Achilles in Vietnam

The issue of combat PTSD is much in the news these days. The greatest illusion that seems to be put forth is that we can “treat” PTSD as if exposure to war was something you can get over, if only we had “better treatment.” It ends up being a sort of minimization of the costs of war on individual persons and a sort of justification for war. I am not saying that we cannot or should not attempt to find the best means of mitigating combat trauma, we owe that to the people who volunteer for it. But I do have a problem with the idea that combat trauma is something that does not extract a huge and cruel cost from the participants.  I will be doing a few posts over the next days on the impact on human personality of extreme situations, including combat stress and death camp experiences.

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character by VA psychiatrist Jonathan Shay is simply superb. It analyszes combat trauma in light of Homer’s Illiad. It is readable, compelling, and enlightening. Maybe you never read the Illiad, here it is in a form that is instantly gripping. Shay’s notions of the undoing of character are extremely helpful in understanding the human toll of war on soldiers.

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