PTSD

The Ecology of Trauma: Resilience in a Post-9/11 Nation

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Some social and trauma theorists believe these issues are directly symptomatic of an undiffused, collective trauma around the event of 9/11 — exacerbated by our post-modern, technocratic society, in which our witness of one another is often relegated by social media personas and devices. The environment is controlled, protected, guarded — a false sense of security that instead perpetuates isolation and disconnection. This raises a question as to where, and whether, we are experiencing integrated and authentic community as we heal.

It is widely acknowledged that supportive and caring community is an absolutely necessity in trauma repair. To be sure, the answer is complex and dynamic. But perhaps on this day of remembrance, rather than re-enacting our dissociative narratives, we can attempt to reimagine and embrace courageously an authentic witness — to continue the work towards a restorative, integrative, and peaceful future.

Let It Shine

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In the face of wars, refugee crises, weapon proliferation, and unaddressed climate change impacts, let us echo the common sense of children. Let goodness shine.

Or, as our young friends in Afghanistan have put it, #Enough! They write the word, in Dari, on the palms of their hands and show it to cameras, wanting to shout out their desire to abolish all wars.

This past summer, collaborating with Wisconsin activists, we decided to feature this refrain on signs and announcements for a 90-mile walk campaigning to end targeted drone assassinations abroad, and the similarly racist impunity granted to an increasingly militarized police force when they kill brown and black people within the U.S.

Demons of War

soldierPTSD
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Soldiers know on a deep moral level that in committing great harm to others, they have committed great harm to themselves. They don’t need our society to project our demons of war — our own moral injury — upon them as we point the finger of accusation against them. Soldiers have suffered enough moral injury. We need to take responsibility for our own.

'Good Kill' Aims Deep, But Only Skims Surface

Screenshot from 'Good Kill' trailer.
Screenshot from 'Good Kill' trailer.

Addressing moral injury in film is important. Addressing pertinent political issues like drone warfare is also important. But Good Kill doesn’t say anything an editorial wouldn’t, and takes about three times as long to say it. With this film, Andrew Niccol tries to create a sense of disassociation similar to what his drone pilot protagonist would feel. Sadly, the end isn’t compelling enough to justify the means. Good Kill ends up being a ponderous slog, a film that wants to be a conversation-starter but doesn’t introduce any new or interesting entry points into that conversation.

Ground Operation

IT’S A MAY evening on the farm. My husband’s planting tomatoes and our son needs a bedtime story, but I’m completely occupied with pictures of war. I’ve cleared the piles of laundry from the kitchen table so our friend Adam can spread out his albums. There are photos of Adam in his tidy platform tent, of brown mountains in the distance, and dozens of pictures of children grinning on the other side of razor wire.

“This is an Aardvark,” he says, pointing to a gargantuan armored vehicle as he describes the flails that detonate buried mines. “What does that do to the soil?” I ask, because this is what you wonder when you and your family have been Mennonite farmers since the Reformation. There are a few more photos before I finally get it. Adam is showing me Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military hub in Afghanistan, surrounded by minefields and littered with burned-out tanks and planes, the wreckage of war from the Soviets. No one farms here, or has, or will for a long, long time.

FOR THE PAST three seasons, Adam McDermott has come to our farm in Central Pennsylvania’s Stone Valley every Friday morning to harvest vegetables for the food bank. We always chat while we bunch beets or pick green beans, and now I wonder why we’ve never talked about his years in the Army.

“This farm has definitely been part of my therapy,” he tells me, while offering a brief sketch of his months in Iraq: taking heavy equipment down unfamiliar roads to set off hidden explosives, being promoted to sergeant, and then losing three friends when a bomb shattered their Humvee. Adam came home in 2008 with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an alcohol addiction. “A lot of guys struggle with alcohol,” Adam says. “In the military you have camaraderie and a sense of purpose. But when you get back, there’s just this big void.”

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Wounded Souls

WHEN CHIEF MASTER Sergeant Harry Marsters returned in 2008 from his time in Iraq, he knew something wasn’t right. At 54, the 32-year veteran of the Air Force—with 27 years full time in the military and the remainder as a reservist with the Air National Guard—felt that as one of the “older folks” he knew what to expect upon return from his assignment with the communications squad at the Kirkuk Regional Air Base in northern Iraq.

Marsters’ squadron trained Iraqi forces in the operation and maintenance of aerial surveillance equipment on the base, which housed 1,000 Air Force and 2,500 Army troops. As first sergeant he acted as a liaison to the Air Force troops and ensured the well-being of those stationed there. It was a job he relished, pouring care into building connections with the airmen and women, spending time with the chaplains, and coordinating recreation and morale-building activities.

Though Air Force personnel never left the base, they were subjected to the ever-present threat of randomly timed mortar rounds launched by insurgents. They also took part in nighttime “patriot details” in which Air Force personnel and soldiers lined the base’s runway as the bodies of fallen soldiers were loaded onto planes for transport back to the United States. But Marsters says he was most upset by what he felt was harsh treatment of the Iraqi nationals who came to work on the base.

“They were treated like criminals,” he says of the extensive searches and intimidation Iraqis received when going through base security. “Everyone in Iraq is not evil, bad, and nasty. It’s a very small group of people who are raising hell and trying to hurt the country. The average person is just trying to make some money and take care of his or her family.”

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VIDEO: The War Within

In "Wounded Souls" (Sojourners, April 2014), Gregg Brekke explores the church's role in "helping to mitigate the effects of guilt and shame" that veterans experience after they return home from duty. Many veterans suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which makes integrating back into civilian life both difficult and painful. Brekke argues that the church community can and should play a vital role in helping veterans begin to heal from their wounds—wounds that are not easily seen by the human eye. 

Watch the following video from 60 Minutes to learn some of the challenges that U.S. veterans with PTSD face.

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On Scripture: Repairing Our Grief

U.S. soldier mourning, BPTU / Shutterstock.com
U.S. soldier mourning, BPTU / Shutterstock.com

My Uncle Norman fought in Europe during World War II. An artillery observer, he didn’t return with many “heroic” stories to tell. When I was little, he would roll out some souvenirs from the war, and I’d be impressed: German military dress knives and lovely table linens. I don’t recall all of the stories or how these things became his, but I’m pleased to report the table linens were a gift. His war experience was hardly glamorous.

Uncle Norman did tell of one harrowing experience. He and his partner were identified by German artillery, and they experienced exactly the treatment they dished out. Out in front of their own unit, as they always were, they heard a shot go just overhead and explode behind them. Then one fell just short. Placing a shell a bit to the left and one to the right, the Germans had them zeroed in. Uncle Norman’s friend panicked, frozen, stuck to the ground. And in the last minute – as he remembered it – my uncle tackled his partner and carried him to safety. Pretty dramatic stuff for a kid to hear.

When Uncle Norman was much older, he came close to death after gall bladder surgery. That night he experienced profound nightmares, the Lady Macbeth experience of bloody hands he could not cleanse. The next day, he told me a very different story than the ones I’d heard before. I believe I was the first to hear of the time when he called in the coordinates for an intersection across which a significant body of Germans was crossing. For 30 minutes, he said, he watched the effects of the barrage he had targeted. And now, 40 years later, his hands wouldn’t come clean.

How To Really Support Our Troops

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin / Shutterstock.com
Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin / Shutterstock.com

A 10-year-old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with his M-16 and the boy crumbles to the ground, dead.

Did he have a choice? It was do or die, kill or be killed. Still he killed a little boy, and those images still haunt him.

This is a classic example of psychological trauma: A person is put in horrific life-threatening situation where they do not feel they have control. That's the situation he found himself in. It was a no-win scenario — kill a little boy or have you and your friends all die.

Soldier suicides have reached epidemic numbers. As the AP reports, More soldiers are taking their own lives than are falling in battle. Add on top of that, the many who suffer from PTSD, and who as a result find themselves estranged from their home, their loved ones, and indeed from themselves.

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