I just read an article about PTSD by Sebastian Junger in the June 2015 Vanity Fair Magazine, of all places. It had good information, but until the end, nothing that those of us who work with combat vets didn’t already know. I don’t know how well the general public knows the data on PTSD, for instance, that the majority of people who fail to overcome traumatic experiences are those who suffered childhood abuse or trauma. Or that US troops suffer from PTSD at much higher rates than troops from other countries, mostly because our “normal” lives in the United States are so isolated and individualized — the individual is prized over the group or community, which explains another fact about combat PTSD–that it’s not so much going to war that initiates the PTSD as it is the reintegration into “normal” life when the tour of duty is over. Or that combat PTSD seems to last longer and be more difficult to treat than, say, a rape, because there are always good experiences in war along with the bad ones. The veteran is therefore both horrified by and drawn to the combat experience. The good parts keep the veteran from wanting to put the experience behind him (or her). And the good parts are, for the most part, the sense of camaraderie and safety that is derived from the group in combat settings. A shared experience that is dangerous and difficult creates a bond among people that is unlike anything else.
It is that shared experience of safety in numbers and contributing to the common good that brings Junger to his conclusion, which is that until we all begin to understand the benefit of community, and to work for the good of the community as a whole rather than pitting individuals against one another, nothing will change:
“. . .we could emulate many tribal societies–including the Apache–by getting rid of parades and replacing them with some form of homecoming ceremony. An almost universal component of these ceremonies is the dramatic retelling of combat experiences to the warrior’s community. We could achieve that on Veterans Day by making every town and city hall in the country available to veterans who want to speak publicly about the war. The vapid phrase “I support the troops” would then mean actually showing up at your town hall every Veterans Day to hear these people out. Some vets will be angry, some will be proud, some will be crying so hard they can’t speak. But a community ceremony like that would finally return the experience of war to our entire nation, rather than just leaving it to the people who fought.
It might also begin to re-assemble a society that has been spiritually cannibalizing itself for generations. We keep wondering how to save the vets, but the real questions is how to save ourselves. If we do that, the vets will be fine. If we don’t, it won’t matter anyway.”
Recognizing that we are all in this together is how we save ourselves.