My old interest in soldiers: off topic
Many years ago I ran across some statistics that suggested that veterans returning from Vietnam were dying at the same rate as they had died when deployed in combat.  This unhappy notion struck me as important so I pursued it.  In the end it was confirmed by an official study that combat was responsible for deaths years after exposure ended.  The numbers were not quite as bad as I had initially suspected.  The way the stats had been laid out, those still on active duty were lumped with those who had died.  Once that was straightened out the death rate was cut by about half.  It was obvious from the outset that the increased death rate one way or the other was due to the psychological trauma of combat. 

From what we then knew, it appeared that anyone exposed to combat would develop enormous emotional problems within a couple of months.  That idea has now been seriously challenged.  (Battle Ready ECONOMIST vol. 405 no. 8811 November 17, 2012 page 75)  Modern therapy for the substantial number of combat veterans who suffer from what is now called post traumatic stress disorder consists largely of going back over the events that caused the problem and letting the veterans learn how to cope with them.  It does sometimes seem to work.  I suppose we owe something to Freud there; he got the idea of using the same approach to dealing with problems he thought were carried over from childhood.

There is a basic principle that I do not trust but which seems to get lugged out of storage anytime anything works: if it works, overdo it.  Pardon the bitterness, but in this case the idea is to present soldiers with images of the horrors of combat before they go there.  This of course is in direct contradiction with the old idea that you can only take so much of such stuff.  But at least they are trying.  And it is expected that those who cannot be conditioned to manage combat stress will be given other tasks.  The upshot is supposed to be a more effective fighting unit and the elimination of post traumatic stress disorder.

My initial thought when I first got involved was, “If people only knew how terrible combat is in its effects on the mind we would stop having wars altogether.”  Fat chance. 

Winston Churchill once said, “Talk, talk is better than war, war.”  I think he authentically tried to avoid war and plunged into it only when it seemed absolutely inevitable.  I think that spirit has faded.  When the question of war arises it appears to be a matter of thinking not, “Is there any way at all we can avoid this?” but thinking, “Will this effectively promote our interests?”  And twixt me and thee, it sometimes seems that “our” interests are not the interests of the country but of the economic machine that our military investment has created. 

So much as I sympathize with efforts to make war more acceptable, I really think more effort should go into avoiding them.


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