Kelsi Sheren: War, Artillery, PTSD, and Love | Lex Fridman Podcast #230 | Summary and Q&A

October 14, 2021
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Kelsi Sheren: War, Artillery, PTSD, and Love | Lex Fridman Podcast #230


Kelsey Sharon, a Canadian Forces veteran, shares her experiences as an artillery gunner in Afghanistan and the importance of preserving history and understanding the impact of war.

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Questions & Answers

Q: Why do World War II veterans often remain silent about their experiences?

Many World War II veterans choose not to speak about their experiences out of a desire to protect others from the pain and suffering they endured. They may also feel that sharing their stories would not be fully understood or valued by younger generations.

Q: What sparked Kelsey's interest in World War II history?

Kelsey's family history, including her grandfather's service in World War II and her family's experiences during the Nazi occupation and Ukrainian starvation, played a significant role in her fascination with the war. She also felt a deep connection to the era and a pull towards understanding the stories and sacrifices of those who came before her.

Q: How does war impact civilian populations?

World War II resulted in the death of millions of civilians and the destruction of homes and communities. The impact of war on civilians is difficult to comprehend, and even the loss of a small number of innocent lives in a community can have a significant and lasting effect.

Q: What are the psychological and emotional effects of war on veterans?

War can have severe psychological and emotional impacts on veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues. The experiences witnessed on the battlefield can haunt individuals for years, and the lack of support and understanding can further exacerbate their suffering.

Q: Why do World War II veterans often remain silent about their experiences?

Many World War II veterans choose not to speak about their experiences out of a desire to protect others from the pain and suffering they endured. They may also feel that sharing their stories would not be fully understood or valued by younger generations.

More Insights

  • The value of studying history and preserving personal stories from war should not be overlooked, as they provide valuable insights and lessons for future generations.

  • There is a need for greater awareness and support for veterans and first responders who have experienced the mental and physical tolls of war.

  • Understanding the psychological and emotional impacts of war can contribute to creating more empathetic and compassionate societies.

  • The fascination with World War II may stem from a desire to understand the depths of human nature, including the capacity for evil and the complex relationship between leaders and their followers.

  • The impact of war on civilian populations is often overlooked, but it can result in immense suffering, loss, and displacement.

  • The role of artillery gunners in warfare is essential, and their ability to accurately and strategically hit targets can have a significant impact on the outcome of a battle.

  • War can elicit a mix of emotions, from fear and anger to excitement and a sense of victory, highlighting the complexities of human nature and the moral dilemmas of armed conflict.

  • The need for effective communication and coordination within a military unit, especially in roles such as artillery gunners, is vital for success in combat situations.


In this conversation with Kelsey Sharon, a Canadian Forces veteran and founder of Brass in Unity, the discussion covers various topics ranging from the impact of World War II on personal history, the fascination with Hitler and human nature, the suffering of civilians in wartime, the power of personal stories, the role of charismatic leaders, the intergenerational trauma, the complex experiences of North Korean defectors, the role of hope in overcoming suffering, the recruiting videos of military forces, the different roles in the military (infantry, artillery, armored), the job of an artillery gunner, the precision and power of artillery, and the impact of artillery on both soldiers and civilians.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did studying history and having a World War II veteran grandfather impact Kelsey's perspective on human stories and sharing them over time?

Kelsey believes that the value of sharing human stories and experiences over time is often underestimated. She mentions that her World War II veteran grandfather and grandmother, who experienced the Ukrainian famine and Nazi occupation, didn't talk much about their experiences to protect their loved ones from the pain and suffering they endured. However, Kelsey thinks that not sharing these stories is a detriment to those individuals as well as to the larger community, as they contain valuable lessons and a sense of strength that can be passed down through generations.

Q: What is Kelsey's perspective on World War II, and why does she feel a deep connection to it?

Kelsey mentions that World War II had a profound impact on her and that she feels a deep connection to it, although she's not sure why. She speculates that it could be because her family had personal experiences related to the war, or because it has been extensively portrayed in film and television, capturing her imagination. Furthermore, Kelsey expressed a fascination with the magnitude of the war and the mass casualties of civilians, which she finds difficult to comprehend, especially after witnessing the impact of a few civilian deaths in war firsthand.

Q: What aspects of World War II intrigue Kelsey, and why does she find it difficult to understand the mass casualties of civilians?

Kelsey is intrigued by the historical, sociopolitical, and psychological aspects of World War II. She reflects on how Hitler and Stalin were able to exert their influence and gain the loyalty of their followers. She wonders if she would have been influenced in a similar way if she had lived during that time. Kelsey also mentions that the scale of civilian casualties and the destruction of homes and cities during the war is hard for her to grasp, as she has personally witnessed the impact of a few civilian deaths on a smaller scale.

Q: How does Kelsey view Hitler and the nature of evil from a psychological perspective?

Kelsey believes that Hitler was legitimately insane and had traits of a sociopath and narcissist. She also notes that there was a lack of understanding about the psychology of sociopaths and psychopaths at that time, making it difficult to fully comprehend why people followed and supported Hitler. Kelsey suggests that Hitler's charisma and ability to resonate with certain individuals may have played a role in his influence over them. She expresses curiosity about why people do what they do and wishes there had been an opportunity to delve deeper into Hitler's mind to gain a better understanding.

Q: Would history unfold similarly without Hitler, and what does Kelsey find more interesting, the charismatic leaders or the people who follow them?

Kelsey believes that charismatic leaders exist throughout history, and history could unfold similarly even without Hitler. She finds the people who follow such leaders more interesting because they are either genuinely terrified, looking for a sense of belonging, or resonating with the leader's message. Kelsey thinks it would be beneficial to examine these individuals' perspectives and gain insights into why they thought and acted the way they did.

Q: How do Kelsey's personal experiences as a soldier and her understanding of war influence her perspective on the suffering of civilians and the impact of conflict?

Kelsey's experiences as a soldier, witnessing small-scale civilian deaths and the profound impact they have on communities, contribute to her struggle in comprehending the mass casualties and widespread devastation of World War II. She acknowledges that the suffering of civilians, their homes being invaded, burned, and bombed, is a significant aspect of most wars, and it highlights the inherent tragedy and injustice within conflicts.

Q: What prompted Kelsey to become a soldier, and why did she choose to be an artillery gunner?

Kelsey's parents had always thought she would be in law enforcement or some other role involving carrying a gun due to her strong personality. Kelsey herself wanted to do something that would have a significant impact and be involved in frontline operations. While she wanted to be in the infantry, her small stature prevented her from pursuing that role. As a result, she chose to be an artillery gunner, believing that it would allow her to make a tangible difference by providing support to the infantry and affecting change.

Q: What are the different roles in the military, such as infantry, artillery, and armored, and how do they differ?

Kelsey explains that infantry is the frontline combat role, involving door-kicking, direct combat, and being on the ground with heavy packs. Artillery provides firepower support to the infantry, often engaging targets from a distance using large-caliber guns. Armored units operate tanks and armored vehicles for offensive and defensive purposes. These different roles each have their unique responsibilities and ways of engaging in warfare.

Q: What does being an artillery gunner entail, and how does it feel to handle and use such powerful weapons?

As an artillery gunner, Kelsey's main responsibility was to operate a 155mm howitzer, which could accurately fire rounds weighing up to 100 pounds over long distances. Artillery is known as the "hand of God" due to its ability to strike targets from afar with immense power. Kelsey explains that the feeling of firing such a weapon is both exhilarating and terrifying. She mentions the precision and accuracy of modern artillery and the impact it can have both on soldiers and civilians, depending on how it is employed.

Q: How does artillery support infantry during warfare, and what is the experience like for soldiers on the receiving end of artillery fire?

Kelsey explains that artillery supports infantry by providing firepower and suppressing enemy positions. Artillery can be called upon by forward observation officers embedded with infantry units, who request artillery fire on specific targets. The experience for soldiers on the receiving end of artillery fire can be terrifying. The shells make a distinctive thunderous sound as they whistle through the air, and the impact can cause immense destruction, making it challenging for soldiers to move or take cover in time.

Q: How are modern artillery guns operated, and what technologies are involved in their functioning?

Modern artillery guns are operated using advanced technologies. They include GPS guidance systems, computer systems, and trajectory calculation tools. The gun crew enters the target coordinates into the system, which then calculates the trajectory and adjusts the aim accordingly. These guns are highly accurate and can hit their targets with precision, guided by GPS. The electronic systems make it more efficient and streamlined for gunners to operate the complex machinery.


This conversation delves into various aspects of war, history, and personal experiences. It highlights the significance of sharing human stories and acknowledging the suffering endured during wartime. The discussion also emphasizes the role of charismatic leaders, the impact of modern technology on warfare, and the complexities of confronting trauma and intergenerational trauma. Additionally, it explores the fascination with World War II, the different roles in the military, and the power and precision of artillery. Overall, this conversation offers insights into the profound and lasting effects of war and the importance of understanding and learning from historical events.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Kelsey Sharon, a veteran artillery gunner, discusses the value of studying history and the personal impact of war on individuals and their families.

  • She reflects on the significance of sharing personal stories and the need for understanding and support for veterans and first responders.

  • Kelsey highlights the importance of recognizing the strength and bravery of past generations and the lessons that can be learned from their experiences.

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