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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


We saw it. As I recall, the soldiers were not happy that they were known for their casualties rather than their bravery in carrying out their mission. To be described as victims is to distract from their heroism, their sacrifice and faithfulness u der difficult conditions.

Don't mean to sound callous to real suffering and trauma. But even as a wimpy civilian, I dislike being seen as a victim. A petty example: when I finished the Boston Marathon, I collapsed in agony and could barely hobble to my grandmother's waiting arms. Needed knee surgery in the end. But if anyone had said "injured runner" to describe me (as opposed to "jubilant finisher in personal best"), I'd have decked them.

But I'm just an ignorant civilian...

To be described as victims is to distract from their heroism


You might be thinking of another documentary altogether. Last night was the first airing of this program. The soldiers' heroism was discussed. They had what was probably the most dangerous assignment in Iraq and they were a very effective team.

But this was primarily a documentary about how the military deals with mental health. This particular group had some extraordinary difficulties. My interest is understanding the psychological aspects of reactions to violent trauma and I think people in general could benefit from a greater appreciation for the effects of violent trauma on our fellow human beings.

I also believe it's a disservice to our soldiers when we fail to recognize the full extent of the sacrifices they make on our behalf. We do this when treat psychological trauma as a sign of weakness to be hidden. These were not weak young men. They were not portrayed as weak men.

We owe it to all men and women who serve in the military to understand, as best we can, the challenges they undertake. We need to know how to best prepare them and care for them when they need something back from us in return for their service.

We make heroes of the physically wounded, but we tend to conceal the heroism of the men who had some of the most difficult combat roles, men who watched their own personal heroes and best friends blown to bits. We hide the broken men, as if they should be ashamed of themselves. I believe that it's wrong to put these heroes out of sight and out of mind because of our own discomfort with psychological difficulties.

Bottom line is that these men were heroes AND victims of trauma. The two are in no way mutually exclusive unless we regard heroes as unbreakable.

I think I saw another documentary. Your description evoked a too-hasty response from me. Off to find out which documentary we saw. Will let you know.

I agree that being heroes and victims of trauma aren't mutually exclusive, but what I was clumsily trying to get across (based on my own past conversations with perhaps not typical veterans of various wars over the years and the documentary I saw) was more that our society tends to accentuate only the negative about their service. I know some veterans who are decidedly ambivalent about the goals of the missions they served on, but they were proud that they served, and that they faced their fears, and they wanted that remembered as much as the trauma.

The most horrible example of how some view those traumatized is the scene in "Patton" (the old movie) where he attacks the shell-shocked soldier.

Upon reflection, I think the process of mistreating or ignoring or writing off traumatized veterans is rather analagous to the way our society treats people with mental illness. Trauma and illness are obviously not the same. But our response to both can be similar.

Publicly, people claim to care, and to be advocates for good treatment, but privately people are afraid (there but for the grace of God go I), and stigmatize the sufferers as unreliable, unpredictable, somehow not making the grade.

Likewise, Special ed and mentally ill kids are made "pets" in schools, as long as they aren't loud or aggressive or scary looking. And people (especially politicians) emote about supporting the troops then stereotype a Vietnam vet, for example, as likely unstable.

In England, when I was growing up there, it seemed to me that ordinary people were actually more compassionate about what was called shell shock. Many plays, novels, and discussions of brave young people who served and came back devastatingly affected. Much humor, which can heal. I've never forgotten the film about World War I "Oh What a Lovely War" that is probably the best anti-war ever written. That, and the poetry of Wilfrid Owen, who was a brave officer himself.

Ironic, given the media stereotypes of beefy drill sergeants, and British jingoism. But perhaps because the British civilians also actually suffered in a war (being bombed) and were so close to being invaded, it involved the whole population, and not just those drafted or who volunteered. There seem to be more macho stereotypes in our country. But I am just blathering...enough.

Here's the documentary we saw: http://www.amazon.com/Combat-Diary-Marines-Lima-Company/dp/B000GJ0LG8/ref=pd_sim_d_1 "Combat Diary: the Marines of Lima Company"

Also recommend "Generation Kill", "The Hurt Locker" and "Gunner Palace"

We rather obsessively watched movies about the war when a relative was thinking about enlisting. To try and imagine what they would face.

I believe most heroes are broken,(in some way) thus being considered a hero.

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