I just finished reading Eugene Sledge’s book, With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa.
It is an unvarnished account of his time in the Marine Corps during WWII, fighting some of the gritiest battles in the campaign against Japan. It’s a very courageously-written book about what life was like as an infantryman and the dangers, suffering and brutality that soldiers on both sides faced.
I decided to read it after streaming the HBO mini-series, from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, called The Pacific (trailer up top or here). I had thought it was fiction, only to find in the last segment that it was all real. Sledge’s book was source material for that series. So, I bought the book on my Kindle.
I found it interesting that Sledge’s book was initially a private document meant to be shared with family. His wife encouraged him to write down his experiences, thinking it would help him psychologically heal from the war’s effects.
It reminded me of a NY Times article on PTSD. A new treatment has combat veterans write down their most traumatic memories and then discuss them in small-group sessions. Then, those memories are re-enacted. The hope is that closure can happen.
I’ve written in the past that the right brain is a parallel-processing engine. It can recall past memories all at once, and when those sudden images are not integrated with the left brain, those memories can feel as though they’re happening now. People who suffer from PTSD relive their trauma over and over again. The brain is awash in an endless bath of stress hormones.
A key part of PTSD treatment is to integrate the right and left brains. Basically, you want the left brain to tell the right brain that those images are from the past: “that’s all over, that’s from the past, and you’re safe right now.” And, you do that by writing, talking and re-enacting those memories.
Next time you meet a veteran who has been in combat, mention the NY Times article. And, thank him/her. Chances are, those soldiers are still paying a high price for our freedom.
People who have been in combat say that there’s no glory in war. Sledge’s book makes that absolutely clear.