22 April 2010

Throughout the MyWar exhibition, FACT will be publishing guest blog posts from looking at war and politics in the media. Andrew Ross is a, "23 year-old, MA student in Politics and Cinema..."
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Whilst many of us may sit comfortably at our computers or with a pen in hand vehemently discussing the futility of war and conflict in sorting out our world’s problems, one which nearly all of us ignore is the impact our wars and conflicts have on the individuals out their fighting for what many believe to be ineffectual and wasted prophecies of democracy and ironically, peace. I’m talking about the effect war has on soldiers on either side, that is to say those who survive the ordeal, and particularly, those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
 
You may ask what has brought me to talk about this. And it’s simple, Full Metal Jacket. (You can watch the first ten minutes of Full Metal Jacket's boot camp here, but be warned - there is some very strong language...)  This much loved Kubrick film is revelatory, especially in its first half, of revealing how war, conflict, and battle can affect people, send them mad. In this case, the character of Gomer Pyle is an overweight, clumsy, slow-witted recruit who becomes the focus of a Drill Sergeants attention for his incompetence and excess weight, making him the platoon scapegoat. These big screen depictions of soldiers in which we witness characters going off the rails are commonplace; however, in dealing with this as a real life scenario, as a society we push these people to one side, nevertheless, PTSD is one of the biggest wounds of war, albeit the most invisible one.
 
Patients with PTSD commonly have persistent traumatic thoughts, memories, or nightmares about the traumatic event. Symptoms include recurring flashbacks, irritability, anger and rage, hyper vigilance, bodily discomforts, and trouble sleeping. Whilst PTSD is something that can affect anyone after any traumatic event, the effect PTSD has on ex-combatants increases dramatically. Can you really imagine the reality of killing people? Handling dead bodies? Having the knowledge that a colleague has been killed? Or, being shot yourself?!? My own take on this, well actually, I don’t have a take on how I’d handle these situations, they are, for me, and I imagine most people, incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it is something that faces thousands every day.
 
While stories of soldiers being killed and stories of soldiers surviving horrific physical injuries and recovering from the loss of limbs attract most attention (for those who support the war, and for those who are against it), we must not forgot the far more subtle but equally devastating impacts that war wreaks on soldiers’ minds. As our understanding of the complexities of the mental injuries of war increases so does our responsibility to care for those affected. As the war in Afghanistan, and wars world over continue, the likelihood of further casualties’ increases. Back in the UK there are expectations that we have the systems in place to care for those who are wounded in action, in truth, it is not. PTSD needs to be treated as an injury and it needs to be taken far more seriously, with those who have been at the forefront of the darker side of our wars (whether we believe the war is right or wrong) given the highest priority, and surely this, more than anything else reveals the most personal effect war and conflict can have.