“Not For Nothing…!” Understanding PTSD by Eileen Coles

by Eileen Coles
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
November 5, 2010

A newly published World War I diary is considered to be one of the most accurate depictions of the horrors of war. Ernst Jünger, the German diarist, served for 3 years in the trenches on the Western Front. He was wounded 7 times. That he survived the combat theaters he was in at all was a 1 in 20,000 chance.

It is interesting to note that he did not suffer from PTSD. Der Spiegel has the details.

I believe there were two factors which contributed to the diarist’s lack of PTSD. One was the firm belief that what he was doing was right, noble and good. (While the Nazis revered him and tried to exploit his deeds, he himself refused to associate with them.) The other was that he kept a diary, which allowed him to mentally work through any issues as they happened or shortly thereafter.

I further believe that the PTSD our troops are enduring nowadays is deliberately cultivated. Those who do not believe 100% in what they are being asked to do are allowed to suffer psychologically to the point of suicide, while those who buy wholly into the lie that their service in these wars is justifiable receive a different standard of treatment and support from the US military. I theorize that the key to most combat-related PTSD is the thought that one is risking one’s life for an unworthy cause, a lie, or for nothing. An associative factor might be a feeling of powerlessness brought on by circumstances where there is no clear mission or real resolution.

The PTSD-related attrition that occurs during and after a person’s involvement with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is seen as a positive by the military/industrial complex. Every suicide means less benefits are paid out, and the pool of people who actually know what went on in the combat theater and can speak to the rest of the ignorant civilian public about it remains small and less credible. It means that those who blindly follow illegal orders and obediently facilitate war crimes prosper and become career soldiers, while those who question these acts become homeless, branded “mentally ill” and “unemployable”, and remain relatively powerless in our society. Another, perhaps more significant and dangerous trend is that those veterans in our population – people who have been there and are difficult to lie to – who dare to question our purpose in Iraq and Afghanistan are marginalized, eliminated as a potential threat toward those who support blind obedience to our government. PTSD needs to be looked at from this perspective by the anti-war movement.

The swift and unforgiving nature of how the US military treats it’s own once they show signs of PTSD can be illustrated with two examples. James Blake Miller, the “Marlboro Marine” whose combat weary face appeared in 150 papers in 2004, has well known PTSD issues which have rendered him unable to hold a job. His usefulness to the military over, Miller was discharged with a “personality disorder”.

Army Specialist Joe “Doc” Dwyer, the medic who appeared on front pages nationwide in March of 2003 while saving a 3 year old Iraqi boy, committed suicide in June of 2008 by overdosing on the inhalants that he was abusing as a way to self medicate for his own PTSD. Both of these young men are forever recorded in the public psyche as heroes under fire, but their respective fates speak volumes about the state of the military and the nation they served.

I am the third generation of my family to serve. My relatives who saw combat in World War II did suffer ill effects from their service, but it did not affect them to the degree I see it affecting Vietnam or Iraq/Afghanistan vets. My great uncle had the horrific experience of seeing his best friend stand up next to him in a trench and having the man’s decapitated head fall into his lap. He later was captured and placed in a concentration camp, where he was tortured by the Nazis. He maintained enough presence of mind to successfully convince the Nazis that he was one of them (he was a recon scout who spoke fluent German) and eventually was released into the Bundeswehr, later escaping back to the American side. There was very little evidence of PTSD in my great uncle – the only hint of it I ever saw was a very tight, terrible and sad little smile when he saw me in my Air Force uniform. My great uncle kept his sanity throughout some of the most frightening and morally challenging scenarios imaginable with the firm and certain knowledge that he was doing the right thing. Our troops today who serve in endless wars meant only for profit do not have that luxury. That knowledge alone, brought home to them by what they have endured on the front lines, is quite literally killing them by the thousands. I’m not saying that people never came back from the World Wars or Korea with PTSD – of course they did. What I am saying is that the phenomenon seems to have increased as America’s wars have become less about actual defense against a universally abhorred aggressor, and more like a corrupt protection racket enacted by organized crime.

Any study done on PTSD should include an analysis of the individual military member’s opinion of their place in the war and their need to be there. This is key to understanding PTSD and stopping the horrific suicide attrition rate on our veterans.

What is most important is that the veterans themselves who are suffering from PTSD need to be made to understand that their voices are desperately needed and that they have not served our nation in vain. They have come home with knowledge and experience that needs to be shared with the rest of the American public. Every suicide is a loss in the fight against a greater, very real evil. The deliberate maltreatment, disrespect and neglect of our warriors with PTSD is the ultimate PSYOP. It takes place against our own people who volunteer to serve. It hits our people while they’re down. It is done with the intent to further harm honorable men and women who are dealing with the awful truth that what they have had to endure at risk to their lives was for no nobler cause than the enrichment of war profiteers. It needs to be stopped.


t r u t h o u t | AWOL Soldier Refusing Deployment Because of Severe PTSD

None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture – ICH


5 thoughts on ““Not For Nothing…!” Understanding PTSD by Eileen Coles

  1. Pingback: Stories My Old Man Told Me by Daniel N. White « Dandelion Salad

  2. No imagining was necessary. Unlike James Blake Miller, my great uncle came home, married his childhood sweetheart, lived peacefully in a Levittown home, held a job and raised children, and died of old age. The difference was that my great uncle hid his gun and his medals and never spoke a word about his experiences until the day my (then 12 year old) uncle found the duffelbag hidden under the stairs and started playing with the gun.

    It’s not as if my great uncle sought to glorify his actions in those days. He viewed them as an absolutely necessary evil, perpetrated upon a greater evil, and he saw it as nothing to talk about.

    I do thank you for your input, though, since this discussion brings to light our current society’s possible role in the aggravation of combat veteran PTSD. In our society, warfare is glorified and references to it are everywhere. As a 9/11 survivor, I deal with PTSD related to that day by withdrawing from all the hype and discussion. The way that our society currently glorifies wars that most of our people have never bothered to fight in is definitely part of the problem.

  3. Dear Ms. Coles,
    I agree wholeheartedly with every point of your article.
    A female psychologist has studied and written similarly about the nature of ills facing returning vets, and she uses the term Perpetration Induced Traumatic Stress.
    Her name is Rachel McNair, and I know you will find her writing even more illuminating.
    The abuse of our veterans begins when they play their first Pentagon sponsored violence oriented video games as children , it continues when they are bombarded with ads for glorifying military service, it continues again when they are lied to in basic training about who their real enemies are, it continues when they are placed in harm’s way for profits, as you describe so well.
    In the reading I have done about PTSD, I read that WW1 soldiers had a sort of long, group therapy type environment on the returning troop ships, where they had time to separate the two realities,,combat and non combat. WW2 soldiers also had some of this, but with the helicopters and jets of the Vietnam era, troop’s realities could change in a matter of minutes. Even more dramatic are the great differences in reality today, where soldiers can go from civilian roles, to combat,, to civilian roles, to combat over and over again,, all accomplished with a change of dress, and an airplane ride to the other side of the world.
    I wish you continued success with your insightful and thoughtful writing, and thank you for being a person who truly cares. It shows through in your words.

  4. Right on Eileen Coles. This courageous approach to increased PTSD sheds light on the nature of more recent US inspired wars as experienced by soldiers.
    Warren Schaich

  5. Interesting. Hard to imagine that ww2 combatants suffered less because it was supposed to be a ‘good war’, esp. considering the blitzkriegs against cities of civilians.

    PTSD seems also depend on variable individual ability to tolerate profound psychological stress. War is not the only trauma, apparently rape victims suffer varying degrees of PTSD, etc.

    Seems less a moral issue than personal response to trauma.

    As to soldiers, it has always been for naught. Soldier Say No.

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