Just as any psychological diagnosis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) does not have well-defined properties, as there is still an ongoing debate as to its actual mechanics. It has been noticed that people who had been experiencing an extreme emotional shock for a prolonged period (it usually happens during the time of war) tend to become mentally unstable individuals that derive particular pleasure from indulging in anti-social behavior since they have a hard time detaching themselves psychologically from “combat mode of existence,” even after return back home. People affected by PTSD are known for their skeptical attitude towards the norms of conventional morality and for their tendency to resort to violence as the ultimate instrument of dealing with life’s challenges. In her article “Combat Fatigue,” Tara McKelvey provides us with insight on suspected technicalities of PTSD: “When individuals are exposed to extraordinary stress, they release a high level of hormones. This is known as a “fight-or-flight reaction” and is, of course, a good thing because it helps people protect themselves from danger. Being stressed out is a natural response to combat, and there seems to be no reason to fight it. But for researchers who study this phenomenon, and for those who examine the problems that follow soldiers home from war, one question comes up frequently: Why is PTSD different? Most people recover from stress, even in its most extreme versions, several weeks or months after the incident. However, if too many hormones are released during or after the stressful episode, the body gets out of whack. Unfortunately, this happens to some individuals who are exposed to stress during wartime” (McKelvey, p. A5). In other words, PTSD cannot be referred to as an automatic consequence of one being exposed to psychological stress, as it is often assumed nowadays, but simply as the reflection of one’s mental inadequacy, which is being triggered by combat experiences. Given the fact that psychologists often get paid $50 an hour for simply yapping away, they are being naturally interested in artificially complicating the notion of PTSD simply because it creates more work for them. During the course of WW1 and WW2, many American soldiers were subjected to an extreme emotional shock; however, only a few of them would be recognized by citizens as being “out of whack” after their return home.
Nevertheless, given the fact that after the end of WW2, psychology has gained a status of absolutely credible scientific discipline, despite operating with highly disputed notions and theories, it comes as no surprise that, after their return from combat duty in Vietnam and Iraq, American soldiers were being required to undergo “psychological evaluation,” in order to figure out whether they would still fit for civilian life. Once being diagnosed with PTSD, a war veteran would be automatically qualified for various “compensation payments” on the part of the Federal Government. The article “Costs of PTSD and Major Depression in Veterans for 2 Years Could Total $6.2 Billion, Says RAND Study”, which can be found in Healthcare Financial Management Magazine, no. 6, from 2008, helps us to get a better understanding of how much people’s claims to be affected by PTSD cost this nation: “In the first analysis of its kind, researchers estimate that the societal costs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among returning service members for two years after deployment range from about $6,000 to more than $25,000 per case” (HFMM, 2008). Given the fact that our government does not mind throwing millions of dollars in the air annually, to “help the needy children of Somalia,” for example, it is only natural for more and more citizens to consider themselves being eligible for monetary compensations, simply because of the stressful nature of their jobs. Nowadays, it is not only war veterans that claim to be affected by PTSD but also police officers, firemen, and truck drivers. It appears to be only a matter of time before housewives will also be demanding money to compensate for the “stressfulness” of them taking care of a household.
Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”
During the time of war, soldiers gradually learn that the value of human life is significantly lower than what they are being taught to believe in school. It is namely this that disturbs them emotionally more than seeing their friends blown to pieces in front of their eyes. Tim O’Brien’s collection of short stories “The Things They Carried” proves the validity of this statement, as it contains many examples of soldiers being able to deal with emotional shock in a truly effective manner once they were able to get rid of existential illusion in regards to the value of one’s life. Therefore, it would be wrong to refer to O’Brien’s book as such that contains a strong anti-war message because the author does not describe the concept of war as being wicked in its essence, but rather as something that helps people affected by it to realize their true selves. During the time of war, the artificial notions of Christian morality that are being instilled into soldiers when they were growing up lose their meaning within a matter of an instant. Therefore, PSDT comers as a result of soldier’s inability to come to terms with objective reality, which in its turn, has inborn subtleties. It is only in comparatively recent times that the biological properties of PTSD are thoroughly studied, even though the results of these studies are largely withheld from the public, as they suggest that it is the parents of people with PTSD that should be held responsible for their children existential inadequateness, rather than the government, which in its turn, undermines the ideological foundation of political correctness. The article “Genetics of PTSD: A Neglected Area?”, found in Psychiatric Times no. 9, from 2005, states the following: “Some of the early evidence for genetic influences on PTSD came from studies demonstrating that genetically distinct mouse strains reared in identical environments show variation in response to fear conditioning (Anisman et al., 1979), one of the primary neurobiological models for the etiology of PTSD. Genetics research in humans has followed up on data from these animal models… Substantial genetic influences were found on all PTSD symptoms, after adjusting for differences in combat exposure” (Psychiatric Times, 2005).
In his book, O’Brien does describe the horrors of war, but it cannot escape our attention that he only discusses these horrors within a context of how the civilian population is being affected by hostilities. The sight of soldiers executing their duties at the frontline does not appear as utterly unnatural to the author. For example, when Ted Lavender gets shot in the head while being high as a kite from smoking marijuana, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross refers to this incident as being beneficial to Lavender because it did rid him of his drug addiction once and for all. This shows that, despite the fact that “The Things They Carried” cannot be discussed as a truly autobiographical account of one’s war experiences, the author does know how it feels dealing with the prospect of being shot on a daily basis. At the frontline, the value of an individual’s life is being adjusted to its actual worth. The classical anti-war novels and movies portray soldier’s death in terms of universal tragedy because pacifism, as an ideology that has its roots in Liberalism, sanctifies one’s life as something that has value in itself. O’Brien’s book, on the other hand, does not promote such a philosophy. While reading “The Things, They Carried,” we get to look at a soldier’s death in the line of duty as something quite natural. It is only when we get to read about civilians being tortured and killed which strikes us as something truly horrible. This is because, during the time of war, civilians become war’s objects, whereas soldiers remain war’s subjects – they give and accept death as part of their work. It has been noticed long ago that those soldiers that were afraid of death the most, while clinging to the memories of their civilian lives, were the ones to be killed first – this type of soldier has been historically referred to as “cannon meat.” The “subjects of war,” on the other hand, were able to fully adjust to war’s realities since they had enough intellectual integrity to recognize their lives as not being particularly “precious,” just as it is the case with all people’s lives. There can only be so much oil, gas, and food, but there can never be a shortage of “human resources,” as people tend to indulge in sexual activities on a permanent basis. It is a healthy cynicism, deriving out of “subjects’ of war” intellectual honesty, which helped them to survive the war: “It wasn’t cruelty, just stage presence. They were actors, and the war came at them in 3-D.
When someone died, it wasn’t quite dying, because in a curious way it seemed scripted, and because they had their lines mostly memorized, irony mixed with tragedy, and because they called it by other names as if to encyst and destroy the reality of death itself. They kicked corpses. They cut off thumbs. They talked grunt lingo” (O’Brien, p. 50). Being present in a combat zone teaches soldiers to hide their existence, to always be on alert, and to appreciate every minute of his life, because it can end at any minute. Then, after having performed their combat duties, soldiers are being brought back to America, where people do not “hide” their existence but expose it, even though that veterans are fully aware of “exposed existence’s” actual worth. As a result, they naturally grow deeply dissatisfied with the fact that a great many civilians are able to blabber about philosophy, politics, and art while striving to impose their point of view on everybody else, without understanding the very essence of these concepts, since they have never been at the frontline. Such their dissatisfaction shows in how former soldiers interact socially, with psychologists referring to it as the indication of veterans being affected by PTSD, while in fact, veterans are simply wise in the “ways of the world.” Their combat experiences have taught them to refer to the notions of civilian social virtues as being artificial, in their very essence. However, given the fact that promoters of neo-Liberalism have succeeded in instilling the majority of Americans with the idea that human life needs to be “celebrated,” regardless of its actual worth, former soldiers’ social attitudes are now being perceived as “unnatural,” which in its turn, prompts “experts” in the field of psychology, to coin up more and more theories that discuss veterans’ intellectual honesty as indication of their mental deviation. This is the reason why it is namely Vietnam and Iraq wars that are now being closely associated with PTSD, despite these wars having resulted in significantly less amount of casualties among soldiers, as opposed to WW1 and WW2. Thus, we can conclude that, even though it is wrong to refer to PTSD as solemnly the product of psychologists’ imagination, the practical implications of this disorder are being intentionally exaggerated, in order to “milk” money from Federal Government.
Costs of PTSD and Major Depression in Veterans for 2 Years Could Total $6.2 Billion, Says RAND Study [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Healthcare Financial Management Magazine, v. 62, no. 6, 2008, p. 9-10. Print.
Genetics of PTSD: A Neglected Area?. Psychiatric Times, v. 22, no. 9, 2005, p. 32-3. Print.
O’Brien, Tim “The Things They Carried”. New York: Broadway Publishing, 1998.
McKelvey, Tara “Combat Fatigue”. American Prospect. (19) 7. (2008). A5-8. Print.
Silverstein, Rebecca. “Combat-Related Trauma as Measured by Ego Developmental Indices of Defenses and Identity Achievement”. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. (157) 33, (1996), 169-179. Print.