January 27, 2006

When the Pain Can Be Borne No Longer

From Doug Barber, a former Army reservist who served in Iraq:
My thought today is to help you the reader understand what happens to a soldier when they come home and the sacrifice we continue to make. This war on terror has become a personal war for so many, yet the Bush administration do not want to reveal to America that this is a personal war. They want to run it like a business, and thus they refuse to show the personal sacrifices the soldiers and their families have made for this country.

All is not OK or right for those of us who return home alive and supposedly well. What looks like normalcy and readjustment is only an illusion to be revealed by time and torment. Some soldiers come home missing limbs and other parts of their bodies. Still others will live with permanent scars from horrific events that no one other than those who served will ever understand. We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. We kill ourselves because we are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out.

Others come home to nothing, families have abandoned them: husbands and wives have left these soldiers, and so have parents. Post-traumatic stress disorder has become the norm amongst these soldiers because they don't know how to cope with returning to a society that will never understand what they have endured.

PTSD comes in many forms not understood by many: but yet if a soldier has it, America thinks the soldiers are crazy. PTSD comes in the form of depression, anger, regret, being confrontational, anxiety, chronic pain, compulsion, delusions, grief, guilt, dependence, loneliness, sleep disorders, suspiciousness/paranoia, low self-esteem and so many other things.

We are easily startled with a loud bang or noise and can be found ducking for cover when we get panicked. This is a result of artillery rounds going off in a combat zone, or an improvised explosive device blowing up.

I myself have trouble coping with an everyday routine that often causes me to have a short fuse. A lot of soldiers lose jobs just because they are trained to be killers and they have lived in an environment that is conducive to that. We are always on guard for our safety and that of our comrades. When you go to bed at night you wonder will you be sent home in a flag-draped coffin because a mortar round went off on your sleeping area.

Soldiers live in deplorable conditions where burning your own faeces is the order of the day, where going days on end with no shower and the uniform you wear gets so crusty it sticks to your body becomes a common occurrence. We also deal with rationing water or even food. So when a soldier comes home they are unsure of what to do.

This is what PTSD comes in the shape of - soldiers can not often handle coming back to the same world they left behind. It is something that drives soldiers over the edge and causes them to withdraw from society. As Americans we turn our nose down at them wondering why they act the way they do. Who cares about them, why should we help them?
Only a few days after writing this, Doug Barber killed himself.

As the article notes, we might well never have known of this tragedy:
The death of Mr Barber is one of numerous instances of Iraqi veterans who have taken their own lives since the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in spring 2003. Concern is such that the Pentagon has recently instigated new procedures for monitoring the mental health of returning troops. But his story would not have been told but for a group of determined activists and a British journalism student who was among the handful of people the reservist e-mailed just minutes before he killed himself.
Much more about Doug Barber and his death in this post: Abandoning Those Who Fight.

Related Essays:

The Suicide Taboo: About the underlying dynamics of suicide, relying on the work of Alice Miller (who discusses Sylvia Plath's history as a notable example of the pattern involved), together with a story about other military suicides and some personal observations.

The Ignored Casualties of War: A story about how the ravages of war kill veterans in other ways as well.

The Indifference and Denial that Kill: A discussion of a lengthy article about Iris Chang's life and work -- and what may have led to her suicide at the age of 36.

"Suck It Up": The Denial Continues, and Kills Once More: An examination of the same dynamics in the suicide of a New Orleans police officer in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

When the Demons Come: The second half of this essay discusses the demons which plague many Vietnam veterans -- the same demons that finally came for Mr. Barber -- and the continued denial engaged in by many of today's warhawks.