Combat Trauma
A Personal Look at
Long-Term Consequences

James D. Johnson
(Rowman & Litlefield)
America seems to have an unalterable affection for getting entangled in these Oil Wars, ones that have swept the world for the last few decades. Despite, or because of these, if you are unemployed and unemployable or just want to trade your freedom for becoming a citizen of the US, and if you are somewhere between the ages of 17 and 35, they will inveigle you to join the army, navy or marines until it is over over there. Whenever.

There is always the overriding problem of getting yourself blown away, but there are other reasons to avoid these worldwide petroleo-oliogasitic adventures. Outside of the fair chance that you might be forced to give up the ghost in some sun-burnt, desert wasteland ... you might survive combat only to find after you come marching home again that your mind has gone off to another scary posting, one you have never visited before.

It's called PTSD --- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder --- and it comes to those who experience, first-hand, military combat. You may not come back in a bodybag, but you might be missing a few pieces in the brainbox.

PTSD manifests itself in ominous ways: endlessly repeating nightmares, ill-contained violence (against wife, children, family) and a certain violence (against the self.) Johnson presents an exhausting list of symptoms from his own and from his sixteen co-authors, all of whom have gone through one or more of the following symptoms:

    nightmares; isolation and avoidance, emotional numbness; no sense of future; survivor guilt; sleep problems; anger and rage; difficulty focusing, concentrating and remembering; hypervigilance; exaggerated startle response; panic attacks; headaches and stomach problems; major depression; and low self-esteem and self-worth.

Along with these one finds excessive drinking, use of drugs, despair, and what psychotherapists generally think of as "slow-motion suicide."

Evidently, when you participate in the killing of other human beings, your psyche is likely to be affected. You may, like Adolph Eichmann, say that you are only following orders, but unlike him, there is for many of us a part of the psyche that feels that the killing of men, women, and children is not in the best interests of the self that is human, that lies within all of us. For some reason, it seems to take badly to the bombing, hacking, blowing up, or burning to death of other humans.

What you will learn in Combat Trauma is that once you engage in the formal, militaristic murder of others, no matter how politically acceptable, you may find your psyche strangely altered. No matter what The Iliad, Gilgamesh, the Baghavad-Gita the Bible and your local Marine recruiter might have to say about it. War is a stinker; it kills people (often in horrendous ways); your subconscious may never give you peace afterwards, no matter how formally society may seem to praise you (banners, parades, presidential honors).

Those who are on the edge of joining up because they have no hope, no assets, and no job opportunities should remember that it may be a set-up, one created by your country. We need Warm Bodies to pursue our never-ending Wars; and you may notice that it is never the Senators, Presidents, nor Representatives that are signing up to fight the good fight. All that went out with Napoleon.

§     §     §

If you are still tempted, you will be much less so when you have finished Combat Trauma. By page fifty or so, after some grisly confessions of murderous experiences by some sixteen writers who spent time in battle, I found myself coming down with a case of PTSD myself. If you do plan to read it, you should hurry. I cannot help but think that the Pentagon will be putting out a search-and-destroy if not an all-points bulletin on this one, perhaps issuing a restraining order against a book, even though it is one that is now being used as counsel for those who have somehow survived field experiences in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan or Iraq. As one of the contributors here (David Schoenian) writes, "Learning to kill is easy. Learning not to kill is the hard part."

    You become uncontrollable and take your revenge out on anything.

Here, one learns why so many of my parents' older friends went mute when I, as an authentic war-gonzo kid, asked them about their experiences in WWII, Korea, Vietnam. The thing they said, after they went through another binge, another sleepless night, another round of battering wives, children or other drunks, was: "I don't want to talk about it."

--- Lolita Lark
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