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Traumatized Vietnam Veterans

Discussion in 'World History' started by YNCS, Jun 15, 2006.

  1. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    One of the most persistent myths of the Vietnam War is that most Vietnam veterans, deeply ashamed of their service, often drug abusers, haunted by memories of the atrocities they've committed, and suffering from "post-traumatic stress", are failures in life. It is alleged that tens of thousands of them have committed suicide, while many others are time bombs waiting to explode, as demonstrated by numerous headlines "Vietnam Vet Goes Berserk." For more than 25 years we've seen this in movies, tv shows, journalistic articles, and even songs. In fact, Vietnam vets sometimes do have problems. Post-traumatic stress commonly has the following symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating.

    But the veterans of every war usually suffer from stress.

    After the Civil War, much was made of veterans suffering from "irritable heart" or "nostalgia." Symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating.

    World War I veterans sometimes suffered from "shell shock." Symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating.

    After World War II and Korea, some veterans were noted to have "combat stress reaction." Symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating.

    And two decades after Vietnam, there are a generation of combat veterans who came down with "Gulf War syndrome." Common symptoms of this are fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating. And the Gulf War was shorter and a lot less intense than any of the other conflicts mentioned above.

    There seems to be a pattern here. "Post-Traumatic Stress" (PTS) is a common problem afflicting soldiers--and others who have spent time under great pressure--when they return to "normal" life.

    As General Sherman said "War is hell," and anyone caught up in it is marked forever. Vietnam was a more intense war than WW2 or Korea. American troops saw more combat, overall, than their fathers did a generation earlier. Some people can handle PTS better than others. After a short time "in the world," most veterans adjusted to everyday life. It helps if the public makes the veteran feel that his service and sacrifice were praiseworthy and appreciated. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Vietnam, there was a certain lack of respect shown for veterans by many civilians. Unlike WW2, where the nation was behind the troops, Vietnam saw a very vocal group of Americans who energetically disapproved of the troops (this was a minority of those who disapproved of the war). The image of the Vietnam vet was not helped by the occasional instance in which one did "go berserk," often getting widespread play in the media.

    One estimate has it that about 500,000 veterans were afflicted by PTS, less than 20% of those who served. About 10% of the PTS sufferers had the more extreme "post-traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD). They have had great difficulty reintegrating, and are prone to anti-social behavior, substance abuse, unemployment, and other serious problems. This is nothing new. In fact, there was a lot of veteran violence immeidately following WW2. So much that the cartoonist Bill Mauldin had one of his now-veteran pair, "Willie and Joe," reading to the other from a newspaper, saying "Here's one ... 'Ax Murder, No Veteran Involvement'." No one thought much of the 1940s veterans "going berserk," largely because there were over 15 million WW2 vets in the population, and they could sympathize with the poor guy, knowing where he was coming from.

    Vietnam veterans seem no less well-adjusted than were those of the nation's earlier wars, although perhaps public awareness and tolerance of problems among them has been more acute. There have been a few genuinely objective surveys of Vietnam vets. These suggest a different picture than the one commonly given. The following is from Peter Bourne's Men, Stress, and Vietnam (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990). 91% of Vietnam veterans were proud to serve, and 74% believe their service was necessary. The overwhelming majority (92%) received honorable discharges, the same percentage of those who served in the 1950s. Nor have most of them found adjustment to civilian life difficult. 88% made the transition "with few or no problems," and the average income of Vietnam vets is about 18% higher, and their unemployment rate lower, than than for their non-veteran contemporaries. Drug abuse patterns among Vietnam veterans and non-veterans of the same era are not particularly different (remember, this was the period of "turn on, tune in, and drop out). Fewer than 0.5% of vets have been in jail, in contrast to a national incarceration rate of 1.5%.

    Perhaps the most persistent myth is that Vietnam veterans have committed suicide in extraordinary numbers. Figures ranging from 50,000 to 150,000 are casually tossed about, rates six to sixteen times higher than the norm for Americans of the same age and sex. If these numbers were true, it means that more Americans have killed themselves than were killed in Vietnam, as many as 300% more. So prevalent was this assumption that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) undertook "The Vietnam Experience Mortality Assessment," part of a series of studies intended to identify patterns of dysfuntion among Vietnam vets. The CDC determined that by 1987 there had been some 9,000 suicides among Vietnam vets. Vietnam veterans were about 1.7 times more likely than the "average" American to commit suicide within 5 years of their discharge. However, after that initial 5 year post-discharge period, deaths from suicide fell below that for society as a whole. In the thirty years since this study, the figure has probably risen to about 15,500, still within the normal range for Americans.
     
  2. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    Your insight into this issue is deeply appreciated.

    Currently one of the most less studied subjects is how people suffer from stress during conflicts and how it effects people everyday live. Also it's clear it affects person's identity and world view in overall which again seems to be something that people just put aside as "personal problems" and don't understand the overall effect of the experience to human behaviour. Long term stress creates psychological traumas. It produces thought patterns and behavioral models that don't work in the "ordinary world". Some might even say that for warveterans there's no ordinary world but the experience has changed forever the way they see life on this earth. IMHO it's true. The effects could be compared to long term drug abuse or long term depression.

    I consider this one of the most important things to be studied if people ever are going to think about the possibility of more peaceful and less violent world. But like they say, even if you know the signs, if you don't acknowledge the problem, it insists being present.

     
  3. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    I wrote about this for a very simple reason. I am a Vietnam veteran.

    In July 1968, I was an introverted, shy, rather bright, 20 year old. I was 5'6" 120 lbs (168 cm 55 kg) and not particularly athletic. Suddenly, I was plucked from my insecure world and dumped into a situation full of horror, compassion, killing, comradery, confusion and tenderness. I learned several things about myself I didn't know before: That I was capable of making a quick decision based on fragmentary data and being right most of the time. That I could kill a man and sleep soundly that night. That I could give an order and have men obey it instantly and unquestionably. That I had a great deal of internal rage. That I inspired loyalty from subordinates and was loyal to them.

    Vietnam was only one year of my life. It was the most emotionally intense time I've ever spent. The man who said "war is long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror" knew what he was talking about. I'm sure he was like me, a member of what Bill Mauldin referred to as "The Benevolent and Protective Brotherhood of Them What Has Been Shot At." The only redeeming factor about Vietnam was the friendship, nay, love that grew between members of the unit. When I was a squad leader, the men in my squad were my brothers. I may have wanted to kick their asses, individually and collectively, from time to time, but that's how brothers feel about each other. The other members of the platoon were cousins, guys I hung around with, guys I could trust, but didn't know as well as my brothers.

    Am I a better person for having been a grunt in 'Nam? Yes and no. I'm much more self-confident now, I can bond with someone easily, I'm not ashamed to cry or otherwise express my emotions. However, I can kill or maim someone I perceive as a threat without hesitation. When I left Vietnam and went to Germany, I got into a fight with another soldier, one I didn't know, in a bar. I threw him through a plate glass window, and then walked away from the bar. To leave the place, I had to take a club from the bouncer and...well, he probably had a bruised testicle when I was done. I have no idea what happened to the first guy, although if he'd died I probably would have heard about it.

    Since I left 'Nam I've received two degrees, been married to the same woman for over 30 years, had a daughter, had a successful career where I gained a position of responsibility and authority, and started a second career where I've had a position of responsibility and authority for nearly thirteen years. I've learned to control my rage so that I don't hurt people. In short, I've had a reasonably successful, happy life.

     
  4. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    One of the documents that little bit reveals about the issue of warmemories and how they affect people's psyche is dutch documentary directed by Heddy Honigmann. It tells about UN soldiers and how they try to cope up with their memories with music. The documentary is named Crazy after the music by Seal. I highly recommend it even though it's not surprising film but still rather touching IMHO shedding light to the subject.

    Here's some info taken from website about the film:
     
  5. AL_DA_GREAT

    AL_DA_GREAT amour absinthe révolution

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    I have allways found it odd that the Americans were so damaged mentaly in Vietnam compared to the people who faught in Stalin grade, who suffered a lot more than any American.
     
  6. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    Have you thought that just maybe such things just aren't talked about rather than those things not being problems?

    As YNCS pointed already out the "Mad Nam Vet"-phenomena is kind of myth. Needlessly to say war is still within him but he has got over it and is here to teach others what is all about. My wish is only that maybe some people especially young are listening. They might after all learn something.

    Example in Finland effects of war have been disguised for long time even though they have clearly affected such things as the rates of domestic violence. My grandfather has always said that unlike others he doesn't want to talk about war, as he claims that he doesn't have need for it, but everytime I visit he tells at least one old story from the front. It's clear the war keeps him still occupied after 60 years.

    Also the mental consequences have lot to do what kind of living you're used to. People coming into war in young age being a little bit naieve and used to high quality living may have bigger shock to deal with when it goes deep, down and dirty than those that may have seen the ugly side of the life before.
     
  7. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    I have no doubt that many of the Battle of Stalingrad veterans, on both sides, had mental problems because of their experiences. I also suspect that most of them learned, as I did, how to cope with these problems.
     
  8. dgfred

    dgfred Sports Freak

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    Here is my salute to you YNCS :hatsoff: . You should be very proud.
     
  9. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    Thank you, dgfred.
     
  10. joycem10

    joycem10 Deity

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    I wonder if the controvery surrounding vets of Gulf War I and the alleged fatigue and pain symptoms claimed by many fall into the same catagory. Its been blamed on anything from sabot rounds to Iraqi chem/bio weapons.
     
  11. Dawgphood001

    Dawgphood001 The Professional Poster

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    I too wonder about this. Why is it always the Vietnam war that is shouldered with this stereotype? I'm willing to bet that it wasn't the most intense war we've ever been in, yet on it goes.

    We will probably be seeing lots of these sorts of cases from the newest Iraq War, because of the guerilla nature of that conflict.
     
  12. dgfred

    dgfred Sports Freak

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    No matter where or when there is a war/conflict, you will probably have a
    backlash of violence- both at homes and in the public- when the soldiers
    return. When you are given a 'license to kill', suffer the stresses of battle
    and see your buds killed and maimed returning to a 'regular' lifestyle is next
    to impossible. Just the thoughts of booby traps and IEDs gives me the
    creeps- the anguish of never knowing exactly when something like that
    could happen seems almost unbearable- probably worse than knowing you
    are going into a regular battle.
     
  13. Orthodox Warior

    Orthodox Warior Chieftain

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    I think PTSD (Post trauma sindrom disorder) is more likelyto have more soldiers in agresors army than defenders.

    HINT: Fight only defensive or wars of liberation...
     
  14. Zardnaar

    Zardnaar Deity

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    YNCS I suspected you were older than us but didn't realise you were 20 in 68. Interesting read thanx. The war vets I knew (WW2) didn't talk about it at all.
     
  15. Zardnaar

    Zardnaar Deity

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    YNCS I suspected you were older than us but didn't realise you were 20 in 68. Interesting read thanx. The war vets I knew (WW2) didn't talk about it at all.
     
  16. Tank_Guy#3

    Tank_Guy#3 Lion of Lehistan

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    I have met several Vietnam vets, all of whom are quite successful (2 are teachers, one worked in a local paper mill, one owns a small business, and that's all I can remember). I ask them about Vietnam occasionally and some will willingly talk about it, others would just as soon not, but all live completely normal lives. The one that owns a small business is my great uncle and he does still have nightmares at times, but he never lets those ruin his day. One of the teachers told me that though he got a Purple Heart, he was ashamed of getting it, as there were guys that got wounded far worse.
     
  17. Tank_Guy#3

    Tank_Guy#3 Lion of Lehistan

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    How can you win a fight if you don't take it to the enemy?
     
  18. pboily

    pboily fingerlickinmathematickin

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    The Iraqi fought a war without taking it to the enemy, so did the Finns.

    One lost, one won.
     
  19. Orthodox Warior

    Orthodox Warior Chieftain

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    My point was don't atack other country, don't be agressor.
    If you fighting liberation war you will have help of population you are trying to liberate and moral will be high. In agressors army moral is high until losses starting to multiply. Defender who suffer losses has no choice but continue to fight. Defending soldiers protecting their homes and they have no place else to go. Atacking army soldiers might think: "What I am doing here when my home is far away. I don't need to die here". Except Japan, their moral was high during entire war, technology didn't.

    But if enemy atacks your country, sure, bring war back to him.
     

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