The Uncertainty of War

While at times this blog may have seemed to have no direction I believe that in the end the overall message is fairly clear. At first my writing started out a little rough as I struggled to find my footing when relating our class readings to the world today. My most difficult obstacle was narrowing my topic and defining my goals for the blog. I felt that making connections between the real world and the texts would be enough but clearly a goal had to be reached through this project. My main goal was to present conditions faced by soldiers during war or because of war. At times this was difficult because I had to draw on the pain of people in the texts who did not have experience fighting during the war specifically. The most difficult subject to relate to soldiers specifically was the Holocaust. Our readings of World War II literature mainly centered around the Holocaust and those people who survived the concentration camps. At times certain blog entries may seem like a bit of a stretch but I feel that it would be impossible to find clear connections in all of the literature. Some topics had to be intensely dissected in order to make them fit into a narrow topic. Throughout the duration of this blog I have explored connections between the characters or narrators in the class literature to the life of soldiers during the War on Iraq. These connections include conditions that the soldiers are subject to, rules and regulations that are meant to be followed, treatment of prisoners of war, expectations and fear before going into battle, communication between soldiers and their families, and the way that war affects the family of soldiers returning from war. There are so many aspects of war and the life of a soldier is extremely complex but connections can be made to soldiers who fought in past wars, civilians, concentration camp survivors, and people who volunteer to aid in the war effort. Soldiers are not entirely in a category all their own, they have  many attributes that can be related to other people.

In “The Things They Carried” Tim O’Brien discusses his feelings after being drafted into the United State Military. He did not support the war that was being fought in Vietnam and he felt the he could not fight for his country if he did not believe. He entertained the idea of leaving the country and standing up for his own moral beliefs. Eventually he returned home in preparation to go to war because he was afraid of disappointing his family and his community.

“Even in my imagination, the shore just twenty yards away, I couldn’t make myself be brave. It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that’s all it was. And right then I submitted. I would go to the war- I would kill and maybe die- because I was embarrassed not to.” -Tim O’Brien

Thousands of men likely held the same opinion as O’Brien when they were required to register for the draft during the Vietnam War. The draft was enacted in The Selective Training and Services Act of 1940 by Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to support the military when volunteer numbers were too low. After the attack on Pearl Harbor men and women rushed to volunteer to aid in the war effort because they felt that the fighting was justified. The Vietnam War did not instill pride in Americans and there was not a rush to volunteer in the war effort as there was in WWII. The draft was vital during the Vietnam War because it was the only way to provide enough troops to fight.

If the draft were to be reinstated there would likely be many people opposed to fighting. Today many people support the war effort but just as many people (if not more) are completely opposed to any sort of conflict between countries. If a draft occurred today many people would likely flee the country as O’Brien so faithfully considered just before leaving to fight in Vietnam. Despite all of this a draft is completely possible if our country has difficulty raising the numbers necessary to fight in a war.

Though the United States halted conscription in 1973, the Selective Service remains as a means to register American males upon reaching the age of 18 as a contingency should the measure be reintroduced. –Selective Training and Service Act of 1940

Though a draft has not occurred in over three decades the United States Government is fully prepared to hold another lottery if it becomes necessary. The uncertainty of war has remained constant throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and across our span of literature.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_Training_and_Service_Act_of_1940

Information about the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940

Advertisements

November 24, 2009. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Thinking of the Veterans

For some reason it just seems appropriate that we are reading a novel like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut on Veterans Day. Kurt himself was a Veteran of World War II and he tells the story of Billy Pilgrim who fights in the war and comes home emotionally and mentally scarred. This book not only includes elements of  war in Europe but the central theme of the novel is the state of mental health that a soldier must endure after returning from war. The story of Billy Pilgrim is Kurt Vonnegut’s tool in intimately telling his own story of war in a detached way. Billy Pilgrim hallucinations are a way of escaping this world that has faced the destruction of war. Perhaps Vonnegut’s way of escaping the same world is to write through the eyes of someone other than himself.

Many veterans of World War II did not show signs of Post Traumatic Stress immediately following their return home to the Unites States. It was a widely accepted fact that men did not often speak about war to their families, or to anyone for that matter. After the war it was extremely important that men went back to work, in many cases relieving their wives from difficult labor that they had endured for years during the war. In the years following World War II perhaps most of the men simply did not have time to think of what happened to them during the battles, they were too busy getting back to their real lives and families. These ideas may apply to Billy Pilgrim, and Kurt Vonnegut himself. Pilgrim checks himself into a veteran’s hospital three years after the war because he finally begins to feel the effects;

“He woke up with his head under a blanket in a ward for nonviolent mental patients in a veterans’ hospital near Lake Placid, New York. It was springtime in 1948, three years after the end of the war.” (p.99).

After this brief stay in the veterans’ hospital much of Billy Pilgrim’s life is omitted from the text until he is kidnapped by a flying saucer in 1967. He time travels back to his wedding night briefly but other than this almost twenty years of  his life is not even mentioned. Perhaps these were the happiest times of his life, the times that helped him to forget about what happened during the war; his wedding, the birth of his children, and the growth of a young family in the 1950s and 1960s. (Of course these are my observations after reading only 2/3 of the novel, maybe this will eventually change). Billy is kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians for the first time only a year before the death of his wife in 1968. 

It is quite possible that Billy’s experience with time travel occurs because his wife has passed away, he has basically stopped working, and he has more time to think about the events of the war. According to the American Psychological Association it is very common for World War II Veterans not to think about the events of war in a devastating way until something traumatic has happened later in life such as the death of a spouse. World War II veterans commonly feel that what they fought for was respectable and that they should be proud and this often gives way to the feelings of Post Traumatic Stress.

“When age forced their retirement, the traumatic memories seemed to resurface in distressing ways, the researchers add. Their minds seem to have had more time to recall traumatic events. Others may have felt older traumas resurface after they become widowers and find themselves spending more time alone.

‘I do think there’s an increasing vulnerability to memories of traumatic experiences that is associated with age,’ Elder says, ‘because things in our lives become less controllable. We have to retire for health reasons, or our spouse dies.'” American Psychological Association

Perhaps these ideas contribute to Kurt Vonnegut’s inability to write about World War II and Dresden until later in his life. Billy Pilgrim’s hallucinations occur later on in his life and therefore he may have been unable to face the events of war until that time. Age, retirement, and the loss of loved ones can contribute to the resurfacing of wartime memories for many veterans of World War II.

The American Psychological Association

http://www.apa.org/monitor/may98/ptsd.html

November 11, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Communication with Troops Overseas

Our class reading of “Since You Went Away”, letters from women on the home front  written to men and women overseas during World War II, compiled by Judy Barrett Litoff and David E. Smith leaves a great deal to be desired. The book provides great examples of the struggle that women faced as their husbands, brothers, fathers, and friends struggled in fighting for their country overseas but we receive very little accounts from the soldier’s perspective. We are limited to the knowledge that the women have as they write from their homes. Letter writing in the World War II era was definitely not limited to husbands and wives, or family members. Many men wrote home to the families of their fallen comrades in order to extend their sympathy and gratitude. In many cases the fallen men acted as heros in order to save other men in uniform, the survivors had a strong desire to make sure that the family of the fallen knew all that their son had accomplished.

I was hit and dropped to the ground… . With Russ’s assistance, I could move a bit. Moving along a narrow trail, we ran into a [Japanese] patrol. Instead of getting away. … Russ stood [over me] with a knife in hand while three [guys] charged him with bayonets. With the cool art of a true Marine he [managed] to kill the first two, but the third one stabbed him in the back…. [He] lay down beside me [and] said, “Well, Shep, I guess this is where we came in,” and smiled. … Then he just went to sleep…. Marine Pfc. (Private First Class) Edgar Shepard

 Marine Pfc. Shepard wrote home to the family of Russell Whittlesey, who saved his life while fighting the Japanese in Guadalcanal. His letter re-enacts the events surrounding Whittlesey’s death and hopefully provides a form of comfort to his family. While the letters written from women at home to their men overseas are extremely insightful and interesting it would be very beneficial to study letters written by soldiers to their families at home and to the families of their fallen comrades.

During World War II V-mail was the quickest, most efficient way to send a letter to loved ones overseas. The letters left a limited amount of space but this was a way for family at home to help in the war effort by reducing the weight of mail sent to the troops.

“V-Mail film was flown overseas where it was developed and the letter was delivered to the recipient in the form of a 4 by 5 1/2 photograph. Letters with a bulk weight of 2,575 pounds could be reduced to a mere 45 pounds when processed in this manner.” –“Since You Went Away”.

A common worry among women during the 1940’s was whether or not their loved ones overseas were receiving the letters that they sent. There are numerous letters included in the book in which women are asking if their letters were received. Florence E. Webb received her husband’s letters in a strange order, if she ever got them at all.

Jim, I received letter #16 today. It was written June 6, 1944. So far I have received letters #1,2,4,9, and 16. I wonder where the rest of them are. I should start numbering my letters so you may be able to keep them straight…”

Men and women in the Armed Services do not share the same worries over lost mail as people did during World War II. Sure mail is lost on occasion, but this happens much more infrequently than in the 1940s.  Advances in technology have also made corresponding with loved ones back home much easier on our troops overseas. Cell Phones for Soldiers is an organization started by two teenagers with a desire to help soldiers communicate with their families back home. Millions of Americans discard their cell phones each year in order to purchase new, more high-tech phones. Donating these unused phones is the best option because it will help soldiers in need. The donated phones are traded for calling cards that can be used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The calling cards are passed out for free among the soldiers who greatly appreciate this cause;

Today, I received the pre-paid calling cards from you. I handed out the cards myself, and they all disappeared in less than a minute! We would ALL like to thank you very much for the cards and the support you provide to those of us in the military. I am currently deployed to Iraq for a year (been here for a month), just got married in June, and it’s so great to be able to call my wife.
Thanks again for your support!

TSgt Jason
Coalition Air Force Training Team (CAFTT)
Hurriya Base/Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq-  Cell Phones for Soldiers

There are also causes that accept laptop donations and then rebuild the computers for soldiers who need them overseas. While communication between Armed Forces and their families has become much easier than it was during World War II, there are some restrictions places on correspondence for security purposes.  Correspondence can not be lost if it is sent via e-mail to a soldier’s AKO e-mail (Army Knowledge Online). If family wishes to send instant messages to a soldier overseas they must also have one of these AKO e-mail addresses (issued at the request of a soldier) because instant messaging through sources such as AIM, MSN, and Yahoo is becoming restricted in certain areas. Private video chats are also being restricted for security purposes except through Video Teleconference at Family Readiness Centers on US Army bases, but you must live near a base in order to take advantage of this communication. The morale of soldiers must be much higher with this frequent correspondence to loved ones via telephone, e-mail, video conferencing, Skype, and in some cases good old fashion snail mail.

Information on communication with troops

November 4, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Fear and Expectation

Primo Levi’s personal account in Survival in Auschwitz includes the feelings that people had when they knew they had been selected to be killed in the gas chambers the following day. I was not aware that people knew beforehand that they had been selected, I thought that they had no idea until they began marching towards the chamber or in some cases until they were locked inside the chamber naked with hundreds of other people. I can not even imagine the panic that came over people when they realized that they were about to be killed and there was absolutely no way to escape this. It is even more difficult to imagine the feelings that one would have if they knew that they had been selected days before they were to be sent to the gas chambers.

Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas-chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking anymore?-Primos Levi, Survival in Auschwitz.

Primo Levi could never truly know how this young man was feeling because he was never selected but he can definitely relate to the situation more than readers of his work. It is quite possible that Beppo has completely given up all hope of surviving the concentration camp, he knows that he is meant to die and he seems to have a desire to go to the gas chambers with what little dignity he has left.

These helpless and fearful feelings experienced by Beppo before he was to be sent to the gas chambers reminds me of the feelings that people may experience just before they are about to go into war. The terrified soldiers about to storm the beaches of Normandy during World War II came to mind when I read this portion of Levi’s account.

Primo Levi’s chapter about October 1944 took plus just a few short months after Allied forces invaded Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944. Levi was aware that the war front was close because he could hear the action and he could also feel it in the ground. I don’t believe that he was quite aware of what the Allied forces had to endure in order to defeat The Third Reich and liberate the concentration camps.

Beppo was only twenty years old when he was sent to his death in the gas chamber, his feelings about this horrible demise can be compared to Frank Beetle as he was about to storm the beach of Normandy with the 1st Division.

I’m trying to think up a word that might sum it up and I really can’t think, it wasn’t fear because I had never fought before. So I really didn’t know what to expect. Anticipation perhaps. After a while I really didn’t think that much about it. When we got on board the boat, after a while it was almost like a dream that I was in and I’ve never quite been able to find the words to explain the state of mind that I was in, but you’re talking about prior to getting on board the boats in the camp and I think it certainly wasn’t fear, not because I’m courageous but because I didn’t know any better. If I had known better it probably would have been fear. It wasn’t fear, it was expectation I guess.-Interview with Frank Beetle

Though Frank did not experience fear up his arrival in Normandy he did have expectations as Beppo likely did in Auschwitz. Beppo knew that he would be walking to his death and that he would cease to exist after his experience in the gas chamber. Frank did not know what to expect, he knew where he was going and what the mission was but he did know what the outcome of his life would be. Frank was as prepared as he could possibly be given the situation:

But of course we knew by this time what was happening and we knew where we were going, and what we were going to do. I mean there was no doubt about that. -Frank Beetle

Frank Beetle did not share Beppo’s experience in the concentration camp but he was in a sequester camp in which he could not leave for over a month. He describes this like a prison camp and claims that nobody can get out of the camp a month before the invasion of Normandy. He also claims that military equipment and personnel took up every inch of space as far as the eye could see. When they boarded the boats that would take them to Normandy they were crammed in just like the inmates in the concentration camp. Though the experiences of Frank Beetle in the invasion of Normandy and Beppo in his iminate death in Auschwitz are completely different their feelings can be compared. The two situation are closely related because the Allied forces had to conquer Axis troops at Normandy in order to eventually liberate the concentration camps. It’s a shame that Beppo’s death occurred months after the Allies had this important victory and just shortly before the camps were to be liberated.

October 29, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Blog Comments

1.  http://genawh.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/u-s-war-propaganda/#comment-12

2. http://giordim.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/memory-of-the-camps/#comment-7

3. http://warvspeace.wordpress.com/2009/10/26/tell-the-story/#comment-7

4. http://olsonkr.wordpress.com/2009/10/24/pure-ignorance/#comment-4

5.  http://brenbernard.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/the-whole-truth/#comment-7

6. http://thebore44.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/fastforwarding-through-life/#comment-6

7. http://genawh.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/man-vs-beast/#comment-13

8. http://krygierj.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/its-all-coming-back-to-me-now/#comment-9

9. http://genawh.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/playing-the-role-of-man/#comment-28

10. http://thebore44.wordpress.com/2009/11/14/times-have-changed/#comment-15

 

October 28, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Prisoners of War

Concentration Camps in World War 2 Europe were not only used to exterminate hundreds of thousands of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, they were also used to house prisoners of war captured by the Axis Powers. During World War 2 runaway Prisoners of War were often sent to work in concentration camps as punishment. The prisoners were often in such terrible condition from capture and travel that they did not live for long once they reached the camps. One of the camps used to house these prisoners of war was Majdanek:

During the entire period of its existence, the Majdanek camp was under construction. Construction on the camp began in October 1941 with the arrival of about 2,000 Soviet prisoners of war. Most of the Soviet prisoners of war at Majdanek were too weak to work; virtually all were dead by February 1942.- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Unlike the hundreds of  stories told by Jewish Holocaust survivors, it was extremely difficult to find any personal accounts of Prisoners of War who had survived a concentration camp during the Holocaust, in fact my search came up completely empty. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that the Prisoners of War were in such terrible shape when they arrived at the concentration camps. Soviet Union soldiers were not the only Prisoners of War who were punished in the concentration camps. Mauthausen also contributed to the torture of captured soldiers in the Soviet army, but records also show that  Prisoners of War from Allied armies were sent there:

Among those prisoners who were registered: in 1944, 47 Allied military personnel (39 Dutchmen, 7 British soldiers and 1 U.S. soldier), all of them agents of the British Secret Operations Executive. Further, the SS transported other thousands of prisoners to Mauthausen to be murdered without ever being registered as prisoners in the camp. -United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Compared to many other concentration camps Mauthausen housed few women as well as Jewish people in general:

An estimated 197,464 prisoners passed through the Mauthausen camp system between August 1938 and May 1945. At least 95,000 died there. More than 14,000 were Jewish. -United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Prisoners of War during the Holocaust were treated just as poorly as the Jewish people in concentration camps, the only notable difference is that the POW’s were in worse condition than most Jews upon arrival at the camps. The Prisoners of War likely had feelings similar to that of Vladek in Maus 2: And Here My Troubles Began:

“It wasn’t so easy like you think. Everyone was so starving and frightened, and tired. They couldn’t believe what’s in front of their eyes. And the Jews lived always with hope. They hoped the Russians can come before the Geman bullet arrived from the gun into their head.”-Maus 2.

We can really only assume that the Prisoners of War during the Holocaust endured circumstances comparable to the situations that plagued Jews at the time. Jews and POWs all endured the concentration camps but we have no personal accounts written by a POW who survived. Based on the information that we have about the horrors faced by the Jews in the concentration camps we can come to the conclusion that the trials faced by World War 2 POWs were far more disastrous and deadly than those faced by POWs in the War on Iraq.

Becoming a Prisoner of War is no longer feared more than death as it was by many in World War 1, World War 2, and Vietnam. Clearly this is not a desirable situation but the real danger and trauma occurs when soldiers are on missions. They are more likely to die during combat than to be murdered after capture. POW Patrick Miller was captured with Jessica Lynch and the 507th Maintenance Company only a few days after the War on Iraq began:

Miller, 28, says that as a captive, he was not roughed up, but some of the guards asked questions. “There was one who asked me why I came to Iraq, and I told him that I was told to come. He was like, ‘Why didn’t you just tell them no?’ I told him that if I tell them no, I go to jail. He couldn’t understand that.” Miller has an injury that continues to plague him, nerve damage he suffered when his arms were tied behind his back with a rubber iv tube—and an Iraqi soldier was stepping on his elbow as he lay on the floor of a truck. Miller says he believes it was an unintentional act in a crowded truck. -Patrick Miller, U.S. News and World Report.

The media covered the events that occurred after the 507th was captured very closely. Jessica Lynch was critically injured in combat, but not by her captors. She was held in an Iraqi hospital but received care for her injuries while she was held captive:

“I learned to put trust in [the Iraqi hospital staff]. I kind of had to,” Lynch says. “If I didn’t, I felt like they could have easily said, ‘Here, just take her; do what you want with her.'”-Jessica Lynch, U.S. News and World Report.

While the experiences of Prisoners of War in Iraq are definitely less than ideal they are difficult to compare to the experiences of World War 2 Prisoners of War. We know little about these men other than the fact that most of them died shortly after their arrival at the concentration camps. We can only imagine the horrors that they must have faced based on personal accounts of Jewish prisoners in concentration camps.

 

Personal Accounts of Jessica Lynch and Patrick Miller

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Maus 2: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman

 

   


 

October 18, 2009. Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Can a Soldier Just Walk Away?

Ever since I first picked up Number the Stars in my elementary school library at the age of ten I have had an ever growing curiosity when it comes to the Holocaust. Most of the people in my life can’t stand reading about this devastating event that took place in World War 2, and what they can not stand even more is seeing pictures of the victims who had to live during the gruesome genocide. I have read any bit of information about the Holocaust that I can get my hands on. I find the photos extremely interesting, no matter how much they sicken me. Part of me believes that it must be very morbid to feel the way that I do about the Holocaust, constantly wanting to learn more, read more, see more. I think that my fascination with the events of the Holocaust stems from the most sincere respect that I have for all of the people who lived and died in the concentration camps. I feel that we owe it to them to learn everything that we can about the way they were treated and the inhuman circumstances that they endured. Of all the literature, films, and photos that I have viewed about the Holocaust, the documentary by Alfred Hitchcock was by far the most life altering, devastating thing that I have ever seen. Over 24 hours have passed since our class watched the film and I still feel as though I would not be able to discuss it. I am glad that I watched it, this documentary was something that everyone needs to see in order to have a slight understanding of what happened, but afterwards I am fairly certain I must have looked as if I were there watching the events unfold myself.

Watching this film inspired a search to find out more about Nazi soldiers during World War 2.  I was unable to find hard facts about what the army was like for men in Germany at the time. I imagine that the men who enlisted would have been called a Nazi soldier immediately because Adolf Hitler would not allow anyone to support any other political  parties. A few years before World War 2 people had difficulty finding employment because of the German Great Depression and this was part of the reason so many men enlisted. Hitler denounced the Versailles Treaty that ended World War 1 because of the limitations it put on the numbers of the German military. Men had great reason to enlist but I had trouble finding any information about why Nazi soldiers continued even after Hitler called for the systematic killing of Jewish people.  Were these men threatened, scared, or just doing their job? I have trouble believing that so many people agreed with Adolf Hitler. He was a very powerful speaker, but did his words really shape the ideals of the people, and turn soldiers into killing machines?

During Alfred Hitchcock’s documentary of the Holocaust it is so hard to tell if the S.S. Guards at Bergen Belsen feel any remorse for what they have done. They were punished by carrying thousands of bodies into mass graves for days. Yet most of them continued to drag the people, hurling them into the pit one by one. If they felt badly at all it did not show in their faces. The male and female S.S. Guards seem to treat the burying of these bodies as another day at work. It is so hard to believe that this is the only punishment most of them receive after their actions lead to the deaths of millions.

Back to my thoughts about why the Nazi soldiers did not just quit. It is very difficult to tell with no hard evidence whether or not they would be punished for walking away from this gruesome task. In the United States there are many requirements when entering the United States Army regarding weight, physical condition, and education. As difficult as it may be to get into the Army it is even more difficult to get out. You can not just leave, you must complete your duty to your country, and only very drastic offenses will get you kicked out. Iraqi soldiers do not have the same rules and regulations that the United States Army follows. They are free to leave whenever they have the desire and they are not punished for this. So what was it like for the Nazi soldiers? I imagine their regulations were more strict than ones followed by United States soldiers today. So many of these men who joined the army in order to support their families were likely stuck there when Adolf Hitler began his reign as chancellor of Germany and called for the systematic killing of Jews, and any other “undesirables”.

October 7, 2009. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Sinking into an Endless Infinite Sea of Hopelessness -Jones

After reading through the posts that I have composed so far it is becoming quite evident to me that my blog is evolving into something that clearly has no focus. I wouldn’t say that I am struggling to find connections between our class readings and current events in battle today, I am just struggling to make connections that can all be defined in just one narrow category. I have been writing about the things that are standing out to me, the things that speak to my heart in a way. After reading through previous posts and deciding on my topic for today’s post I decided that my blog is becoming centered around the conditions that soldiers face in our readings and in the present. Perhaps this is too broad yet again because these conditions may be physical, psychological, or emotional. But I am not a fan of limits, I want to write about the things that are standing out for me in the pieces… I don’t want to struggle to make something fit into a category if the connections just don’t exist. So let’s try this topic on for size…

What if the most lasting wounds are invisible and therefore immeasurable? All the signs are that the sustained war is creating a mental health problem in the American military — the modern equivalent of “shell shock”, a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder, which induces a continuing state of anxiety, and traumatic brain injury (TBI), that may have several physical symptoms. –Times Online

This military related health problem has been recorded as far back as World War 1 and it continues to have devastating effects on soldiers fighting today. Two of the most common symptoms of post-tramatic stress disorder include flashbacks and memory loss. The majority of the people who are sent home from the battle front today are suffering from suicidal thoughts or self destructiveness in response to the post-tramatic stress disorder.

The overlapping symptoms of TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder bear a remarkable resemblance to the shell shock suffered, sometimes for decades, by survivors of the Somme.- Times

Soldiers suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries today and those who suffered from Shell Shock during World War1 can potentially suffer from dramatic effects of their memory loss. In many instances the soldier can remember one extremely vivid incident that occured on the battlefield. These soldiers have trouble performing everyday tasks and remembering things that have been ingrained in them for years, such as the alphabet or the months of the year. A single event can completely change the life of a soldier and cause the individual to dwell on that event so much that everything else is blocked from his memory.

In The Ghosts May Laugh, Jenkins tell the story of Strangwick, a runner that he finds muttering to himself and pacing back in forth. 

Well, we sat this chap down and peered at him a bit more. And the more I looked the more I could tell that my previous suspicions were right. Sometimes he was clearly with us, and sometimes he was not; he’d gone back to whatever it was that he was seeing.- Jenkins, The Ghosts May Laugh

When reading through various military blogs in order to find instances of Traumatic Brain Injury I found a blog called DesertPhoenix written by a woman about to embark on another deployment with the United States Army. She writes about how difficult it was to tell a close military buddy about her upcoming voluntary deployment. She had experienced near fatal conditions with this man and their relationship is very strong but she struggled with telling him about the deployment.

Then I let my buddy know… and he didn’t take it so well.  The conversation ended with him telling me he wasn’t going to my funeral and my telling him he wasn’t invited. -Desert Phoenix

She explains his anger at the deployment by saying,

I know why it’s all coming back… the anxiety, the stress, the invasive thoughts.  I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t think he’s gotten through to that point yet.  I think he had much worse TBI than I did.  Neither of us was ever diagnosed or screened, but I know like I know what it is to have strep throat, that he’s got a form of TBI as well as PTSD.  I know I didn’t come through that blast unscathed either.  But I also know, that I’m good to go for at least one more deployment. -Desert Phoenix

Not everyone can just decide to move past the Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder, they aren’t all quite so lucky. Some people go on for years with nothing but that dramatic scene running through their heads. These various literary pieces show the dramatic psychological effects of war. The situations may not be the same for everyone but the outcome can be similar, it doesn’t matter if you fought in 1915 or in 2009, everyone is vulnerable when it comes to war. The thoughts and tramatic memories can take over every aspect of life until the soldier can think of nothing else.

http://desertphoenix.blogspot.com/

The blog of a female soldier about to be deployed to Iraq.

September 30, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Hardest Kind of Work

After reading through numerous military blogs in an attempt to inspire this blog post I happened upon the writings of a soldier on wrack duty at Camp Patriot in Kuwait. He was preparing to come home after his deployment in Iraq but first had to take part in the detail cleaning of hundreds of Stryker vehicles used in the war. Everyone on this wrack duty expected it to be a light task, simply lining up the vehicles and spraying them off. Here the soldier explains just how wrong they were;

Most vehicles took almost 36 hours to wash! I remember one taking 3 days. In addition, a good chunk of each stryker had to be taken apart before any washing was to commence. That could take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours alone. By the end of week 1, motivation hit rock bottom.                 -Sour Swinger

He goes on to explain that each shift ran from midnight to noon and every second of that twelve hour period was spent drenched in sweat from the hundred degree weather and extremely unbareable humidity. Moral was high in the beginning because they were allowed to leave early if they completed the vehicle, but the soldiers quickly realized that it would not be possible.

All of this reading about strykers sent me on a search to find out what the vehicles actually looked like. I found this description as well as some photos that helped to ease my curiousity.

Formerly known as the Interim Armored Vehicle, the Stryker Light Armored Vehicle III [LAV III] is at the center of the Army’s Interim Brigade Combat Teams. The IBCTs are lighter and more mobile, yet offer firepower no enemy can hope to match.        -www.globalsecurity.org

The armored sides of the stryker can essentially be compared to a tank but it looks drastically different from any other angle. There are eight very large wheels that drive the vehicle, making it possible to plow through any terrain. The vehicles are quite enormous and I now understand that the task of washing hundreds of these would be extremely daunting.

Eventually the soldiers on wrack duty received set standards as to how the vehicles should be prepared and they also learned to work together to become better cleaners. The humidity lowered slightly and the team was able to finish cleaning the strykers just in time to head back to the United States and enjoy the comforts of home.

After reading this post I automatically thought of Vera Brittain and her devastatingly long days on duty at the hospital. Her days began with a mile and a half walk to the hospital in the dark of the early morning, no matter what the weather.

“Betty and I encouraged each other with the thought that we were at last beginning to understand just a little what winter meant to the men in the trenches. Many chills and other small illnesses resulted from the damp, breakfastless walk undertaken so early in the morning  by tired girls not yet broken in to a life of hardships.” -(Brittain, 208)

Vera’s shifts as a nurse at the 1st London General Hospital, Camberwell were also twelve hours long and she voluntarily worked longer if extremely terrible cases came into her ward. At first the task of changing dressings on previously amputated wounds made Vera feel embarrassingly sick to her stomach. After performing this duty everyday Vera became used to the job and took pleasure in relieving the pain of others. Eventually the long days at the hospital went by very fast and became more bareable.

“The sudden crowding of the surgical ward with cruelly wounded men- came as a relief because it deprived me of the opportunity for thought”. (Brittain, 212).

The soldier on wrack duty in Kuwait is very much like Vera Brittain in that the task at hand seems extremely overwhelming but with a little practice the work goes by more quickly and the individuals become better at their jobs.

http://www.sourswinger.name/blog/

The blog of a soldier on wrack duty in Kuwait.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/iav.htm

The Global Security website, with information about strykers.

September 23, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Heart of a Volunteer

During times of conflict the link between soldier and civilian seems to be stronger than ever. The Armed Forces step up to the plate and defend not only their country but every single person living in it. Nobody would ever even consider asking more from them, they are already doing too much for the United States and in many cases for the entire world. Today men and women in the Armed Services bravely defend their country, completing any task handed to them. On top of this many Soldiers, Marines, and Sailors also volunteer their time to aid in organizations that provide various services to civilians living at the warfront.

While home on leave from Iraq in July 2006, Private Nicholas Madaras rounded up as many soccer balls as possible to bring back to the children near his post. Being a passionate soccer player, he wanted to give the balls to the children as a gesture of good will. Unfortunately, Nick was killed by an IED on September 3, 2006 and was never able to distribute the balls himself. Instead we have taken up a crusade on his behalf to fulfill his dream…                        -Kick for Nick

Numerous Army units have taken up the important job of distributing these soccer balls to children in Iraq.  The men not only pass out the balls to children but they also receive the shipment and pump the balls themselves! The selection of children to give the balls to can occur for different reasons. According to an extremely generous soldier who composes the blog Sour Swinger;

                 “Usually they reserved them for well behaved children during a dismounted patrol or especially poor looking kids. This had its pros and cons. On the plus side, the kids flocked to us and enjoyed our presence more. Typically when kids are around, you’re generally less likely to be attacked. On the down side, I couldn’t get many pictures and WAY too many kids flocked to us. Iraqi kids are to soccer balls like cats are to catnip. They go WILD! We often times had to be careful with passing out the soccer balls else we’d literally be over run by kids.”

This blog includes pictures of the distribution of soccer balls in Iraq and  it clearly shows that the children are delighted to receive the gifts from their friends in the United States. This project can not possibly erase terrible memories that these children have of war but it may ease the pain temporarily and allow the children to have fun if only for a short time.

One town in specific, I picked because it was a rather bad neighborhood where attacks had occurred. I was hoping to help combat that in a hearts and mind kinda way.

During the War in Iraq soldiers not only aid civilians in a tremendous way but civilians back home in the United States have numerous programs that help our troops feel as comfortable as possible while deployed in Iraq, and Afghanistan. A non-profit organization called Soldiers’ Angels make it possible for civilians to “adopt” a soldier for periods of six months to one year. When a civilian adopts a soldier they vow to send a letter or card weekly and a minimum of one care package per month. It is believed that through this show of love and support as many men and women as possible will arrive home safely and healthily. This site also lists numerous programs that provide comfort to soldiers by sending them handmade blankets, birthday cakes, calling cards, and homemade treats. Civilians at home are doing everything that they can in order to make soldiers feel at home in a world that is so far from the comforts of  life in the United States. http://soldiersangels.org/

It is not a recent occurance that civilians have a desire to aid soldiers on the warfront. Vera Brittain took up needlework in order to help men at war in the beginning of World War One. She wrote of her experience in Testament of  Youth;

“I sat surrounded by coloured wools in the hospital’s vaccine-room and attacked the colossal holes, I felt that I had advanced at least one step nearer to Roland and the War.” (p140)

Vera Brittain had an intense desire to earn an education from Oxford and escape the boundaries of “normal” for women in the early 1900s. Even after she falls in love with Roland, which appears to be the most normal feeling a person can have, she wishes to hide it and absolutely refuses an engagement ring. So even though this woman tried so hard to push the boundaries and defy the norm she still felt the need to help in the war effort. A simple task such as mending socks can make a great impact in the lives of soldiers, and the person doing the volunteering feels closer to the men (or women)  in uniform. An important connection can be made between Vera Brittain and anyone who volunteers their time to help people in the Armed Forces because they all feel the need to do something in order to aid in the military effort.

 

 

www.kickfornick.com

The Kick for Nick Foundation

http://www.sourswinger.name/blog/

Military Blog of a Soldier in Iraq

http://www.soldiersangels.org/

Soldier’s Angels

September 17, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Next Page »