In the research of Dr. Figley we can see some of the very early manifestations of PTSD from a quote by a machine gunner on a helicopter describing the process of adjustment in referring to an incident in which he contributed to the death of an innocent 12-year-old boy as their helicopter takes off.
“When that happened, my first reaction…was…I would guess you would consider normal. It would be horror, pain, and then I realized that I caught myself immediately and I said, “no, you can’t do that,” because you develop a shell while you are in the military… They take all the humanness out of you and you develop a crust that enables you to survive in Vietnam. And if you let that protective shell down for even a second, it could mean…it’s the difference between you flipping out or managing to make it through. And I caught myself tearing the shell down and I…and I… tightened up right away and started laughing and joking about it (Vietnam Veterans Against War, 1972)”
And, in another quote with the backdrop of venting the build up of tension during “mad-minutes,” a sort of sanctioned irrationality when everyone fired aimlessly at the surrounding jungle.
“Everyone there seemed to have a pseudonym of some sort or another…maybe that was some way of escaping any guilt about their work. It was my first contact with the dreamlike quality of the war. Perhaps that is one of the factors contributing to our defeat there. The war was unreal. The SF (Special Forces) people took on assumed names. The enemy became “dinks” and “slopes and “gooks.” The plane that fired the mini-guns was called “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and areas designated for complete destruction were called “free fire zones.” It was like go8ng through the looking glass and, after your tour was finished, you could step back through the mirror and leave the horror and the dread in another, unreal world.”
We all know by now, that none of this creating an “unreal world” stuff worked very well once the Vietnam combat veteran returned home to make a sharp right turn adjustment to a healthy, happy, and productive civilian life. We can probably say that the above scenario and example of dehumanization occurs in wars in general, including experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is important to understand the backdrop of the reality of war and what our combat veterans experience before we can effectively understand and help them when they return home. Ignorance is the public’s worst enemy in adequately stepping up to our community responsibilities when combat veterans return home. We don’t know what to say or what to do. My goal with this blog is to educate and advance the cause of awareness. It is with education and awareness that we begin to help our warriors with the long journey of healing moral injury.
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story