Serving a Life Sentence: The Trauma of War

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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.

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7 comments on “Serving a Life Sentence: The Trauma of War

  1. kimberleyhampe says:

    This was such an interesting topic and I loved how your personal experience guided you in your choice of topic, making it all the more enjoyable to read.

    I think you touch on a very important issue which is close to Australian hearts. Quite often the trauma of war and the silent battle faced by many returned soldiers in terms of mental illness is often ignored but it can cause a lot of damage to the families of these soldiers.

    I had a friend at school who used to tell me how his father fought in the Vietnam War but how the family were forbidden to speak of the war or ask him questions about his experiences. The father turned to alcohol to help deal with the trauma he faced but it was having disastrous effects upon the relationships within the family to the point where one of his sons didn’t want anything to do with him because he wasn’t being a ‘real’ father to him. It was really upsetting to hear.

    I think it is important for students in schools in particular to know of these experiences of returned soldiers as well as understand the devastating impact that war can have on them and thier families. I remember taking a group of Year 9 students to the ANZAC memorial in Sydney earlier this year. Before we went inside, many of the students were complaining and/or laughing about the memorial and it frustrated me so much. I had to remind them of the great sacrifice many of these men had made so that they could live so freely. I think next time I should get them to read your post before we study soldier’s experiences of war!

    Thankyou so much for your insight into a very interesting topic!

  2. stubba12 says:

    I thought this was a fantastic post. I think is great to select a topic that has a level of personal significance to the writer and I enjoyed how you expressed your own family experiences within the topic. I too have a personal connection to this subject area as my father served in Vietnam and it is a subject that is often not discussed within my family.
    I think this is a great topic to approach as the mental health of returned service men and women is an issues that should not be ignored or forgotten.

  3. phillipa2012 says:

    This is an interesting piece of writing, regarding the trauma and affects of war upon its veterans. Sharing your own personal experience of your Grandfather’s silence, regarding his war experience was moving and I suspect all too common a story. I thought you captured the horror of the after-effects of war very well with, “his eyes were a window into the war that still waged on in his mind”. It seems to me that in many ways no person wins in war, as its effects are so devastating. Yes, I agree with you, of the importance of “sufficient debriefing or medical and social support in the months and years after service”, in order for returned soldiers, to recover from such disturbing and life-changing experiences. Furthermore, your area of research was interesting and it is very important that societies understand the psychological repercussions of humans at war.

  4. adelemm says:

    I think that the topic that you picked is a really interesting one, albeit a sad one. My Grandfather was also involved in fighting in WW2, and I found out more about what he had experienced when he died then i had ever known while he was alive. Your personal experiences indicate the serious repercussion of war on a person’s mental state, as well as on the relationships they have with people.
    It is a topic that no one speaks about, and I think that you raised some really interesting points about the support provided to returned soldiers and the assistance given to them to return to their everyday lives. I think that there needs to be an increased understanding about the impacts of War and the resulting emotions/suffering that these returned soldiers experienced (such as PTSD). I think that you have researched an important topic and I hope that the understanding of returned soldiers and the experiences that went through will continue to be studied so that we can aid them as much as possible in their time of need upon their return. I think that you have some wonderful information and it is clear that you have a real understanding of the topic as a whole.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences and for such a well written, informative post. I really enjoyed reading it.

  5. This was a really interesting topic. I especially like the way you introduced the topic, like any good book, the introduction captured your attention immediately. By showing the reality of war, you are able to throw away that romanticized view of war.“For many young men, the idea of getting hurt or killed is pushed to the back of their mind. Getting hurt or killed happens to the other fellow. Going off to war to fight for Australia, it exciting, an adventure, something completely new and wonderfully different and maybe even glorious.” I think this is a great topic as it explores the reality of war.

  6. Liam McCann says:

    I think this was a very interesting and well written post, especially with the introduction of personal anecdotes in the beginning.

    I was just wondering; you focus on the Allies’ experience of trauma, as expected. Is the perception of traumatic stress similar in terms of the Axis experience? Of course, they were committing to these atrocious acts of violence, but was this because of their painful experiences in previous wars within Europe? I would imagine that there’s the whole idea of “the bullied becoming the bully” here, and was just wondering if you had explored that area.

    • sallye85 says:

      Hi Liam,
      Absolutly, the soldier, no matter what ‘side’ they were on were all victims of war, and while my research is not as far stretched as I would like I image that the Axis experience is somewhat similar. Certianly something to consider for further research.

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