Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Combat Stress

I remember reading a long time ago a very interesting article about combat stress in The New Yorker. The problem we have is that the act of combat is inherently unnatural, no matter how hard a soldier is trained natural instinct reacts strongly against it and this is the cause of combat stress. It is so natural that anyone who doesn't experience it could almost be considered psychotic. One military pastor was advancing a very strong argument that if soldiers were prepared mentally and ethically as well as physically they could be prepared for combat and this could actually reduce the stress that they experience. In the Bible there is a clear distinction made between murder and between killing your enemy. If this distinction could be made it would help soldiers to do a better job and help to reduce combat stress.

No matter how you feel about combat and war, and I'm not sure that I completely agree with it, as a soldier you have to be involved in combat and there is no doubt that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a growing problem. Today reading another article in The New Yorker it seems that the military haven't taken much notice of the ethics of combat and that combat stress is still a very real problem. I'm not really surprised that the military isn't interested in teaching ethics but I am surprised that they haven't gone full out to try to stop this problem. I was quite moved by the following passage, a letter home from Iraq by a clinical psychologist based in Qatar:

"At home I ask people if they have ever experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or abuse. But out here I ask, 'Have you ever been in combat?'. Apparently this is a question with the power to unglue, because all four of these troops burst into tears at the mention of the word 'combat'.

And when I say burst, I mean splatter - tears running, snot flowing, and I literally have to mop the floor after on two-hour session. In other words, I mean sobbing for minutes on end, unable to speak, flat-out grief by an otherwise healthy, strong, manly guy who watches football on the weekends and never puts the seat down.

Each time I sit there with not a clue what to say ... offering tissues ... saying I'm sorry ... trying to normalise ... trying to say 'It was not your fault that so-and-so died' and 'if you could have done differently you would have' and 'you have a right to be scared' and even worse 'you had to shoot back' and 'yes you killed someone, and you still deserve to go back to your family and live your life."

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