August 21, 2007

The Unspeakable Horror, and the Immense Evil

Via Chris Floyd -- whose post you will read right now -- I see the following news, which is close to being literally ungraspable, so immense is its horror:
The high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among soldiers returning from Iraq is one of the many "inconvenient truths" of this war. Inconvenient largely because it is costly: The most effective and humane means of treating PTSD are time-intensive and long-term.

The military, however, has changed the terms and given many thousands of enlisted men and women a new diagnosis: "personality disorder." While the government would be obliged to care for veterans suffering from combat-related trauma, a personality disorder – defined as an ingrained, maladaptive way of orienting oneself to the world – predates a soldier's tour of duty (read: preexisting condition). This absolves Uncle Sam of any responsibility for the person's mental suffering.

The new diagnostic label sends the message: This suffering is your fault, not a result of the war. On one level, it's hard not to see this as another example of the government falling short on its care for Iraq war veterans. Yet there's another, more insidious, bit of sophistry at work. The implication is that a healthy person would be resistant to the psychological pressures of war. Someone who succumbs to the flashbacks, panic, and anger that haunt many former soldiers must have something inherently wrong with him. It's the psychological side of warrior macho: If you're tough, you can take it. Of course, we know this is not true. Wars forever change the lives of those who fight them and can leave deep scars.


The switch in terms from trauma to hysteria (during World War I) or PTSD to personality disorder (today) is far from trivial. Rather, the new labels allow the government and society at large to do two things: 1) attribute symptoms after serving to individual psycho-pathology; and 2) disown the problem of the former soldiers' suffering. We needn't question the system that sends young people to war – merely the stability of those who bear the emotional brunt of battle.
I may have more to say about this in a day or two. At the moment, the degree of evil this represents is a bit more than I can deal with.

And I have already written about many of these issues at length. See in particular, "When Acknowledging the Pain Is a Weakness to be Condemned," and the other essays linked there. You might want to read, "Let Us All Become Cowards."