The deeply moving events and the extensive media coverage of Memorial Day prompted me to think of some chilling statistics and the development of problems that perhaps have not received the attention of the Military establishment in previous wars.
The current Iraq War has claimed the lives of approximately 4,300 of our servicemen and women. Nearly 33,000 have been wounded (often severely from roadside bombs and suicide bombers). In Afghanistan, the numbers so far, are much smaller, but are likely to rise in the months and years ahead.
These numbers however do not take into account those servicemen and women suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which according to recent reports, has affected one in five of those who have served in Iraq.
I’ve been thinking about these issues. Is it the horrors of high-tech modern warfare that have brought PTSD to the forefront, or have the veterans of previous wars always suffered from these problems, but without getting the attention and help that they needed? These injuries to the mind were undoubtedly present in all of our previous wars.
In the First World War where mass slaughter was the result of trench warfare and major set- piece battles, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were treated for what was then described as “shell shock.” It would certainly be understandable if virtually every participant in those gory years had some form of PTSD.
After World War II, one did not hear too much about these issues, but I was struck some years ago when my father-in-law, who had landed in France on D-Day Plus 1 and went all the way to the Rhine, was talking to my son about his wartime experiences. He has an upbeat, jovial personality and so I was truly surprised when, as he got into the description of his battle experiences, tears welled up and he started to cry. I wondered at that time how many millions of combatants had bottled up their feelings and the traumas that had produced them.
In my recent novel, “Bear Any Burden,” the lives of the three main characters were permanently impacted by their World War II experiences. The lead character, Sir Alex Campbell, had been a nineteen-year-old Lieutenant in the British Army Intelligence Corps. at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945. The horrors that he saw, caused nightmares for four decades thereafter.
Anna Kaluza, daughter of an aristocratic Polish family, had never met her father and had been born in a Russian Collective Farm Labor Camp in 1940. She lived in camps for the first eight years of her life, and her elder brother provided the protection and support that was a substitute for her father.
Professor Erik Keller was fifteen years old when the Germans marched into his home town of Tarnow in Poland in September 1939. He witnessed the cruelty, abuse, and ultimate destruction of the Jewish population, including his family, and even nearly forty years after the end of the Second World War, he was still living a life which hid his true background and identity.
Unintentionally, I realized that my characters, were all suffering from some form of PTSD.
For some of our servicemen and women returning from Iraq, PTSD is likely to have an impact on the rest of their lives. The human and financial cost of these tragic issues is incalculable.
Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com