Veterans, war, and the wounding of the soul

Posted: November 11, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Edward Tick, Ph.D., has contributed, researched, helped and written in the area of veterans and their inner wounds as perhaps no other. Two of his books – War and the Soul (2005) and Warrior’s Return (2014) are required reading for anyone who wants to understand or work with our wounded warriors. He has established a healing center and program called Soldier’s Heart (soldiersheart.net). As a clinical psychotherapist Tick has worked with countless vets and their families. Let me share why his work is so important.

Tick has mined the deep history of war, warriors and their wounding across cultures and time. He writes of the archetypes of the warrior and the cultures that depend on them and provide for them.

His work has courageously exposed the dark underbelly of war – American wars – and what they have done and do to those we send to fight them. The proportion of returning veterans who have been emotionally and spiritually wounded to the point of total dysfunction is staggering with more persons lost to the effects of war than actually on the battlefield.

He has named a most difficult beast in this whole arena – the failure of society, the VA and clinical approaches to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For one, Tick identifies the way many cultures and societies have already named PTSD in the past, this being the latest iteration. But most importantly, he describes how making a condition of the broken soul into a sterile clinical definition has harmed more than hurt. The words themselves – stress, disorder – actually conceal the real need for inner healing and transformation. Current practices – primarily in the VA – intentionally avoid dealing with the trauma and instead medicate the symptoms. They attempt to keep the wounded vet from committing suicide or homicide, to function in a rudimentary way, but do not address the real root of suffering.

To put it plainly we ask our warriors to protect the tribe or the interests of the tribe. We ask them to kill and risk being killed. But we do not provide for the wounding of the soul that occurs as a result. When a war is particularly unpopular, the warrior, the one who has been sent, often returns to the chorus of “it was an unrighteous war in which you fought.” That simply deepens the wound. If the warrior participated in atrocities, and many do participate in actions that violate their own moral code, their hearts are shattered even more.

I’ll leave you with a tiny tip of the iceberg from Warrior’s Return:

During the Vietnam War, casualties and damage were astronomically higher for the Vietnamese than for Americans. For example, the Vietnamese lost about three million people killed, two-thirds of whom were civilians, and over four million wounded, compared with America’s loss of 58,000-plus GIs killed and 300,000 wounded … Ironically the number of PTSD cases among the Viet Nam People’s Army is very small though severe traumatic breakdown among American veterans was enormous. How can this be? The Vietnamese were invaded and experienced themselves as defenders, not aggressors. A Viet Cong veteran said, “We were only defending our families and homes, so we have no psychological wounds.” (132-33)

We have not begun to scratch the surface of this nasty inner wound carried by those who have not been cared for after returning from the wars we sent them to fight. We conceal the physical and emotional damage from the public at large. We medicate symptoms rather than engaging in healing. All this takes place under the auspicious of  government institutions that were created to help in the first place. They might expertly tend to physical wounds. But the real wounds that end up killing them are far from the battle field – invisible, insidious and pervasive.

They deserve more. And we should offer more than another fine Veteran’s Day speech.

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Comments
  1. Gloria Beranek says:

    Well spoken, Tim!

  2. jimcoff says:

    You address an angle of a problem we so easily overlook. Thanks, Tim, for thinking a bout it and for posting your fine essay.

  3. Staying Frosty says:

    Great post! Sometimes the unseen wounds can hurt the most. Those wounds, if not treated, can lead one down a long dark road.

  4. Lee says:

    Well said–and the wounds extend in ripples of heartache to the veteran’s supporters as well–children, spouses, siblings.

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