Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Veterans Day

Yesterday morning I drove to my eye doctor (not good news), and listened to the radio. There was a report on the film HBO will air for Veterans Day on PTSD. (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.) Of course this phenomena is not new. A woman they interviewed had researched letters written by soldiers during America's Civil War. She then reviewed court cases in which families tried to get compensation when their breadwinner returned "changed." Apparently this was a very difficult thing to prove and there were many court cases. Someone read harrowing letters written by a soldier in the Civil War. In the first few he described how he saw some men in his camp suffer terribly - they could not sleep at night, some stopped eating, they became paranoid and had outbursts of anger. He described how some of them took their own lives. He himself wrote that war is awful, but he will not succumb to the taking of his own life.

After a few years the tone of his letters changed and it was evident to his family that he had 'succumbed' to the numbing horrors. After he returned home his sister wrote how she and her mother had to hold him down when he had fits and rages. He was no longer able to work.Apparently he went on a hunting expedition with friends from his platoon. They were aware he was a danger to himself and forbade him to accompany them. It was while he was alone in the woods that he shot himself.

A mother of a soldier from Minnesota who served in Iraq, read her son's tragic and horrifying suicide note. He drank as he wrote the note. He stated this and apparently the writing and content became progressively worse. He described how he could not stand seeing people die and that he had killed people. Now he said was the time to take his own life. After cutting out images of his face from his driver's and personal photographs because he could no longer 'face' himself he put his dog tag to his temple and shot himself through his temple.

When I first came to America 30 years ago a therapist told me I had PTSD. I laughed at him. It has taken me all these years to realise the horrors of the war that I went through in Israel in which my husband was killed. Those events shaped my future and changed my life and my relationships forever. But even now I have many moments when I think, what is wrong with me? I must be crazy, will I never get over this? It wasn't so bad. What happened to us wasn't so bad. Many wars are far far worse.

I caught snippets of another radio show yesterday in which they interviewed a young widow from Kosovo who told how she goes to the cemetery all the time because she cannot and will not, and does not ever want to forget.A young American woman described how she met her husband at the tender age of 16. It was love at first sight, and after dating for several years he proposed to her and gave her a beautiful ring. She herself went to find the perfect ring for him. She had it engraved with the date he proposed to her on the inside. He was killed in Iraq and apparently his personal affects were returned to her, but not his ring. Later one of his commanders and his wife invited her for the weekend and when she walked into the guest room she saw a box, and inside was the ring which the commander had found. She sobbed with happiness and sadness and said at least she has the memories of their perfect love.

Then a young man from Korea described being separated from his family and reuniting with his sister years later. Thankfully, I had to go to a meeting, because I was riveted to these stories, and at the same time sobbing my heart out.

War is universal. Coincidentally last night a friend from my kibbutz called me. Her brother was killed in the first Lebanese war in Israel. We both know of what the other speaks, and thinks, but we keep quiet, maybe mention it in passing, then talk of other things.

When I was last in Israel the Gaza invasion happened. A friend there said to me that it seems like every time I come there there is a war, or an uprising, or something. I noticed how, in Israel, when talking to friends our memories are indeed of wars - the debate becomes, which war, the first Lebanese War or the second? The first war of attrition or the third? The first or second Intifada? Wars are compared, the Gulf War was strange because we remained in our homes like sitting ducks, the men weren't used to this, they were used to going out to fight. Life in Israel is indeed punctuated by different wars or horrendous events, like suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. The entire nation suffers from PTSD.

At last this problem is beginning to be addressed, because we are all veterans, and all suffer the consequences of the ongoing wars, be they distant, in foreign lands, or on our own soil.There are the visibly wounded and the invisibly wounded, and there are way too many of us.

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