What’s left of War?
Over the years, I have had many friends that have chosen to join the Military, and at one point seriously considered signing up as a Royal Marine my self. I have watched some of these friends return from various war zones in the Middle East, and have seen first hand the effect that war has had on them.
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only one who has seen its brutality, its stupity.”
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
Since 2003, 446 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan alone. 6,996 soldiers have been injured, and well over 100 troops have suffered amputations. More than 10,000 soldiers are still stationed in the Middle East. However the number of soldiers dealing with post dramatic stress disorder goes unknown.
Newspapers over the last decade have been riddled with articles that cover the death, or injury of troops stationed in the Middle East. Although it is a rarity that you will hear or read about the thousands of soldiers that come home in perfect physical condition, but emotionally distressed. Dealing with the immense psychological pain of war.
Post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is an anxiety disorder caused by extremely stressful, frightening or distressing events. It can develop in some people immediately after an event, and for others it can take months or even years to notice symptoms. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 3 people who have a traumatic experience suffer from (PTSD), although it is not clear why some people develop the condition and others don’t.
Symptoms of (PTSD) have been categorised by the NHS to fall under the following.
Re-experiencing – Apparently the most common form of (PTSD), When a person vividly re-lives an event or experience through the form of nightmares, flash backs or repetitive images and sensations. This can include physical sensations such as sweating, trembling, or even pain. Some people suffering from (PTSD) may repeatedly ask themselves questions, preventing them from excepting, or coming to terms with the event. Such as; could I have done anything to prevent this? Or, why did this happen to me? This can then lead to feelings of guilt or shame.
Avoidance and emotional numbing – Trying to avoid or be reminded of the traumatic event. Often by avoiding certain people, or a place that might be linked to the experience, as well as avoiding to talk to people about the experience. Emotional numbing is where by dealing with these feelings, you try not to feel anything at all; this can lead to someone feeling isolated or withdrawn and is also believed to have links to alcohol and drug abuse.
Hyperarousal or (feeling ‘on edge’) – This is when some one feels extremely anxious and finds it difficult to relax, they may be constantly aware of threats and easily startled. This state of mind is known as (Hyperarousal). This mind state often leads to irritability, sleeping problems, angry outbursts and difficulty concentrating.
Studies have also shown that young people are also more likely to suffer from (PTSD), with the worst cases resulting in suicide. Bearing in mind the U.K still allows people as young as sixteen to sign up for the armed forces, its no surprise that soldiers suffering with this condition is a very real and substantial threat, when returning from war.
Year by year, troops are coming home with the emotional baggage of being at war, a heavy and complicated burden that very few can relate to or fully understand.
I remember drinking with friends that had returned from Afghanistan for the second time, and hearing one of them make a joke as to weather it would be worth getting an arm or a leg blown off, in return for the compensation. Besides from thinking this was a rather badly tasted joke, I realized how much he had differed this time round. The first time he was due out, he barley spoke about his views, or feelings on what he was going into, besides the odd “I’m shitting it mate”. This time he had changed. Although at this point he did not seem massively effected by what he had seen. He was certainly de-sensitized by it. I still wonder weather the joke was made to mask his fear, or weather the worry of getting injured out there had truly gone, if he had chosen to either, ignore or except the possible consequences of war.
Years have passed since that conversation. He has returned yet again from Afghanistan and could one day end up back there, or in another war zone that seems worlds away from the place we call home. I sat down with him over a drink, prior to writing this article, and asked him various questions about his experiences and his views on (PTSD).
Although my friend seemed slightly reserved throughout this conversation, it was apparent to me that weather he knew it or not. Both him and members of his regiment had been affected by their experiences. He explained how members of his regiment had suffered from (PTSD), in Afghanistan after returning back to base from operations.
“Yeah some of them have really freaked out, especial when we were out there. You get shot at on an opp and when its over, you think thank fuck I wasn’t hit. Then a day or two later, your back out on another one and have to go through it all again. Seen a few lads break down at the thought of that like.”
I could only imagine having to go through this day after day, for months on end. Its no surprise to me that this has extreme effects on the mental state of a solider. The immense stress, on top of witnessing horrific scenes, that us as civilians are only likely to see movies, such as Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, seems enough to mentally cripple any human being.
From the outside, it does not seem apparent my friend suffers gravely from (PTSD), although he admits he has noticed changes in his behavior, since first going out to Afghanistan. He explained to me how little insignificant things had sparked dramatic reactions and irrational behavior.
“I went to the chippy, got back in my car and opened the bag of chips to eat a few, then a car backfired on the street. I shit my self and dropped the chips all over the place, then went proper weird an nearly started crying.”
Although out of context, a story such as this one seems almost comical. When pieced together with the knowledge of what he’s been through and other more worrying tales I have heard, but didn’t feel comfortable asking about, a haunting picture paints itself in great detail. Showing not the fallen soldiers we commemorate, but the surviving casualties of war, missed out as almost insignificant, due to their perfect physical condition, but living on, to face and re-live, a war they were once in, for a life time. His view on war had changed, along with his view on the profession he had chosen at 17. He no longer wanted to be in the military, telling me that he would leave as soon as his time was up, to take on a more typical trade, such as becoming an electricians apprentice.
“When I first went out I was scared like, but I didn’t think it would bother me. After doing all your training your proper geared up to go. Then after the first time I really didn’t wanna go back out there. Couldn’t think of anything worse.”
The most disturbing thing about (PTSD) is that it seems many young soldiers seem to hide or suppress the problem, thinking they might be thought less of, for talking about what they’re going through. There’s no wonder people dealing with this problem feel isolated, when they’re afraid to admit what they’re dealing with.
“Well you don’t wanna get the piss taken out of you.”
It was no surprise to me that my friend didn’t go in to much detail when answering my questions, but who can blame him. How are you supposed to expect someone to fully explain something like this, when speaking about it brings the experience back to life? That seems to be the thing with (PTSD), some of the solutions, such as psychological therapy, seem as if they can add to the problem. Causing people to re-live their experience when prompted it to talking about it.
It’s as if there’s a stigma attached to people who choose to talk about the traumatic experiences a solider goes through, especially among’st younger people, as if they were weak or soft. This could be why many people suffering from (PTSD) don’t receive treatment, or why many people may even refuse to come to terms with the fact they are struggling.
I have seen my friend change from the fresh faced teen he once was, enjoying basic training and keen to get out in the field. To the person he is now, not ruined by war, but certainly molded by it. Unfortunately, there are many people like him suffering from much greater psychological terrors, some of them spending life times dealing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
At the age of 18 I re-took my A-level exams, with the aim of getting enough UCAS points to sign up for officer training, with the Royal Marines. During this period I made the decision that I first wanted to go to university. Now almost half way through my degree I find myself writing this article, and I can definitely say my views have changed. Although the Royal Marines careers pack, given to me in the recruitment office, still sits somewhere in a bedroom draw, the idea of joining now seems distant. Many aspects of the job still seem appealing to me, but the risk of going to war is always present, as after all, its what your there for. It seems apparent to me now that those going to war, not only have to survive their violent surroundings, but also the psychological scars they may come back with.
“If you think of humanity as one large body, then war is like suicide, or at best, self mutilation.”
JEROME P. CRABB
By Ben Thompson.