Ron Jacobs at Dissident Voice covers the recent publication of two books about the lives and loss of war veterans, Michele Barrett's "Casualty Figures", and "Long Shadows," a collection of writings by members of Veterans for Peace.
It is an unfortunate reality for many peace activists to experience criticism for attacking war second-hand. These books demonstrate that the horror of war can not only result in blind patriotism but also in an astute understanding of the futility and enduring uselessness of battles between nations.
By now most everyone is familiar with the phenomenon known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. We associate this disorder primarily with veterans of combat. What many people do not know is that this disorder was included into the bible of therapeutic mental health disorders only after a long struggle by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and some other US veterans organizations in the 1970s. Prior to that inclusion, veterans who were suffering from what was then commonly known as shell shock were left to their own demons or, in some extreme cases during wartime, executed by the military for cowardice under fire. Even today, some returning vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan engagements who have symptoms that suggest PTSD have been accused of faking these symptoms to get out of a third or fourth tour in those battle zones. In fact, in one recently publicized incident, the Surgeon General of the Army ordered military counselors to stop processing requests for psychological assistance from GIs returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Evocative and often heartwrenching, these stories are a collection of epiphanies by men and women who discovered through personal experience how terrible and pointless war really is. While many of them are now pacifist, one or two are more specific in the wars they oppose. Specifically, they oppose wars of empire and conquest, while supporting the right of people to defend themselves from invasion and occupation. Coming from all walks of life — wealthy, poor, farmers, city dwellers, progressive and reactionary, white skinned and black — each of the individuals underwent a transformation either during their wartime service or in the years succeeding it that brought them to a point where they felt the only option was to speak out no matter what the cost. Some