PTSD as a Political Football in a Hobbesian Age
If our wars were to make killers of all combat soldiers, rather than men who have killed, civilian life would be endangered for generations or, in fact, made impossible.
- J. Glenn Gray, from The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle (1959)
I lost myself when we busted down that door.
I lost myself. Please don’t make me tell any more.
- Tom Mullian, from "Private Charlie Mac"
Why can’t we all just get along?
- Rodney King
According to a New York Times report on Memorial Day, psychologists are re-thinking Post Traumatic Stress and other combat-related issues applied to multi-tour combat soldiers. According to Times writer Benedict Carey, the challenge these days is less emotional healing than how to unlearn the hyper-vigilance and shoot-first, ask-questions-later violence necessary for survival in a combat zone. That is, using the current vogue term, can experienced warriors be adjusted from a wild, adrenaline-fueled state of barbarism to one emphasizing community and civilization?
This is a politically tricky matter, since this sort of question inevitably leads to areas critical of US war policy. It’s notable that the research cited by the May 30 Times story is being done in civilian universities (Harvard, the University of Texas, the University of New Haven, the University of North Carolina) and other civilian research sites -- not by the military or the Veterans Administration, federal government agencies naturally reluctant to wade into anything that might be critical of US war policy. The veteran at the center of the Times story is an ex-Ranger whose unit specialized in what the Times reported is sometimes known as “vampire work,” quick raids, often late at night, on high-profile insurgent targets for capture or killing. Just the term “vampire work” suggests the experience being considered is morally ambivalent.