thing Mark Owen says his SEAL training didn't teach him: how to return to normal life after a brutal combat mission like one in Iraq, 2006 (WARNING: this article includes some graphic content)

I’ve been through shooting courses. I can go rock climbing, ride a dirt bike, drive a boat, and handle explosives. The government spent millions of dollars training me to fight in the jungle, arctic, and desert. I took language courses and I can parachute at night and land right on target. But I’ve never been trained to handle the stress of combat. We spent months learning how to be SEALs and hours of every day keeping those skills sharp, but we got no formal training dealing with any of the emotional stuff.

Before I joined the SEALs, I wondered if I would actually be able to pull the trigger. Could I defend myself? I only really thought about it before I became a SEAL because once I was on missions I didn’t have time to think about it. Everything I did overseas was done to protect the guys to my left and right, and my country. I obeyed the rules of engagement and never targeted innocents.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t f-ck with me. To this day, if you ask [my SEAL teammate] Phil about “the cat,” he’ll tell this story of a 2006 mission in Iraq.

***

The unmanned drone flying over the target reported seeing a half dozen men sleeping outside. It was summer in Iraq, and even at night it was too hot to stay inside without air conditioners. The village was really just a cluster of about ten squat, adobe‑style houses. I didn’t see any power lines coming into the village as we patrolled, so we expected people to be sleeping outside.

We closed slowly on the village just before three in the morning. The desert was flat and wide open and it was hard to see the horizon, even with my night vision goggles down. The village could have been on the moon. Nothing surrounded it for miles except sand and rocks. Above me, the stars were thick and bright.

Now, close to the houses, the march was one slow step at a time.

The troop chief gave the word and we moved into a large “L”‑shaped formation and started to close on the village. The base, or bottom, of the “L” was going to set up just outside of the village and, if needed, provide a base of fire and cover our movement. The vertical part of the “L” was going to move through the village searching for fighters. I was in the second group.

On the radio net in my ear, I heard updates from the other assault teams. I knew that circling above us and just outside of audible range, we had drones to give us eyes in the sky and an AC‑130 to cover us in case we needed immediate close air support. I scanned over to where the drones reported seeing the sleepers. I could make out about ten bedrolls.

A pair of men stood, scanning the desert. They weren’t talking, or at least it didn’t appear so. It looked like they were straining to see into the blackness of the desert night.

Did they hear something?

I was sure they couldn’t see us. Maybe they heard the AC‑130 above. Finally, one man moved over to where the others were still sleeping and began waking them up. His partner never stopped scanning the open desert. I could see the others getting up, slowly, and start looking around.

While the others got moving, the pair of men walked toward the nearest house. The others eventually followed. None of the men had guns so we couldn’t open fire, but it was definitely suspicious to see a large group of men sleeping on the outskirts of the village. Where were all the women and kids?

The group was halfway to a house on the edge of the village when they stopped. The entire group turned and started to walk back to their bedrolls. We were about two hundred meters away and I could see every one of the men clear as day in my night vision.

When they got back to their bedrolls, I could see them grabbing AK‑47s, RPGs, and even a belt‑fed PKM machine gun. Multiple IR lasers popped on and zeroed in on the chests of the fighters as our snipers went to work. Seconds later, three of the enemy dropped.

The others panicked and started running back toward the village. Suppressed rounds continued to pour in on them.

I counted five dead fighters. By this point in the war, we were very conscious of not running to our death, so we paused for a moment. The base of the “L” stayed in place. We were hoping the enemy hadn’t noticed the rest of us off to their right flank. Our position hadn’t fired yet in an effort to stay undetected.

Within minutes I heard the troop chief ’s voice over the radio. “OK, guys, the base is going to hold position and the maneuver is commencing assault at this time.”

“OK,” I heard the troop chief say over the radio. “Take it.” Our entire element got up and began slowly bounding forward in pairs. Two or three SEALs would slowly make their way forward with guns at the ready, stopping a short distance ahead of the next group. They would then take a knee and hold security while the rest of the unit bounded past them. We were just about to enter the village when we saw four men in a dead sprint racing back to the bedrolls.

I was less than one hundred yards from them. I raised my gun and zeroed in on the first guy in the group. He looked anxious as they sprinted, his eyes wide. He practically slid to a stop, his chest heaving, and started to root through the folds of his bedroll. The first man got to his bedroll and knelt down. I could see him pull out an AK‑47.

I put my laser on his chest and fired. My teammates also opened fire. We all hit the same guy in rapid succession, spinning him down. One by one, I followed our lasers to the next target until all four were on the ground, unmoving.

Again, we paused to assess the situation.

I took a knee and began scanning the surrounding buildings, waiting for any more “heroes.” Phil, my team leader, took a knee next to me, and I could hear him whisper.

“That was interesting,” he said. “I guess they really want to fight. Let’s take it slow and careful tonight. These guys mean business.”

“Let’s keep moving,” the troop chief interrupted over the radio.

My team spent the next thirty minutes clearing house after house. I scanned every doorway and window, watching for a fighter to pop out.

Up ahead, I caught a glimpse of a guy peering out of a door. He was tucked back in the doorway, but not far enough. I could see the muzzle of his AK‑47 as he waited for us to come closer. Thankfully it was dark. At least it was dark to him. We had our night vision goggles.

I wasn’t sure Phil saw him at first. The man pulled his head back quickly and I saw Phil’s laser shine on where his head once was. The man slowly slid his head back into view as he attempted to get a look at our position. Phil’s laser was now
on the man’s forehead.

I heard several suppressed shots from Phil’s MP7, and the man’s head disappeared from view. Two fighters ran through the village, popped out the other end, and tried to hide by running out into the open desert. They stood out immediately on the infrared cameras carried by the ISR and AC‑130. A team of four SEALs and a combat dog raced out of the village after the fighters. The AC‑130 banked and headed toward the group. I was keeping track of their progress on the radio. Finally, I heard the thump of the AC‑130’s guns.

When my teammates got to the bodies, it was a shocking scene. It looked like one of the fighters was blown completely inside out. A round from the plane’s one‑hundred‑and‑five‑ millimeter howitzer must have hit him. The one‑hundred‑and‑five‑millimeter shell is twice the size of a bowling pin, and it can do some serious damage.

Back in the village, I was still holding security when Phil’s voice came over the net. “Alpha Two, Alpha One,” Phil said, using our call signs. “Need you in here.”

I stepped over the fighter’s body and saw Phil and two of my teammates searching the main room. The gun the fighter had been holding was leaning against the far wall of the foyer. Phil had taken the magazine out and cleared the chamber.

I looked back at the dead fighter. His head was lying away from the doorway leading to the main room. Had the fighter not exposed himself in the doorway, there was a good chance neither Phil nor I would have seen him. If he’d had a little patience, he would have had the jump on us.

Phil had clearly popped him with a great shot. The bullet hit him just above his nose, flush in the bottom of his forehead. Half of his face was torn off, leaving one good eye staring blankly at the ceiling. Blood was slowly pooling up around the back of the fighter’s head.

I started to look away when a flicker of movement caught my eye. A ratty‑ass‑looking calico kitten, its fur matted to its skinny rib cage, was at the edge of the blood pool. The kitten sniffed at the pool, and then I saw its pink tongue dart out and lick the blood. I expected to see dead bodies, and I had more or less gotten used to it by this point, but there was something about the ratty cat and the blood that didn’t seem right. I didn’t expect it. It was pretty f-cking gruesome.

I turned away and started to search the house. The area was secure, so I wasn’t quiet. I was digging through a cabinet near the door when I heard something behind me. It sounded like a sob or a whimper. I swung around, one hand on the grip of my rifle, and saw a small child huddled in the corner. He was balled up behind a pile of blankets, and my teammates must have missed him in the initial clearance. I squatted down to get a better look at him. I wasn’t sure if he was injured. His hair was matted. His tears washed away some of the dirt from his cheeks. He looked as ratty as the cat licking blood in the foyer.

I looked back over my shoulder and realized that from his vantage point, he would have seen the man in the foyer as he was shot. I had no idea if the man was his father or just a fighter hiding in the house. Either way, he’d watched us shoot the guy and probably saw the cat licking the puddle of blood. “Wow, I’ve seen some crazy shit, but this poor kid is going to be f-cked up by this the rest of his life,” I thought.

The kid was shaking he was so scared. He probably thought we were going to kill him too. Plus, I figured with all of my guns and gear strapped to me, I looked pretty menacing.

The kid continued to quietly sob. I slowly slid a chemlight out of my vest and popped it. The stick lit as I shook it, bathing the room in a green hue. I also slid out a Jolly Rancher and held it out to him. The kid wouldn’t look me in the eye at first.
I shook the chemlight.

“Hey, buddy,” I said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

I knew he had no idea what I was saying. My only hope was he got my tone. Slowly, he looked up. He was sizing me up, trying to gauge if I was a threat. I tried to smile, but I knew in all my gear a smile wasn’t going to be enough.

He looked away and then quickly snatched the chem light and candy. He didn’t eat the candy; instead he just clutched it in his hand. I got on the radio to figure out where we were consolidating all the women and kids. They were in a house not far away, so I stood up and waved at him to follow me.

He didn’t understand me, so I took his hand and led him out of the house. I tried to block his view of the dead fighter and the cat, still licking at the pool of blood.

We walked through the village. I could hear a few of the women and kids sobbing when I got to the house. A teammate was at the door keeping watch. When the kid saw the other children and women, he let go of my hand and walked into the middle of the room. I didn’t linger. I had work to do and I knew the kid was safe now.

As I walked back to the house to continue my search, I could still picture the cat licking the blood, and the kid watching from across the room as the man’s head was blown off. I quickly pushed the image out of my mind and resumed my search.

***

I didn’t have time to dwell on it. After missions, I blocked it out. I know some guys who make a big deal about killing. I’d shot people from long distances and shot people at point‑blank range. But I always rationalized it this way: If I hadn’t shot the enemy, he would have killed one of my swim buddies or me. I didn’t need another explanation.

That didn’t make it easier when I got back home to the real world. At home, we’re expected to forget everything we did to survive overseas. How did I leave it all over there? I don’t know. All I know was I got better and better at compartmentalizing things. I simply blocked out a lot of the emotional stuff. I pushed myself through the confusion of living one life overseas and another at home.

It was a struggle, one I overcame by redirecting many of the lessons I learned from SEAL training. I simply didn’t let the effects of combat control me. When I came home I never talked about work to people outside of my teammates.

But after the [REDACTED] mission, I couldn’t shake the stress. The mission was spilling out of my mental compartments. As I left the cage after talking to my buddy, I felt better. I felt reassured knowing that others were going through the same mental gymnastics as I was. I wasn’t the only one having trouble trying to comprehend all the shit that had gone on since the raid.

A few years earlier the Navy started trying to address combat stress. Their first idea was requiring us to spend a few extra days in Germany on the way home from every deployment. They wanted us to decompress.

Before Germany, we’d be home sometimes twenty‑four hours after an operation. I’d go from a gunfight overseas and within a day be back in the States at Taco Bell for my routine, two tacos and a bean burrito. It sounds pretty strange, but that stop at Taco Bell was probably me putting up a wall on another compartment in my brain; it allowed me to keep everything separate.

After the policy change, we stopped in Germany and the command’s psychologist flew over to meet us and give us classes on coping with combat stress and reintegration into the civilian world. For the guys with families, the training was focused on going back to the family routine. The funny part was we’d be home for a few weeks, only to head out on our next training rotation, which would keep us on the road for weeks.

The command eventually replaced the Germany stop with a new policy. We all had to meet with a command psychologist. We were required to sit down for a single thirty‑minute meeting after each deployment. The thirty minutes were used to talk about any issues we might be having. Once I went down with another buddy, Gerry, to knock it out. We weren’t buying into this, and it had become just another line item on my to‑do list after returning from a deployment. Each person’s thirty‑minute session had to be complete before they would allow us to take any leave or vacation time. It was something the senior guys blew off, but we were required to go. We knew it was a box that needed to be checked so the Navy could say we were being counseled and trained to deal with the stresses of combat.

It was toward the end of the day when Gerry and I got to the psych office. I don’t remember if it was my appointment or Gerry’s, but when the two of us walked into the office, the psychologist was taken aback. She was pregnant, about three weeks away from popping. She looked as tired as we did.

“Listen, you don’t have much time,” Gerry said, pointing at her stomach. “We’re going to save you an extra thirty minutes by doing our sessions at the same time.”

After thinking about it a minute, she waved us both into her office. Gerry folded his more‑than‑six‑foot‑five‑inch body into the couch. I took a seat across from the psychologist. She sat in an office chair with a notepad.

“We’re going to talk about some stuff, some sensitive things. Are you guys OK with doing this together?” she said. “Gerry knows everything about me,” I said. “And I know everything about him. We’re good.”

For most of the thirty minutes she asked us questions about how we were handling stress and if we had any PTSD symptoms. I can remember her handing us a sheet of paper with a list of symptoms on it. I took a second and quickly read down the list. The symptoms included trouble sleeping, avoiding crowds, and keeping your back to the wall in a restaurant.

“Holy shit, I think I have every single one of these,” I thought.

“Why are we not more f-cked up?” I asked. “Why are we not more messed up from the shit that we’ve seen? You talk about PTSD. Gerry and I have been trained to deal with just about every combat or tactical situation that can be thrown at us, but we’ve never had one second of training to deal with the emotional side of things.”

She nodded.

“The best way I can describe it is BUD/S,” she said, [referring to Basic Underwater Demolition, SEALS, the six-month SEAL training program].

“So are you saying BUD/S made me stronger? Or BUD/S just weeded out the weak?” I asked.

I stumped her with that one. Before she could answer, Gerry jumped in.

“I think we’re just mentally stronger than everyone else on the planet,” he said with a smile.

He was obviously f-cking around. There was no way that we could comprehend all that we’d seen and done. It was easier to just make a joke and ignore it.

We left the doctor’s office after our thirty minutes and never said another word about it. Over time, I started to sleep better, and there was some comfort knowing I was strong enough to compartmentalize the traumatic experiences I’d had overseas. I still have the list that the doctor gave me. From time to time, I read over it, and I still have every single symptom on the list.

From the helicopter crash on the [REDACTED] raid to that small malnourished Iraqi cat licking the pool of blood from the fighter’s head, each experience had its own compartment. The symptoms didn’t go away even after I got out of the Navy. I just choose to block them out.

We all deal with the stress of combat in different ways. The way that I’ve dealt with it isn’t perfect and certainly isn’t for everyone. Being a SEAL is a tough life and career. The sacrifices go far beyond what I’d ever imagined, but if asked whether I would do it all over again, my answer, without hesitation, would be simple.

Yes.

 

NO HERO

From NO HERO: THE EVOLUTION OF A NAVY SEAL by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer. Published by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © 2014 by Mark Owen.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Opinion

Lena Dunham and Feminism: Beware the Vitriol of the Sisterhood

The debate over revelations in Dunham's memoir is not just about the propriety of a child's sexual curiosity. It’s about women who make us uncomfortable.

Correction: Appended, Nov. 5.

“Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.”

Those were the words of Ti-Grace Atkinson, an author and philosopher, when she resigned from the Feminists, a radical group she had founded in the late 1960s. They were repeated, forty years later, in the New Yorker​ by Susan Faludi​, who ​described them as “one of the lines most frequently quoted by feminists.”

​If Lena Dunham’s latest lambasting is any indication, the words are still applicable today. The vitriol of the sisterhood is alive and well.

The latest controversy over Dunham goes like this: Last month, the 28-year-old creator of Girls published a memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. In the book, much in the same way her HBO series does, Dunham takes on all sorts of taboos, in revealing, unfiltered, at times uncomfortable sections on virginity, sisterly intimacy and platonic bed sharing, date rape, and more. She is graphic in her sexual descriptions, including a passage where she describes, as a 7-year-old, looking inside her younger sister’s vagina (to discover that her sister had placed pebbles in it, presumably as a prank).

The scene is cringe-inducing. It’s uncomfortable, no doubt. It’s also funny. I ​laughed, ​turned the page and kept reading. Little kids do bizarre things.

I​t appeared that so did everybody else — until last week. That’s when an article in the National Review – written by Kevin Williamson, a man notable for an article on how “Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman” and seeming to suggest that women who get abortions should be hanged-- eviscerated Dunham for the chapter in her book about rape (he questioned why, if the story of an assault she suffered in college were truthful, she never “felt the need to press charges, file a complaint, or otherwise document the encounter.”) The right​-wing website TruthRevolt then picked up the ​thread, ​homed in on the sisterly vagina scene ​(along with a typo stating that Dunham was seventeen not 7) and declared in a headline (over which Dunham is now allegedly suing): “Lena Dunham describes sexually molesting her sister.”

In the version of things in my head, here’s how I would have expected this scenario to play out: ​

A few right wing publications and gossip blogs would pick up the story. ​The New York Post would write a ​snarky headline. ​Dunham would respond ​on Twitter (which she did). Her sister, who is her best friend and tour manager, would chime in (which she did). Feminists would jump to her defense. What she did as a seven-year-old may bother people, but that’s precisely Dunham’s form of art. That doesn’t make it abuse.

And yet​…​ here is how it did play out. ​Dunham was swiftly called a “predator without remorse” — mostly by other feminists on Twitter.​ She was compared to R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, and Jian Ghomeshi. She became the subject of a hashtag, #DropDunham, which called on Planned Parenthood – which has joined Dunham on a number of stops on her book tour – to disassociate from her immediately.

​And on feminist listservs, Tumblr blogs and elsewhere, the pile-on began. She was “creepy.” “Not normal.” A “self-promoter.” “Full of herself.” A woman who needs to “sit the f–k down and learn something.” ​She was told to “get some boundaries.” To “stop being weird.” Her story was, as one blogger put it, “best kept in the confines of your family kitchen over Thanksgiving.”

This was not the National Review talking. These were fellow feminists.

Yes, she had defenders: Jimmy Kimmel tweeted that suggesting “a 7 yr-old girl is even capable of ‘molestation’ is vile​”; a sex researcher at the Kinsey Institute wrote that “it’s normal for kids to explore with each other;” prominent feminist voices like Roxane Gay (who called Dunham “gutsy” and “audacious” in a review of her book), Katha Pollitt (who donated to Planned Parenthood in Dunham’s honor); and a group of women who launched a Tumblr to curate all sorts of youthful (and at times unsettling) stories of sexual exploration. ​(Dunham responded again, too, writing in TIME that she takes abuse seriously and noting that her sister had given permission for her to publish the story.)

And yet the vitriol from her critics was so intense, so personal, so almost gleeful, that it was hard not to wonder if this was really about Lena Dunham at all.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve even seen this level of outrage over Bill Cosby,” one friend commented, referring to the allegations of sexual abuse against Cosby.

Why, whenever there is a powerful woman speaking about feminism publicly (including, ahem: Sheryl Sandberg, and please see the disclosure in my bio) must they become so polarizing as to make feminism, as one journalist put it, “a bipartisan issue“?​ (It’s worth noting that among my cohort, anyway, there has been far more discussion about Dunham than about the elections).

Feminism is about giving women equal opportunity, equal voice, equal power. And yet, over and over again, when female voices attain that power, we – other women – parse and analyze their every move, public and personal, with an absurdly critical eye. We see it in politics, in pop culture, in film. From Hillary Clinton to Sandberg to Anne Hathaway. (As Roxane Gay put it in a piece for The Rumpus, “Young women in Hollywood cannot win, no matter what they do.”)

To be clear: There are plenty of people who think Dunham’s behavior toward her sister was questionable, and that’s a valid argument to have. (Though “inappropriate” is a whole lot different from “molestation” so say the experts.) There are others who’ve argued that acknowledging Dunham’s race, and privileged background, are crucial to this conversation. (I happen to disagree – but that too, is a discussion worth having.)

But this has become a witch hunt – and it has everything to do with​ how we view women like Dunham.

Feminism has a long history of what Ms. Magazine, in a 1976 piece by Jo Freeman, called “trashing.” That is, taking jabs at women who suddenly rise up, helping elevate them, but then tearing them down when they become too successful. “This standard,” Freeman wrote, “is clothed in the rhetoric of revolution and feminism. But underneath are some very traditional ideas about women’s proper roles.”

Dunham is a perfect target for trashing – because she doesn’t fit into our traditional molds. She is loud, out there, imperfect, messy, and some might say maybe even a little gross. She speaks openly about feminism, and sex, the ambiguity of consent, and she doesn’t apologize for it. She makes people uncomfortable. And while she may have risen up propelled by the support of other women, somewhere along the way, she lost her likability – as powerful women often do. She is just a little too loud, a little too unapologetic, a little too overtly sexual, a little … successful.

But that doesn’t make her a molester.

Dunham has always presented herself as flawed. She has never made herself a paragon, or claimed to represent us all. Yes, her character on Girls called herself a “voice of her generation.” She is also not her character (and has said repeatedly that it was just a line). And she’s not a politician, she’s an artist. It is her job is to push boundaries. To speak loudly. And, yes, to self-promote – and sell books.

Dunham’s accomplishments are what feminists should want women to aspire to: she is the writer, director and star, making art about women, from a woman’s point of view, in an industry that is still dominated by men. She doesn’t represent all women — and she shouldn’t have to. But she is willing to say what many other high-profile women won’t (at least not publicly). Yes, she has a voice that creates controversy. Yes, she makes people uncomfortable.

But why do we hold her to a seemingly higher standard? Why must her voice represent us all?

No one can be “everything to everybody,” Freeman wrote back in 1976. And neither can Lena Dunham. Like her, don’t like her. Watch Girls, don’t watch it. But let’s not forget: There is room for more women than Lena Dunham at the top.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. She writes regularly for the New York Times and is a contributing editor on special projects for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s non-profit, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

Read next: Lena Dunham: ‘I Do Not Condone Any Kind of Abuse’

Correction: The original version of this story attributed a quotation to National Review writer Kevin D. Williamson that he did not say. The story has been updated to remove the quotation.

TIME Living

Lena Dunham: ‘I Do Not Condone Any Kind of Abuse’

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham Jeff Kravitz—FilmMagic/Getty Images

Lena Dunham is a writer and actress.

In an exclusive statement to TIME, the author addresses recent controversy over a passage in her book, Not That Kind of Girl, regarding her relationship with her younger sister

I am dismayed over the recent interpretation of events described in my book Not That Kind of Girl.

First and foremost, I want to be very clear that I do not condone any kind of abuse under any circumstances.

Childhood sexual abuse is a life-shattering event for so many, and I have been vocal about the rights of survivors. If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention. I am also aware that the comic use of the term “sexual predator” was insensitive, and I’m sorry for that as well.

As for my sibling, Grace, she is my best friend, and anything I have written about her has been published with her approval.

Read next: Lena Dunham Goes on ‘Rage Spiral’ After Abuse Allegations

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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