The trauma of war has been a constant in my life. My late maternal Grandfather was a World War II veteran who, by his own admission was damaged by the war. War was a taboo subject in our family and his eyes were a window into the war that still waged on in his mind. Roy Moraghan (shown in above image) battled alcoholism, had a short temper and was scarred so deeply by the war he would not even acknowledge his role in the military. He never marched, he never kept in contact with men he served with and he was burnt by his first wife who had an extra marital affair whilst he was at war. His life was not extraordinary, in fact quite the opposite his story is mirrored through generations of men who served not only in WWII but Vietnam and many other combats. This is reflected in what returned Australian soldier Matthew D’Arcy said in an interview in 2003 “The war never leaves you. You constantly think about it. You think about what could have happened or – I have to work out why things happened… You’re never normal.” There is a possibility that the war may not end for a soldier at the end of physical combat. While the dates of a war will be forever etched in the pages of historical literature and remembered on anniversaries, this closing date of combat does not necessarily ring true to those who served. Physical combat may have finished but many soldiers returned with a psychological war raging, one that for some may only conclude with death.
THE SILENT WAR
Mental illness is a real problem for returned servicemen, particularly those in World War II and Vietnam. Sufferers of PTSD and other psychological illness brought on by war were, for years, under cared for and left to battle their demons alone as represented in the transcript of Australian Vietnam Veteran Matthew D’Arcy “…I suppose we were alienated… I vanished of the face of the earth for a couple of years.” In 2007 data published by Hobbins revealed that during World War II’s Singapore Malaya Campaign it was revealed that the most common reason for discharge from the army, when looking at Australian and British soldiers, was due to mental and psychiatric disorders at a rate of 26.7% for Australian and 35-41% for their British counterparts. These figures make it clear that war does in fact have a serious effect on soldiers and they carry this burden back into their civilian lives therefore leaving them to battle their own personal issues away from the front line. A different war returned with these men and little was done in many cases to provide assistance. Without proper support being provided by the community and government to assist veterans many were left to suffer in silence and battle away alone for many years which in some cases resulted in further problems like alcoholism, drug addiction and violent outbursts.
With PTSD comes other serious issues and conditions and with serving in a war, particularly Vietnam and WWII comes with a large array of personal collateral damage, the soldier is left battling these issues in civilian life. Alcohol and drug abuse along with violent behaviours have been linked to veterans of both wars. Hospital’s noted that men who had served in Vietnam had a higher rate of admission to hospital for issues with alcohol, drugs and violence. Veterans were seemingly depressed and withdrawn and looking for release or forms of numbness to allow themselves to get through the internal battle within (Furey, 1882). Studies on alcohol abuse and Vietnam Veterans in the United States have discovered that approximately 14% of ‘Viet vets’ suffer from alcohol addiction or abuse compared to 9% of non-Vietnam veterans clearly outlining that a battle is still waging on for these soldiers long after the war. It was also revealed that Vietnam Veterans are twice as more likely to suffer from life impeding psychological problems proving that with war comes a number of variations of casualties and not just physical but emotional ones that will be forever battled by the victims (Roberts, 1988). Meaning that those who fought in Vietnam simply had a higher risk of developing the above problems due to their exposure to war and combat. This information makes it clear that soldiers will still be in a war when returning from combat but it will be a war to regain normalcy and sobriety.
“…With that type of terror… we had our problems… I find the war a terrible thing.” Through the words of William Stephen it is clear when looking at the plight of the Vietnam Veteran and World War II Veteran that the war does not end for them psychologically when they return home. The trauma of war and the difference in life upon return are so starkly different that it would be impossible for one not to be affected by what they had seen. Without sufficient debriefing or medical and social support in the months and years after service a soldier is likely to find areas of their life which are significantly affected from their experience. These men will continue to do battle on a psychological level for the remainder of their lives. Because of a number of factors, some of which, have all been discussed above, unfortunately, ensure that for a soldier the war never ends, the emotional battle scars run too deep and the soldier in them will keep fighting for normalcy for the rest of their lives. Dorothy Scott, a wife of a Vietnam Veteran so simply states “…forget about your own personal feelings about it, their lives were absolutely ruined…” In conclusion, the War never ends for the soldier; the trauma is just too great.