Ptsd: Echoes Of War Essay, Research Paper
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Echoes of War
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The term can be defined simply as, a normal reaction to an abnormal situation (Olson, Gail A. and Robbins 8). A more in-depth definition would be the development of characteristic symptoms following a psychologically distressing event outside the range of usual human experience
(Dicks 2). Of the seven hundred and fifty thousand heavy combat veterans from Vietnam alive today, two hundred and fifty thousand suffer from PTSD. The impact on the lives of these veterans and on the lives of those close to them is very powerful and often permanent. Many veterans are unable to function normally in the civilian world following their experiences during the Vietnam War. They have difficulty maintaining relationships and socializing with others. Many are unsure of their civilian role in society. This paper will explore some of the most pronounced symptoms of PTSD as it relates to Vietnam Veterans as well as elaborate on how those symptoms affect their interaction with others.
Military service in wartime takes the soldier from a familiar environment, deprives him of many of his accustomed social and sexual pleasures, projects him into a world where his civilian status counts for little, and, finally, may force him to risk his life (Holmes 108). According to most scholars in the field of Psychology and
Psychiatry, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be caused by any highly stressful experience, from a car accident to a mugging to the experience of violent combat. Symptoms of PTSD may not surface for months or even years. When they do, they range from cold sweats to flashbacks that submerge the victim in a world of past experiences in which the faces of familiar people are replaced by images of comrades long since dead or of enemy soldiers. These horrifying experiences can surface at any time, under any circumstances. Though there are treatments for PTSD, the first step in all of them is identifying the problem. Psychologists have spent a number of years studying what causes PTSD. It has been the general consensus among experts that one major physiological cause of PTSD is when the body suspends the activation of its stress coping mechanisms so that it may accomplish a given task with which those mechanisms would interfere. Any number of stimuli that can appear in everyday life can later trigger these delayed reactions. From the mention of a certain name to a familiar smell such as diesel fuel or even a loud bang, nearly anything can activate PTSD. A more mentally related cause is believed to be the violation of a victim s normal cultural belief system, what is socially acceptable and what is not within a given system of human interaction. Jonathan Shay, M. D., PH.D, believes that, The moral strength of an army is impaired by every injustice, whether it personally touches an individual soldier or not, (Shay 27). When a man or woman is absorbed into the military, they take on the social functions of a part that exists within the whole of the military machine. In order for a person to serve competently, the must believe that they are doing the right thing . This moral support structure is enforced mainly through propaganda and the control of information. Its
effectiveness can be measured by noting the morale of a given unit. If the individuals of that unit feel happy, or at least not opposed to the part they play, it can be surmised that they have not violated their personal moral code of basic human truths, of right vs. wrong.
Having discussed some of the factors that cause PTSD, an examination of the major symptoms is required for a strong understanding of the disorder. As this paper is concerned only with the most pronounced cases, only the major reoccurring symptoms will be discussed.
Some of the most commonly noted symptoms of PTSD patients are: An inability to control mental functions such as memory and perceptions of trust, inability to de-activate the body s mobilization for lethal danger with the potential for extreme acts of violence, constant suspicion of betrayal and exploitation; destruction of the capacity for social trust and a persistent preoccupation with both the enemy and with the veteran s own military/governmental authorities (Shay xx).
These symptoms often result in alcohol and drug abuse as the veteran attempts to cope with the stresses induced by his or her experiences. According to an article by Katy Butler, Sleeplessness and hypervigilance alternate with numbness and withdrawal; amnesia coexists with flashbacks (Butler 39). More often than not, the extreme stresses that are put on relationships such as marriage and family life by these symptoms force the patient into seclusion. This is a reaction that is usually intended to preserve close members of the veteran s social circle, both from acts of violence as well as from
witnessing an emotional breakdown. While it is true that the disorder can be treated and the symptoms brought under some degree of control, often the fear of embarrassment prevents these trained warriors from seeking help. The end result for many is divorce and alienation from society.
Treatments for PTSD range from medication to group therapy, usually a combination of the two are necessary to bring the disorder under control in severe cases. From the late sixties on into the early eighties most of the symptoms of PTSD were attributed to exhaustion by the medical community and treated only with bed rest and tranquilizers. These treatments were not only ineffective in curing the victims of their affliction, but masked the disorder under the shroud of a simple diagnosis. This prevented studies of PTSD as a mental disorder as well as the creation of more effective treatments that might reverse or eliminate it altogether. The result was the destruction of the lives of thousands of brave Americans who, for whatever reasons went to battle for a nation that would never appreciate the risks they took, or the things they did. Many veterans feel that talking about their experiences with other veterans is vital to reach a state of comfort within the civilian world. Some Vietnam veterans feel that the reason they have been stricken with such strong cases of PTSD is because they were returned to the United States by plane, a trip that takes only a few hours. Veterans of previous wars usually returned home by via naval vessels, this allowed them time to release the stresses of combat amongst comrades during the long trip home. Whatever the specifics may be, it is a common feeling among veterans that the military should work harder to acclimatize soldiers to the fury of battle as well as find ways to decompress
them mentally prior to their return home to prevent this neurosis from afflicting veterans of future wars. The modern American military machine has adjusted to the ever-changing face of combat with innovations in the areas of advanced weaponry and tactics to meet the treats of tomorrow. No matter how advanced the weapons may be, no matter what the conditions are, no matter who the enemy is, the most important factor on the field of battle is the man or woman behind the trigger. The human factor. Killing is members of one s own species for territorial expansion is an unnatural act, a fact demonstrated throughout nature. It takes a sharp mind and a strong will to subtract another human being from the universe. Since man has wielded the power to control who may live and who may die he has always searched for better ways to carry out war on his enemy. Only recently has society become aware of the need for a system of training returning soldiers on how to exist in the civilian world following the experience of combat.
Though good can rarely come from the violence of war, the experiences of men and women in combat can and have offered valuable insight into the workings of the mind in extreme, high-stress environments. With this knowledge comes the knowledge that, Stress is the body and mind s process for dealing with uncertain change and danger. Elimination of stress is both impossible and undesirable in either the Army s combat or peacetime missions (Army, Department of 1). However, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder does not have to be a life shattering experience. Treatments are now available and preventive measures can be taken to ensure that future veterans can better cope with acts of war.
Butler, Katy. The Biology of Fear Family Therapy Networker, 1996 38-45.
Dept. of the Army Leader s Manual for Combat Stress Control: Booklet 1 Field Manual NO. 22-51: 1997
Dicks, Shirley From Vietnam to Hell: Interviews with Victims of PTSD McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, and London 1990.
Holmes, Richard Acts of War: The Behavior of Men in Battle The Free Press, New York, NY., 1985
Olson, Gail A. and Robbins Scars and Stripes: Healing the wounds of War Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA., 1992
Shay, Jonathan Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, NY., 1994