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The Loneliness of Achilles Combat Trauma


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A look at Achilles, the Vietnam War, the Iliad and the work of Dr. Jonathan Shay--using PTSD to explain Achilles.

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The Loneliness of Achilles Combat Trauma

  1. 1. The Loneliness of Achilles Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character—Our Troops in Vietnam: The Other Troy Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 1
  2. 2. The Trojan War and Vietnam• This powerpoint is based on the book, Achilles in Vietnam by Dr. Jonathan Shay.• Dr. Shay compares the soldiers fighting in Troy to the Americans who fought in Vietnam.• Dr. Shay creates a metaphor that helps the reader of The Iliad understand Achilles, the hero of the poem.• He also wrote another book called Odysseus in America —a parallel to The Odyssey that death with the Vietnam veterans return home to a country that didn’t appreciate the war they had fought. We will not cover that book. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 2
  3. 3. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Vietnam VeteransWe did not become familiar with the term post-traumatic stress until thesoldiers from Vietnam came home. Statistics as high as 70% indicate thatthe majority of Vietnam soldiers suffered from some sort of psychologicaltrauma that was aggravated by the war. Further triggers came to theseveterans when they experienced derision and hostility from people whoprotested the war. Many felt they were blamed for the entire war. It was aconfusing time for the returning soldier. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 3
  4. 4. What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?• The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) defines it as the following:• A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:• – 1. The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others – 2. The person’s response involved fear, helplessness, or horror. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 4
  5. 5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder continued…• B. The traumatic event is persistently reexperienced in one or more of the following ways:• 1. Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event 2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event 3. Acting or feeling as if the traumatic even were recurring(includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, dissociative flashback episodes 4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that resemble an aspect of the traumatic event Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 5
  6. 6. Definition continued…• C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness as indicated by 3 of the following: 1. effort to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the• trauma 2. efforts to avoid activities, people, and places that arouse recollections• of the trauma 3. inability to recall an important event of the trauma 4. marked diminished interest in significant events 5. feeling of detachment from others 6.restricted range of affect (unable to have love feelings) 7.sense of a foreshortened future(does not expect a career, family, normal life span—sense of doom) Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 6
  7. 7. Completion of Definition• D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal as indicated by 2 or more of the following:• 1.difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep 2.irritability or outbursts of anger 3.difficulty concentrating 4. hypervigilance 5. exaggerated startle response• Acute: symptoms less than 3 months• Chronic: symptoms more that 3 months• Delayed onset: if onset of symptoms is at least 6 months after the stressor• Possibly more that 70% of the Vietnam soldiers experienced some of these symptoms after the war. Why? Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 7
  8. 8. Overview of Key Chapters in Shay’s Book• What happened to Vietnam soldiers when they were on their tour of duty?• Shay writes of this in the following chapters:• 1. The Betrayal of “What’s Right”• 2. Shrinkage of the Social and Moral Horizon• 3. Thwarted Grief at the Death of a Special Comrade (not assigned, but I will refer to it) 4. Berserk (critical to understanding The Iliad) Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 8
  9. 9. What’s Right?• Agamemnon seizes Achilles’ woman after a decisive battle, “a prize I (Achilles) sweated for, and the soldiers gave me.”(Iliad) For Achilles, this incident became a violation of “what’s right.” What is his eventual reaction?• I do all the dirty work with my own hands, and when the battle’s over• You get the lion’s share and I go back to the ships....Well, I’m going back to• Phthia now. Far better to head home with my curved ships than stay here,• Unhonor myself and piling up a fortune for you.” (Book 1-Lombardo translation)• In other words, Achilles as the soldier is risking himself in battle so that his commander will gain the profit, be it a woman, gold or acclaim. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 9
  10. 10. What’s Right--continued In the case of Vietnam, officers were very hungry to gain commendations for battles; the war was not seen as particularly important—the real big one would come later with the Soviets in the Iron Curtain countries. Big wins in Vietnam ultimately reflected well on the commanding officers, usually a battalion commander (lieutenant colonels) trying to make general, 2nd and first lieutenants trying to make captain, and so on. The enlisted man could aim as high as sergeant, NCO, and there was one case in which an enlisted man with no college became a 2nd lieutenant (Clark Welsh who commanded Delta Company in Operation Shenandoah II—101 men died, including the battalion commander in a matter of hours).• In the battle of Shenandoah, the men were led into an ambush, taken by surprised and unable to regroup to defend themselves. No one could determine where the enemy was. Many were snipers who moved from tree to tree. Embarrassed by the losses, General Westmoreland insisted it wasn’t an ambush, but a planned attack and he inflated Vietcong body count to make the mission look good. He came to pin medals on the survivors in the hospital. While they insisted they were ambushed, he simply replied:” No, there was no ambush.” They believed their buddies had died because of this man and LBJ; they were seething with rage because no one would believe them when they talked about what happened. (from They Marched into Sunlight) Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 10
  11. 11. Shrinkage of the Social and Moral Horizon• What happens to a soldier’s sense of character when he encounters injustice? What happens when he endures unbearable loss?• In the case of Achilles, he ceases to be merciful toward his enemies, and he forgets his duty to his men. When Agamemnon embarrasses him, he refuses to fight, even though his absence means the death of many Greeks at the hands of the Trojans. When he returns to fight, he does so out of vengeance for the death of his cousin.• Homer makes sure the reader sees the change in Achilles by repeatedly mentioning the Achilles who existed prior to the events Homer is describing. He ransomed prisoners instead of killing them. He refuses to take the arms of the enemy he has defeated, an accepted custom among the Greeks, because he wanted to show respect to the conquered people. However, the Achilles who emerges after the death of his cousin becomes a man without a conscience when he says “Still, I won’t stop until I have made the Trojans sick of war.” (121) Achilles himself has summed up the war of attrition strategy that Westmoreland used in Vietnam. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 11
  12. 12. Shrinkage of the Social and Moral Horizon—Part 2• What happened to our soldiers?• First, their social space shrinks because they learned they could trust nobody, including their commanding officer.• The only ones worthy of trust were few. Achilles only trusted Patrocles; in this case, this soldier only trusted his reconnaissance team: “It was constant now. I was watching the other 5 guys like they were my children….It wasn’t 72 guys (in the company) I was worried about. It was 5 guys.” (24, Shay)• To this man, only a very few were still human beings. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 12
  13. 13. Shrinkage, continued• What about moral duty and performance? What happens when soldiers die for no reason (friendly fire, sent out on suicidal missions, accidents with a weapon)? What happens when atrocity after atrocity becomes part of the tour of duty?•• I was eighteen years old…I had strong religious beliefs. For the longest• time I wanted to be a priest when I was growing up. It was the way you• were taught, like “Whenever you’re alone, make believe God’s there• with you. Would he approve of what you are doing?” ….I was no angel• either….you’re only human. But evil doesn’t enter it ‘till Vietnam.• Why I became like that? It was all evil….where before I wasn’t. I look back• and I’m horrified at what I turned into….It was someone else. Someone• else had control of me….War changes you….strips you of all your beliefs,• your religion, takes your dignity away…’s unbelievable what humans• can do to each other. (33, Shay)•• Another veteran: “I couldn’t believe Americans could do that to another human• being….but then I became that. We went through villages and killed everything, I mean everything, and that was all right with me. (31, Shay) Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 13
  14. 14. Grief at the Death of a Special Comrade• “I died in Vietnam” is a frequent comment among Vietnam veterans. When did they die? They died when their special friend, their buddy, their close companion was killed. Look at the transformation in Achilles after Patrocles’ death:• Mother, Zeus may have done all this for me,• but how can I rejoice? My friend is dead,• Patrocles, my dearest friend of all. I loved him…• You will never welcome me home, since I no longer have the will• to remain alive among men… (Iliad)•• Many Vietnam vets echoed the same belief: “In my wildest thoughts I never expected or wanted to return home alive, and emotionally never have.” (53, Shay)• Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 14
  15. 15. Grief--continued• Achilles is able to have a funeral for his friend and mourn with his soldiers even though his grief is too deep to heal. But how does the Vietnam soldier grieve over the body of his friend? What happens to his remains?• First the bodies were taken to the rear—where the unit was stationed-then they were sent to Graves Registration for identification, preservation and shipment to the United States. The men who handled the bodies had no emotional attachment to them whatsoever; it was a job.• As Shay writes: “ One veteran described going to Graves Registration in search of his dead friend, and beating up the sergeant there because he was cooling beer in the chest holding the corpse.” (59)• Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 15
  16. 16. Grief--continued• Warfare was suspended every night in the Trojan War, often so that both armies could gather their dead and prepare the funerals. In Vietnam, there was no safe time to mourn. Attacks happened 24 hours a day, usually at night. Any thoughts or meditations on grief could weaken concentration and cost the soldier his life and possibly the lives of others. He could not turn inward.• Tears were scorned. Achilles openly wept for Patrocles and no one questioned his manhood. But soldiers were told to “get your mind straight”, “stuff those tears”, and “Don’t get sad, get even.” (63,Shay)• Shay later writes: If military practice tells soldiers that their emotions of love and grief— which are inseparable from their humanity—do not matter, then the civilian society that has sent them to fight on their behalf should not be shocked by their “inhumanity” (67, Shay). Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 16
  17. 17. Berserk• The berserk state is the last resort of the soldier. Perhaps he blames himself for the death of his friend, perhaps he feels that he should have died in his place; perhaps all aspects of the war have finally rendered him to be heartless. Some of these men become heroes in battle because they take incalculable risks.• Shay says the word berserk comes from the Norse word that described the naked soldiers or those who went into battle without armor.• Achilles saves the Greek army from Hector when he is in the berserk state; he no longer cares about his life, he wants revenge and he relies on his most successful warrior attributes to achieve his goal. But all is done for himself, not the good of the Greek army.• Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 17
  18. 18. Berserk, continued• Hector sees Achilles in his great rage and fears that his anger will extend to mutilation of his body after he dies. He begs Achilles to obey the rules of honor to the dead. But Achilles rejects his pleas, comparing their fight as one between animals:• Don’t try to cut any deals with me, Hector.• Do lions make peace treaties with men?• Do wolves and lambs agree to get along?• No, they hate each other to the core.• And that is how it is between you and me. (Book 22, Iliad)•• Achilles is practically referring to a law of natural selection in which two species either fight for dominance or avoid each other to ensure their continuation. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 18
  19. 19. Berserk, ContinuedSoldiers who go berserk have a variety of reactions---those who survive. Oneveteran described his state of mind as indifferent, saying “I wasn’t close. I can’tremember no one after that, and I was over there two years more….I can’t evenremember the people. (86)Another veteran saw his berserk state as a cleansing ritual for his dead friend:“Every fucking one that died, I say “_______, this one is for you, baby. I’ll take themotherfucker out and I’m going to cut his fucking heart out for you.” (89) Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 19
  20. 20. Berserk, continued• Another talked of his revenge: “ After he died, I was hurting…bad. Then I went on a fucking vendetta. All I wanted to do was fucking hurt people…..I used more fucking ammo in the next three monthsthan the whole fucking time I was there…a lot of fucking air power too. (He was in a position to call in air strikes.) How can you say bullets are fucking humanized? But they were. To see what napalm does---napalm was for revenge. Napalm would suck the air right out of your breath. Take it right out of your lungs. (96)• Consider Achilles’ behavior in Books 20 and 21—his rage made the entire Trojan army flee before him. Achilles wants revenge for the death of his friend. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 20
  21. 21. Berserk, continued• Shay says the berserk state has the following characteristics:• Beastlike• Godlike• Socially disconnected• Crazy, mad, insane• Cruel, without restraint• Reckless, feeling invulnerable• Exalted, intoxicated, frenzied• Devoid of fear• Indiscriminate• Inattentive to one’s own safety• Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 21
  22. 22. Berserk• Another veteran spoke of the obliteration of his friend:• “And we looked and looked and looked. And the only thing that was left was….it was just his hair. And we put it in a body bag. And I was crying like a baby….And I cried and I cried and I cried….And I stopped crying. And I probably didn’t cry again for twenty years. I turned. I had no feelings. I wanted to hurt. I wanted to hurt. (96, Shay) How can such a man reenter civilian society unchanged? Will society welcome anyone in this state of mind?• Shay concluded that the berserk stage is “ruinous” if he survives the war. He believes that “once a person has entered the berserk state, he or she is changed forever.” (98, Shay)• Keep these images in mind. Achilles experiences all 4 stages— from the betrayal of what’s right to the berserk state. The Trojan War becomes his nightmare. Bertolino-Mosaic 2-War and Trauma 22