The Shrink’s Links: The Yellow Birds & Fire and Forget

Bringing you the best of mental health every week.

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Today, we have a double shrink’s links. Two links for the price of one. Two great books of fiction I recommend about America’s recent war experience:

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
and
Fire and Forget Edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher

In both cases, the authors are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Yellow Birds is a novel and Fire and Forget a collection of short stories written by a collection of writers. Nearly all the narratives follow a warrior returning home broken and finding he doesn’t fit in, after knowing the horrors of war. I believe they offer a pretty accurate depiction of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and an incisive exploration of the problems reintegrating veterans into society.

But, I have a question. It seems like no war story can be published today without PTSD being a major theme. I admire these writers for coming home and writing about their experiences. But, I really want to know: are they writing about what they want to say, or what we are prepared to hear?

When did Post Traumatic Stress Disorder dominate over other aspects of war? When I think of other literature from past conflicts, there are other narratives. In The Iliad, warriors are preoccupied with becoming immortal by the renown of their glorious acts. The Red Badge of Courage focuses on, well, courage. Gone with the Wind, the civilian side of war. Joshua, on loyalty to God. War and Peace, All’s Quiet on the Western Front, and A Farewell to Arms gave us realistic depictions of battle, but little about the aftermath. Catch 22, the absurdity of the military. What I remember of The Naked and the Dead is the descent soldiers take into bestiality. In other novels, the authors deal with friendship, confrontation with other cultures, religious conviction, the inexorability of fate, love and longing, disobedience of authority, etc. Any theme that can be presented in literature has been presented in war literature because war pushes everything to the furthest degree.

I think it’s safe to say that some veterans of every war returned traumatized by what they saw and did. There is nothing new about PTSD even though the disorder has only been named and categorized since Vietnam. I’ve been told that in the past, the sufferers of PTSD were marginalized, their bravery questioned, their voices silenced. Clearly, that was wrong and it would be better to fully understand the costs of war before we consider going to another war. But, come on; do we give our veterans a service when we presume that they are going to be messed up, when their madness is highlighted over their courage?

I’ve seen quite a few veterans in my office. They come in for every problem that people can have. In some cases there’s PTSD, but in every case there are other stories to tell. Can they tell all there is to tell? Can we listen to it all?

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