|04-08-2006, 04:31 PM||#1 (permalink)|
FlashBack: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War
Book Review: FlashBack: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War
This is serious business and everyone needs to read this book. The welfare of our soldiers and our public consciences is at stake. Penny Coleman wakes us up with this very serious examination into the world of what was once called "having flashbacks."
Look, there is evidence to suggest that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan threaten to be as physically and psychologically destructive for the men and women serving there as was the war in Vietnam.
"The overwhelming evidence proves beyond a doubt that war is a disease that kills and maims, not just by tearing apart soldiers' bodies, but also by ravaging their minds," writes Penny Coleman, who was married to a Vietnam veteran who committed suicide. "In every war American soldiers have fought in the past century, the chances of becoming a psychiatric casualty were greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire."
Now, in FLASHBACK: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War, Coleman traces the history of combat related stress in American wars, from the Civil War through the Vietnam War and what is now known as "posttraumatic stress disorder." Illuminating the experience of soldiers during that war, why that experience was so damaging and why that damage continues so many years later, she reveals the communal mythologies that work to distance society from the brutal acts carried out in America's name. "If we, as citizens, act on what we have learned," writes Coleman, "perhaps we can avoid repeating the same mistakes we made in Vietnam; perhaps we can snatch something meaningful from the horror."
For the past four years, Coleman has been interviewing military wives, mothers and daughters who lived through suicides in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam. Coleman uses thirteen of their stories, including her own, to frame a documentation of the under-acknowledged connections between war, PTSD and suicide. Coleman's first husband, Daniel, was a Vietnam vet who came home with PTSD and later took his own life. She notes that it was the war that had made him sick and that his illness real and finally as lethal as any bullet or bomb.
The women's stories are embedded in in-depth discussions of what was known about PTSD and how that information was used (or not used) in Vietnam and what affect it had on American soldiers. FLASHBACK also explores how American cultural attitudes toward suicide have contributed to the invisibility of a virtual epidemic of death. These discussions, in turn are seen through the lens of what is currently happening to soldiers and veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Coleman emphasizes that soldiers and veterans need to know that combat-related psychic distress is both common and deeply human, not a personal failure or sign of weakness. Families of returning veterans need to now what to watch for and how to intercede.
"We are looking at a future that included inevitable casualties, wounds of both the bodies and minds. American soldiers who are now in Iraq will certainly come home changed. Many will come home damaged. "She writes. "Aside from physical wounds, they will suffer from PTSD, and their families will suffer with them.
If past experience is a predictor, many will die in desperation by their own hands. Hopefully, as a society, we will empathize and think more than twice about going to war. And if we do choose to go to war pre-emptively, then at least we truly need to understand the real human costs to our collective conscience so that we make our decisions with open eyes.
To buy the book, please go to Beacon Press
|disorder, flashback, lessons, posttraumatic, stress, suicide, war|
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