In this fascinating podcast, former Marine infantry officer David Morris explains to host Indre Viskontas what PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) really is: a little bit medical diagnosis, and a whole lot moral/political argument. To understand PTSD, we need to consider not only why some suffer from PTSD and why others don’t, but what war means to us as a society.
Besides being fascinated by what I learned about the science and history of PTSD specifically (as I hope you will by listening to the podcast!) I was particularly struck by what Morris’s remarks on the institution of our modern ‘volunteer’ army (starting at about 19.17). He points out how our nations’s leaders, along with most Americans, are almost entirely removed from the consequences of the wars we start since the de facto end of conscription in the 1970’s.
Yet Morris makes this excellent point: rather than allowing us to ‘choose for ourselves’, which sounds democratic, the volunteer army system allows us to vote in favor of war, or stay at home and do little or nothing to stop it, while avoiding most of the burden and all of the danger.
So the ‘volunteer’ army of paid soldiers bear the burden, face the danger, take the bullets and suffer the pain, while the most of the rest of us go about our relatively wealthy, secure, and comfortable lives, forgetting there’s a war on at all. How is this democratic? How is it any more fair or just to let the entire burden and danger of our war fall on the tiny percentage of Americans who enlist, and on their loved ones?
Morris offers what I think is a very good solution: if we do go to war, every able adult must be eligible for drafting into public service: we can choose to join the armed forces, or we can choose to dedicate hours working for the public good, at a non-profit, or with the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or other public works project. That way, we can require each other to become full participatory citizens once again, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. If we truly believe that all killing is wrong, or that this particular war we’re engaged in is unjust, we won’t be forced to betray our principles, but neither will we be able to escape our civic duty to involve ourselves in the all-important matter of war and peace. And our leaders will be encouraged to make more responsible decisions about the wars they vote for, knowing once again that whatever they decide, they and their own families and friends will have to bear the burden too.
Morris, David J. ‘The History and Science of PTSD’. Inquiring Minds podcast #73, Feb … 2015
Wikipedia contributors. “Conscription in the United States.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription_in_the_United_States