I was interested to read in The New York Times that the army is embarking on a program to help soldiers face battlefield traumas and learn to reduce the risks of depression, stress, and even suicide.
The Pentagon has finally recognized that 20% of the troops that see action in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD (post trauma stress disorder) and need help to re-enter civilian life and cope with family challenges. It has taken nearly a hundred years for our armed forces to address this problem. During World War I, soldiers living through the horrors of trench warfare suffered from what was then described as “shell shock.” In 1917, the British Army set up a medical unit in Edinburgh to work on what they then considered mental disorders, caused by wartime experiences. But little progress was made; and, amazingly in World War II, PTSD did not surface as a major problem. Maybe it was just not recognized.
I was interested to read recently about the passing of Henry Allingham at the age of 113 – the oldest British veteran of the First World War, where he served in the fledgling Royal Air Force. He apparently would not discuss his wartime experiences until he was being honored, in his nineties; and, even then with tears in his eyes, he would give all credit to his colleagues.
Harry Patch, another British veteran, who fought at the Battle of Passchendaele died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 110. Similarly, he would not talk of his personal wartime experiences, but was vocal about the futility of War, the ignorance and stupidity of the World War I generals and the suffering of the troops.
My father-in-law, who is nearly 95 and who has a remarkably outgoing and jovial personality, will often talk about landing on the Normandy beaches on D-Day plus One, but when pressed about his experiences on the ground as he fought with the British artillery all the way to Germany, tears will come to his eyes and he can’t continue. I believe these are all examples of PTSD.
Not so long ago, I saw the award-winning documentary, “An Unlikely Weapon,” about the life of the celebrated photojournalist, Eddie Adams, who covered 13 military conflicts, including the Vietnam War which produced his most famous photographs. He suffered from severe depression; and, since he saw the true horror of war and its effects on young and old, innocent and guilty, I believe his “depression” could well have been PTSD.
In my recent Novel, “Bear Any Burden,” the lives of the three main characters were all impacted by their Second World War experiences. While I had neither the intention, nor knowledge of PTSD at the time of my writing, I believe I stumbled into a description of some of the symptoms that affected their behavior and character.
It will be interesting to follow the progress of the training that the army will be instituting to combat the post trauma effects of modern warfare.
Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com