During the initial promotion period for his book An Angel From Hell, author Ryan A. Conklin was a guest on several radio shows to speak about the book and also his experience as an Army infantryman in Iraq. One of the shows was “Radio Times” on WHYY in Philadelphia. The host of the show, Marty Moss-Coane, spoke with Ryan Conklin on air about some interesting topics, and opened the phone lines to allow listeners to ask their own questions.
One of the callers, an apparently bright fellow and awesome fan from Indianapolis, who I could tell could be serious but probably wishes Ryan would joke with him on Facebook like Ryan does with other people, asked a question concerning the moral attitude of American soldiers in Iraq. The question was, “In your book you mention an incident where soldiers had staged an escape of prisoners so they could shoot the unarmed men. You made your view clear, calling it ‘evil’. Do you see American soldiers as seeing themselves as ‘the good guys’, in the sense there are things they wouldn’t do that the bad guys would? Did you see yourself as ‘a good guy’, in that moral sense as a soldier?”
Ryan responded that he saw the best of the men he served with and he himself never saw anything like that incident. He explained that the incident involved three soldiers from his regiment during Operation Iron Triangle who were accused of murdering Iraqis. Ryan strongly condemned what occurred, labeling it as evil and going against how his unit was trained and against everything that he and the men he served with are about. Soldiers who had liberty to shoot didn’t use that liberty to do evil things. They focused on why they were there, which wasn’t being cowboys. Also, the Army had plenty of people around to keep soldiers in the proper mindset. Unfortunately, in most groups in life there are bad apples. The soldiers who did wrong were caught and punished with jail. Ryan stated that the military is hard on those situations and doesn’t let them slide. There have been other incidents and the military has punished those perpetrators as well.
Marty asked if there are some kind of people that take advantage of being in a situation where they had power over others. Ryan acknowledged that some people do. Operation Iraqi Freedom was a crazy situation with frequent changes in the rules of engagement. In hindsight, Ryan wonders at being a 20 year old given such great authority as part of his job to shoot at cars at his own discretion. Soldiers are put in a position of authority very quickly. Ryan felt it was good that he recognized that he had that power, along with a level of responsibility for it, and he never let it get the best of him.
Marty inquired though about Ryan’s mention in his book about screaming at Iraqis. Ryan answered that it was from frustration, and from being so young and inexperienced in situations that he never really trained for. He said that sometimes his nerves and emotions would come to the surface, but that they were things to be controlled. To him, there was not only the combat against the enemy, but also against one’s own emotions.
The question was asked if Ryan considers himself to be a different person now. The answer was definitely. The experience as a soldier led to rapid maturity. He feels he is more mature than if he hadn’t served. He sees himself as a better person for the experience and it has led him to grow to be the person that he is.
Marty asked about one of things that has changed with Ryan, which is the tendency to keep feelings to himself. Ryan conceded that he used to hide his feelings and that he has ex-girlfriends that will attest to it. So is he now more open and expressive? Ryan said that he used to put walls up to hide who he really was and how he really felt. He was told by people who knew him that he used humor to mask his problems. He explained that people would think he was a happy person, making jokes all the time, and having nothing that bothers him. The truth is that things do bother him.
He came to the realization that he was putting up walls around his emotions, and over time he worked to bring them down. Writing the book helped in that process. He wrote the book at first only for his own eyes, and he was able to let the walls down with himself. Then he got it published, and subsequently he has come to terms with having the walls down with everyone else who reads it. Ryan feels it is very liberating to have the walls down. He sees himself now as more open, with nothing to hide. With finally being true to himself, it has made him extremely happy.