War and Trauma

“Post traumatic stress syndrome” occurred when the soldiers were under stress for long periods of time, or saw scenes of violence, but the ones with the worst PTSD were the ones who killed people”

If we look at how humans are shaped, it is safe to say that highly positive experiences will result in a heightened sense of wellbeing. On the other hand, it is clear that traumatic experiences, whether physical injuries, mental abuse, violence or torture, will result in long lasting consequences, impairing a person from fully experiencing Life.

Here is what Wikipedia says:

Psychological trauma

PTSD is believed to be caused by experiencing any of a wide range of events[6] which produces intense negative feelings of “fear, helplessness or horror”[7] in the observer or participant.[1] Sources of such feelings may include (but are not limited to):

-1. experiencing or witnessing childhood or adult physical, emotional, or sexual abuse;[1]

-1. experiencing or witnessing physical assault, adult experiences of sexual assault, accidents, drug addiction, illnesses, medical complications;[8]

-1. employment in occupations exposed to war (such as soldiers) or disaster (such as emergency service workers);[8]

-1. getting a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness;[1] or

Children or adults may develop PTSD symptoms by experiencing bullying or mobbing.[9][10] Approximately 25% of children exposed to family violence can experience PTSD.[11] Preliminary research suggests that child abuse may interact with mutations in a stress-related gene to increase the risk of PTSD in adults.[12][13][14]

Multiple studies show that parental PTSD and other posttraumatic disturbances in parental psychological functioning can, despite a traumatized parent’s best efforts, interfere with their response to their child as well as their child’s response to trauma.[15][16] Parents with violence-related PTSD may, for example, inadvertently expose their children to developmentally inappropriate violent media due to their need to manage their own emotional dysregulation.[17] Clinical findings indicate that a failure to provide adequate treatment to children after they suffer a traumatic experience, depending on their vulnerability and the severity of the trauma, will ultimately lead to PTSD symptoms in adulthood.[18]

While external factors are obviously a trigger to PTSD, it is the individual’s reaction to stress that determines whether there will be serious long term psychological injury, and how the person will respond in the future.

When I was selling my house, the new buyer came for a visit. He was introduced by his woman friend. He was shaking, very nervous, wearing green camouflage outfit. She told me that he had been a paratrooper during the Vietnam War.

I had never met anyone before in that condition. But it was clear that he was suffering from PTSD. I myself shudder to think the things he saw and did as a paratrooper in a war zone. And this was 30 years after the war against Vietnam had ended. Another fellow I met in Thailand on a bus. He was wearing a blue jump suit, kind of like a uniform one might see in the Air Force or Navy. He had also been a soldier in Vietnam, and had, after a divorce (another traumatizing event ), come to stay in Thailand. Why Thailand, I asked. “Thailand is a peaceful country, live and let live.”

I sometimes meet veterans and can feel what they are feeling, and it isn’t comfortable.

I think I have had my own version of PTSD. The death of my father would be considered traumatic, plus, my mother had also experienced childhood trauma through her mother, who had almost certainly experienced trauma in Eastern Europe. In me, it manifested as constant anxiety, anger, depression, finger nail biting, shyness.

A cousin of mine was very aggressive, constantly harassing and picking fights with me. One time, I said to myself, I will never treat others like this. But some people react differently, and arm themselves physically and emotionally. My stepfather had been through WWII in Europe. He’d lost an eye, and didn’t want to talk about what he experienced. But he was very abusive to his sons, harassing, backbiting, even physically fighting with them. One of them joined the Special Forces. He told me later that he left dejected, after the Vietnam War, since now there was no reason to blow things up, which he enjoyed doing. His recreation was going to a shooting range, he had enormous bags of spent shells in his house.

It is my belief that trauma in families is actually passed on deliberately as perhaps a form of initiation into ‘the real world’. When babies in England would cry at night, a British doctor told the mother to let the infant cry, so as to develop self-reliance in a mean world. I think this explains to a degree the cruel treatment that colonial Britain showed its victims around the world at the height of the British Empire. Rather than learning compassion from the loving care of the mother, the child was learning to shut down emotionally. Is it any wonder why some people are so insensitive? I read years ago in The People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, that Indian children were never left alone, babies were carried by their mothers (papoose), and that in the rare case when white children were orphaned and raised by Indians, then returned to ‘civilization’, many preferred to live with the ‘savages’. So I would like to ask the question, is there something in our ‘civilization’ that engenders trauma in a way that encourages war, which results in a vicious circle of trauma and violence?

I have met other soldiers from the Vietnam War, one a bomber pilot shot down over North Vietnam, who was kept in “the Hanoi Hilton”, the prison for American pilots. These were the people who dropped bombs on Vietnamese whom they had never met or been threatened by. He had given an inspirational talk at some conference I attended. The soldiers had shown great courage in standing up to the North Vietnamese, who certainly must have abused them. But he had a kind of wooden quality about him. I greeted him after his talk, and said that although I disagreed with the Vietnam War and what he had done, he had shown courage in prison and appreciated that. His reply was, “I did it to preserve your freedom”. Well, we finally after 20 years of war which resulted in the deaths of at least 2 million Vietnamese, the displacement and injury of again as many, the poisoning of their landscape with Agent Orange, and the horror visited on the Vietnamese, who simply wanted to determine the fate of their own country and culture, we finally got kicked out. And I am still waiting for the Vietnamese invaders whom we were told were sure to come an attack us, if we didn’t fight them over there.

To put it bluntly, he fought and killed and suffered in prison for nothing but the profits of the war making corporations, the careerist military and the hubris of the political leadership.

And you could see it on his face and in his bearing even if he couldn’t feel his own pain. He simply isn’t willing to face the cruelty and meaninglessness of his actions.

The most famous example of PTSD is former presidential candidate, John McCain, who had a similar story. Navy Pilot, shot down over North Vietnam, broke both his arms, spent 5 years in Vietnamese prison.

Robert Dreyfuss. speaking to Amy Goodman on the show, Democracy Now, said, “And on a personal level, McCain has had a tendency over the years—this is so well known on Capitol Hill—to erupt, to explode, to scream and yell at his colleagues in the Republican caucus, in closed-door meetings behind the scenes, and sometimes even in public. So he has scared a lot of his colleagues, who I’m sure are supporting him, like Cochran did, out of party loyalty, but who’ve said, as Cochran did, that they’re extremely concerned about his temper and his apparent willingness to explode. “

I think that PTSD can result in both anger as well as withdrawal. What shocks me about war and trauma, is that people traumatized by war, rather than renounce war because of the horror they experienced, seem to seek it out and relive it.

So here is John McCain, who was shot down and kept as a prisoner for bombing Vietnam, who was quoted, referring to Iran in 2008, and paraphrasing an old Beach Boy song, Barbara Ann, Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran.

Didn’t he learn anything from his war experience? He has shown anger towards his Vietnamese captors, but seems to have forgotten that he was flying over their country blowing up men women and children.

It is this denial by many soldiers that amazes me. They walk through life with PTSD, not owning their own murder. Their own emotional and spiritual callousness.

I think there is a deeper issue in the effect of war. Certainly, victims of war experience PTSD. The most telling words were those of an American fellow I had met, who had returned from being a peacekeeper in Iraq. He had gone to Iraq before the war, hoping, by his presence, to stop the bombing, thinking that the US government would refrain from attacking Iraq if US citizens were there. Later, he returned to the US and set up a treatment program to help returning veterans. It was he who made the observation at the beginning of this piece. Those who kill experience the most traumatic stress. Indeed, we hear that as many soldiers return, according to a November, 2011 article in Huffington Post writer, Eleanor Goldberg, a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes, according to the VA. She further states that of active duty military, one commits suicide every 36 hours. New figures suggested in the documentary film, On the Bridge, that 8000 veterans of the Middle East wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed suicide.

This does not sound like Esprit de corp. What is going on? My theory totally unsubstantiated, is that when we harm others we harm ourselves, at least spiritually or psychologically. This is especially true if the other person is innocent.

We as humans are hard wired to know what is right and wrong. While people can be conditioned to change through training or –trauma, otherwise known as ‘basic training’, when new recruits see the world they knew collapse, only to be replaced by the cohesion of their unit, morality breaks down. But this psychological conditioning only goes so far. Some people like those pilots, go into emotional woodenness, and never recover, yet get by and may even be outwardly successful, like McCain. Others internalize their pain and get into drugs or alcohol to anesthetize themselves from facing what they have done.

Sometimes, it seems whole societies are severely traumatized by war but don’t learn anything. The Civil War, or The War Between the States, as people from the Southern United States like to call it, was in large part destroyed and certainly traumatized by the humiliation of having lost the Civil War. Yet, Southern culture seems to embrace military culture far more than say, Japan after WWII, which adopted a pacifist constitution. Even though the same class of people runs Japan now, as did during WWII, and even though Japan’s war crimes are not even taught in Japan’s public schools, most Japanese have resisted a larger role for their military since WWII. Note the use of language :Civil War. Comedian George Carlin and pointed out the selfcontradictory (maybe pathological) nature of the term.

“Hi there, we are at war. Blam blam blam, oops sorry about that”

In a telling article written in January 2001, Southern Honor, Southern Pride, author Jeff Adams http://csapartisan.tripod.com/essays/SHSP.htm stated,

“Any Southerner worth their salt will know that a big part of the Southern culture is a “love affair” with the profession of arms.” He notes with pride Southern Military culture, referring to the Civil War as The War for Southern Independence. He goes on to point out the disproportionate number of southern soldiers relative to the US population as a whole, as well as the large number of medal winners. But at the at the end of the article, he changes tone. noting that

“as a people Southerners need to start questioning the reasonableness of continuing to serve in a military force that holds no love for the South, its people or its culture, except as a resource for providing bodies for its war machine. While the Medal of Honor is presented to those who serve with the highest honor in combat, it is questionable if honorable service can still be obtained through being part of the military arm of the American Empire. Would an honorable Southerner have accepted the Medal of Honor for “outstanding bombing of civilians” in Serbia? I would hope not. “

It is more than 11 years since that article was written, and undoubtedly, the war machine has continued to rely on large numbers of Southerners. It is a good sign that many Southerners are questioning ‘the American Empire’, and although I don’t agree with Ron Paul on social issues and the role of Capital in American society, the groundswell of support for Paul, who is advocating a significant reduction in the role and funding of the military, is a hopeful sign.

Maybe the trauma of continuous war is finally inducing some introspection and self examination, which, I believe is the antidote to trauma, whether induced by war or other causes.

Before 2003, the percentage of Army suicides was below civilian rates, but it started to climb in 2004, one year after the US-led invasion, according to the doctors’ analysis, which was expected to appear in the British journal Injury Prevention on Thursday.

In 2008, 140 Army servicemen committed suicide, a rate, which reflected an 80 percent increase from 2004, the article noted. The suicide rate was also a lot higher than that of the civilian society’s, it said.

“This increase, unprecedented in over 30 years of US Army records, suggests that 30 percent of suicides that occurred in 2008 may be associated with post-2003 events following the major commitment of troops to Iraq, in addition to the ongoing operations in Afghanistan,” said the paper.

It noted that more than one-fifth of all active-duty troops suffered from some kind of mental disorder.

According to three different studies published in the American Journal of Public Health in January, many US military personnel and veterans are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or other consequences of deployment to war zones.

A study of almost 600 US veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan showed that nearly 14 percent of them were suffering from PTSD and 39 percent from probable alcohol abuse.

http://poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com/2012/03/us-army-suicides-jumped-by-80-following.html

Also see http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30761.htm Cancer of the Spirit

On the Bridge http://www.onthebridgethemovie.com/

The Costs of War Collective Amnesia and Learning from Experience http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-bobrow/the-costs-of-war-collecti_b_1324609.html

1 Comment

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One response to “War and Trauma

  1. Amen, Eric. You’re very perceptive blog is right on the money. Sorry to say that money and war is what runs our economy. War against the demons-of -the-day, “terrorists,” drugs, blacks, the poor, immigrants, latinos, gays, lesbians. As Goebbels(?) pointed out, the greatest threat is not from without, but from our own population. Thus keep fear alive.

    The karma of war is overwhelming. There’s a fairy story (Grimm’s) about a man who returns from the war who has to wear a bear costume because of his PTS. He has to wear this for many years until he sheds his pathology.

    “Bring the troops home” !? What will this do to our already pathologic society?

    Thanks, Eric, for your insights.

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