This article is, for the most part, my personal opinion. Do what you want with it, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find me not goofing off or joking around. I find that laughter is indeed the best medicine and really does strengthen the soul, one’s sanity, and unit cohesion. Musashi said, “Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.” Part of that philosophy means taking a step back and being able to chill out; have a laugh from time to time, especially about yourself and occasionally your mistakes. You live, learn, laugh, and move on.
This one time, I had been out at a small outpost in the Kirkuk region and had been up all night, on watch without any sleep. Needless to say, by morning I was beginning to feel a little loopy. Well I was at the rear of the OP getting chai when the Peshmerga took contact at the berm line. Nothing serious, just a few back-and-forth potshots. I set down my chai and picked up my rifle to run toward where the shooting was happening. For some reason, I felt like howling an exaggerated battle cry as I ran through this deserted, bombed-out village by myself. Believe me, it was anything but fierce.
I ran past a group of Pesh huddled around a campfire, seemingly uninterested in the fighting. They stood up to sarcastically howl back at me with fists raised in the air. Still running, I turned toward them to return the gesture. I was just pleased they were in on the joke. I stumbled and ate shit, tumbling head over heel onto my ass in full battle rattle. I just lay there laughing my ass off for several seconds while the Peshmerga fell over doing the same. Fucking priceless.
I got up, dusted myself off, gave a bow, and went about my business. I have seen it too many times, and fallen victim to it myself: If you’re constantly trying to take everything seriously, you will break. Guys crack under pressure when they try to maintain a constantly serious outlook on life, especially when it comes to war. It’s critical to be able to switch the “attitude” on and off. When you get good at it, you can do it in a second, like snapping your fingers.
The guys who last the longest as volunteers learn to maintain a positive mental attitude and do not have a surly demeanor. They talk shit to each other and brush off the bad times. Of course, everyone has those moments where they get upset or beaten down, but it’s how you conduct yourself from there that determines where you land. Roll with the punches.
I see this quality in many Kurds as well. The Peshmerga are, for the most part, in high spirits despite the predicaments they are constantly facing. From pay problems and ISIS to small matters such as shitty rice and beans rations or car problems, they brush it off and stay positive despite their troubles. I’ve heard from other volunteers and read in articles about the YPG constantly smiling and singing even though they have suffered some of the heaviest casualties out of all the Kurdish forces.
It seems to be a way of life for the Kurds. Success is not a state of being, but an attitude held by the individual. Wars are won and lost in the mind; it is the same with life. Only you can decide when you have been defeated and should give up. Approach every day like firing a rifle, with a fresh and renewed outlook, letting yesterday’s decisions influence you, but not weigh you down.
(Featured image courtesy of REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman)