I feel sadness over the fact that many people, mostly young, are entering recruiting stations, committing to military duty, and going to war. There are various reasons for people to enter the military including patriotism, the urge for adventure, unemployment and the lack of job availability, and educational benefits. However, many of those who experience war in Iraq and Afghanistan during and after their wartime experience suffer and will suffer the effects, many debilitating, of war related trauma.
There are many similarity between these present wars and the war in Vietnam. Experiencing that war has had profoundly negative on many of those who fought there. Similarities include the constant threat of mortar and rocket attack, IEDs (command and non-command detonated booby-traps), and outright combat. As in Vietnam, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are in constant threat of wounding and death. Thus, many soldiers and veterans of these recent wars can expect and are experiencing the same powerful effects of being in a war zone. Many war veterans from former wars such as Korea and WWII presently experience these same effects. Below I will share an excerpt of my graduate thesis to indicate some reasons for my sadness.
Symptoms and Effects
Symptomatology related to trauma and war-related trauma includes a number of conditions. Symptoms brought on by trauma that Ronnie Ianoff-Bulman calls “the shattering of victim’s basic assumptions about themselves and the world” include depression, loss of appetite, insomnia, “nightmares of the traumatic event,” flashbacks “in waking life,” “altered states of consciousness in which the individual believes he or she is again experiencing the traumatic event.” Other symptoms include such things as “efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma,” “feelings of detachment and estrangement from others,” inability to feel love, “hypervigilance,” “exaggerated startle response,” and “irritability or outbursts of anger.” Interpersonal symptoms are attested to in the words of Vietnam combat veteran Michael Norman: “Unsettled and irritable, I behaved badly. I sought solitude, then slandered friends for keeping away. . . . I barked at a son who revered me and bickered with my best ally, my wife.”
Robert J. Lifton also speaks of some of the “profound effects” of PTSD on former soldiers:
"They frequently experience various psychiatric illnesses; they are five times more likely than those without the disorder to be unemployed; seventy percent have been divorced; almost half have been arrested or in jail at least once; and they are six times as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol . . ."
William Mahedy speaks of the most devastating effect of PTSD, suicide. In the mid 1980s he noted that “more Vietnam vets have died by their own hand than were killed in combat.”
Ronnie Ianoff-Bulman, “The Aftermath of Victimization: Rebuilding Shattered
Assumptions.” in Trauma and Its Wake: the Study and Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. ed. Figley, R., Ph.D. (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1985): 18
Steven M Sonnenberg, et al eds., The Trauma of the War: Stress and Recovery in
Vietnam Veterans. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press Inc., 1985): 5
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. “309.81 Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.” .Available from http://www.crip. org/library/psych/ptsd2/ p. 6.
Michael Norman quoted in Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery. 63.
Robert Jay Lifton, Home from the War. ix.
William Mahedy: Out of the Night, Produced by Taylor J. Granley, JGT Media
Production, 1992, videocassette. (Mahedy also wrote Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journel of Vietnam Veterans. New York: Ballentine Books.