An historical description of PTSD

Playboy Magazine’s site contains an excellent, recent article on the Bush administration’s efforts to minimize the existence and human costs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) left untreated in troops returning from Iraq.

Mental health problems tend to be easy to ignore. There are no physical scars, or missing limbs. The public prefers to believe troops come home healthy and heroic, and the government is happy to encourage those beliefs. As a result, the long term costs of untreated PTSD are played down in both the press and in the federal budget.

War is a Racket, a short work written by former General Major Smedley Butler in 1935, contains a powerful description of Butler’s observation of the emotional damage caused by war :

Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.

Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face”! This time they had to do their own readjustment, sans mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice and sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them any more. So we scattered them about without any “three-minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades. Many, too many, of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final “about face” alone.

In the government hospital in Marion, Indiana, 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around outside the buildings and on the porches. These already have been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally, they are gone.

Smedley ButlerSmedley Butler served in the Spanish American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the first World War and in US military actions in Honduras, Haiti and Veracruz, Mexico. He was awarded two Congressional Medals of Honor. After leaving military service he became a strong critic of the US administration and it’s willingness to use war to benefit industry.

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