I’ve discussed post-stree trauma disorder (PSTD) and veterans of Bush”s war in the Middle East before, but I feel that we need to talk about it some more, especially in light of this article from the New York Times. PSTD first became an issue with soldiers returning from duty in Vietnam in the late 1960s abd 1970s. It inspired Sylvester Stallone to create a movie anit-hero named John Rambo who obviously suffered from PSTD, resulting, according to the Rambo movies, from his stay in a Viet Cong POW camp.
But, and I think that the fact that the latest generation of veterans from Iraq and Afganistan are exhibiting Rambo-like behavior supports my contention that it is military training of young impressionable men and women that is the reason for the increased PSTD. During peace times, the military training is more geared to providing skills that are marketable in the civilian world. But, when the US is involved in a war like we were in Vietnam and now in the Middle East, the training is much more combat oriented.
Also, it seems that the combat training currently provided these young people is more violent, more conscience-less than the training provided the soldiers who fought in Wolrd War II.
Also, the nature of wat itself has changed. There was time not that long ago, when there was some honor exhibited by the combatants on both sides. Nowadays, it seems neither side has much honor. Car bombs, the massacre of civilians, napalm, all have made war a very dirty business indeed. And then you send young people barely out of their teens to fight in such conditions, it is no woder that we see a significant increase4 in the number of PSTD-related crimes.
What did we expect when we trained these kids to be killers? Did we think that they would come home like the WWII vets and go to college on the GI Bill, get married and buy a house in the suburbs? If anyone did, they were sorely mistaken.
There are some significant differences between the veterans of WWII and those from Vietnam and the Middle East. For one thing, the veterans returning from World War II tended to be somewhat older than those who served in Vietnam and the Middle East. That means their psyches had more time to mature than their recent counterparts. There is a major psychological difference between someone in their early 20s and someone in their late teens. Also, kids sixty years ago matured a bit earlier than they do now. The WWII vets grew up in tought times and had to shoulder a lot more responsibility at an earlier age than the Bommers and later generations.
Back when I was in my late teens and early twenties – the Vietnam era, there was a lot of clamoring from my generation about how we were old enough to die for our contry but we could not vote or drink legally, or even get married in some states. The solution back then was to lower the voting age and the drinking age to 18. Wrong solution! They should have raised the age for miliitary service to 21
Each generation is maturing slower than the previous one. That is a result of being human. We are cultural animals – culture in the social theory rather than aesthetic sense. We are not born with many survival instincts and tools. We learn those as we mature. We also learn right from wrong as we mature. And how we deine right and wrong is based on who our teachers are, especially in the latter stagoes of our transition from childhood to adulthood. When the teachers at that age are providing combal survivaltraining, we should not be surprsed when the graduates of that training transalte their lessons into non-military situationss. We should not be surprsed when they use combat definitions of right and wrong in civilian life. After all, it’s all they have to work with.
So what’s the solution?
In the best of all possible worlds, we would end the user of war as a foreigh policy tool all together, That would be nice, but not likely in the foreseeable future. In terms of more “practical” solutions, I suggest that all veterans returning from combat situations be provided with some intensive de-miliarization training to undo the “damage” done by combat training. Also, each veteran should receive intensive psychological evaluation and counseling to prepare them for civilian life, with regular follow-up evaluations for several years following their discharge.
Finally, we need official recognition of PSTD as a form og mental incapacity so that veterans who commit crimes, even capital crimes, can use tempary insanity due to PSTD as a defense. That way, they might be able to get treatment rather than just being locked away in prison.
It is time for the American people to accept responsibility for the psychological damage done to these young people in service to their country. As Malcolm X said forty-five yearts ago, America’s chickens are coming home to roost!