We know war is hell, but don’t expect any help when you come back

From August, this collaborative post on PTSD-denial between Respectful of Otters and Idealistic Pragmatist dissects a scornful Canadian columnist’s hatchet-job on veterans with ongoing mental trauma problems arising from their military service. The columnist concerned is joining an increasing number of American conservatives engaged in “an effort to discredit the entire concept of PTSD – particularly the notions that it is common and frequently disabling”:

Why do so many conservatives in both countries want to deny the reality of PTSD? On the American side, many are motivated by a reflexive disapproval of federal spending, and a corresponding desire to decrease spending on psychiatric treatment and disability benefits for servicemembers and veterans. Others fear that honesty about the prevalence of PTSD will hurt the war effort:

Dr. Susan Mather, a former top VA official who retired in January as its chief public health officer [says that]

“They already have a recruitment problem…the parents of these youth, if they think their children will come back from the military experience changed forever – which they undoubtedly will be; not only changed but disabled by the experience, mentally as well as physically – they are going to be a lot less anxious to have these kids join up. And there’s a feeling that if this gets too much publicity and appears to be too widespread, it will hurt recruitment.”

But neither of those pragmatic reasons explains the fervor of their attacks on PTSD-disabled vets, or the contempt that drips from Wente’s words as she writes about young soldiers in trouble. It seems that there are deeper ideological factors at work. Generally speaking, any argument that individuals may be helpless to escape their life circumstances is threatening to the conservative ideology of personal responsibility. Social psychology research demonstrates that conservatives are more likely to hold the implicit worldview that bad things don’t happen to good people, or, conversely, that the troubles people suffer are generally deserved. Finally, conservative discomfort with PTSD is also motivated by the perceived need for aggressive support of the war effort. It’s as if they believe that negative effects of war must never be acknowledged, or the case for military action will collapse. In Canada, this is currently being expressed as denial that Canadians are even engaged in war in Afghanistan – the preferred conservative terminology is “peacemaking.” (Hello, Orwell!) Clearly, that case collapses if large numbers of Canadian troops engaged in such a mild, inoffensive activity are found to be suffering from major psychiatric trauma as a result.

Although I despise warmongers, I know that combat is sometimes genuinely necessary, and that those engaged in combat mostly render honourable service. For conservative hawks to spit on the trauma suffered by those who go into combat and are permanently psychologically scarred by the experience is to totally dishonour their military service. As they are the ones continually pushing the nobility barrow with respects to the military, how can they deny decent benefits and treatments to those permanently impaired by combat experiences, yet still consider themselves supporters of the military?

Despite this excellent post from Rivka and friend, I just don’t get the cognitive dissonance on this issue with some conservative hawks.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, Sociology

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3 replies

  1. I suspect there’s probably something in there about masculinity and fragility that I’m not able to figure out right at the moment. Acknowledging the current generation of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans would also mean that WWII, Korea & Vietnam vets had been neglected when they got home. More than the public spending, there’s the guilt, who should feel it more than the conservatives who sent them to fight?
    I’m pregnant and it’s 36 degrees out, so I’m going to lie down and order pizza instead of thinking anymore.

  2. Tigtog, do you read /a>Doonesbury? (Hope that link works.) You’d need to go back through the entire 35 years or whatever it is of the strip’s archives to appreciate fully the ongoing (PTSD, and other things) story of regular character B.D., but even recent converts get a lot out of it.
    There was an amazing and incredibly complex moment this year at Adelaide Writers’ Week when a local shrink who is an international authority on PTSD, and who had recently made himself unpopular because of his testimony in a controversial local trial, got up at question time to challenge Robert Fisk on something he’d said, and was immediately and snakily dismissed by Fisk and howled down by the audience. The interesting thing was that Fisk himself had looked more and more to me, as his speech progressed, like a textbook case himself.
    Kate — have you read Randolph Stow’s novel The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea? Stow knew exactly what WW2 had done to soldiers.

  3. I’ve been reading Doonesbury off and on for a few years now, Pav. Some USAn e-friends got me on to it – I agree the B.D. story arc is very very powerful for vets and those who are concerned for vets.
    Fisk confuses me often – I like a lot of what he has to say, and then he just goes off on some tangential rant that loses me.
    My dad had several older male relatives out of the plethora who went to war who remained “shellshocked” for years afterward – it was quietly explained to kids and never much talked about otherwise.

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