trauma- masculinity and war


I did some reading from Chapter 3 Disconnection  of the book Trauma and Recovery and had to get up and go out for a walk.  Too much to sit still I had to allow myself some sort of anchor when dealing with the themes of this book. In talking about symptoms of PTSD and veterans of the Vietnam War a study was cited which stated Years after their return form the war, the most symptomatic men were those who had witnessed or participated in abusive violence. (p. 54)

Elsewhere it described a veteran who was very sensitive to unjust actions to others around him.  Whenever he witnessed someone doing some hard to someone else he became very protective.  Consequentially he had also became very pugnacious toward his own family and wanted to die.

The contradictory nature of this man’s relationships is common to traumatized people.  Because of their difficulty in modulating intense anger, survivors oscillate between uncontrolled expressions of rage and intolerance of aggression in any form.  Thus, on the one hand, this man felt compassionate and protective toward others and could not stand the thought of anyone being harmed, while on the other hand, he was explosively angry and irritable toward his family.  His own inconsistency was one of the sources of his torment. (p. 56)

Further on the book states with severe enough traumatic exposure, no person is immune (p. 57).  Earlier in the book was this; the violation of human connection, and consequently the risk of a post-traumatic disorder, is highest of all when the survivor has been not merely a passive witness but also an active participant in violent death or atrocity (p. 54)

Of great interest is that the book cites resiliency in people, roughly 1 in 10 as having an internal locus of control in an adverse environment.  The children studied (and followed for years) showed to be highly social, thoughtful and active coping styles, a strong perception of their abilities, and unusual sociability and a strong sense of being able to communicate with others.  The book cites a study of people lost at sea and who later developed PTSD.  Very low on developing PTSD were survivors that cooperated with other and by contrast those who had dissociated tended to become more symptomatic later.  It also lists “Rambo” types, men who plunged into impulsive isolated action and hat not affiliated with others as becoming highly symptomatic as well. 


The book cites a study of ten Vietnam War veterans who did not develop PTSD in spite of heavy combat exposure.  They were said to have active, task-oriented coping, strong sociability, and internal locus of control.  They also accepted fear in themselves and others but worked to overcome it and avoided giving in to rage.  In the book Deep Survival the survivors were ones who did not expect the world/cosmos/universe/god to rescue them.  But instead took the responsibility onto themselves.  Also, they did not try to fit the world around them to fit their expectations of how the world is, but matched their thinking to the world around them.  The world owes you nothing.  It will eat you in a heartbeat and ants will feast on your flesh while nobody knows what happened to your body.  It is no tragedy in the history of the word that a hiker falls off a cliff and dies.  That is a tragedy in the life of the hiker, the life of friends and family.  But in the world it just is. 

I have a line of thought that I want to investigate.  In the first book there are discussions of rape trauma.  There are also instances of combat trauma that is mixed into the discussion.  From a physicalism perspective I am curious if the features of both are similar in the brain (barring other questions which would naturally come up here philosophically).  But my thinking, as I walked in the park reading this book, was that the act of penis in vagina itself did not cause trauma.  Because rape shares this feature characteristic along with prostitution it has been said by some in arguments against legalizing prostitution that it is akin to rape, in the subjection of the humanity of the individual as a means to an end (that is, a tool).  This same reason against, that one becomes a means to an end, is familiar with anyone who has read The Communist Manifesto as a critique against the Bourgeois use of the working class for their labor.  On a side note I think that Marx hit the nail on the head here, and which socialists today will say, that it is a lie that business says it wishes to creates jobs.  Business wishes to become more efficient (read: cut jobs) and the worker is only as good/useful/worth the labor/manhours that can be sold.  Anyone who’s been downsized at a job should identify with this feeling readily. 

Back to the point, being a tool.  I might say that I’ve met far too many women and friends of mine who have been raped.  I mean this that this occurs far too often.  I also have a lot of love for them and respect for their growth and dealing with their histories and resilience.  It isn’t the physical qualia of the act itself but the context that causes the trauma.  This context has many sides to it, much of which resides in the mind of the person experiencing the trauma.  The mind has many defense mechanism to deal with such trauma (see Peter Levine’s book “Awakening the Tiger. Healing Trauma”.  As mentioned above, there are attitudes and coping styles utilized by people experiencing a trauma that mitigate their developing symptom of PTSD later.  Again, the point here is that simple penis in vagina is not itself conducive to trauma.

There is another form of trauma such as when a person experiences a natural disaster or a plane crash.  My thinking here (I’ve got more reading to do in this area) is that this is something that severely shakes one’s belief in a just world.  The person that develops PTSD in this instance had a view of the world that was most unrealistic, that it could not happen to him/her, that the universe/god/gods/karma/justice/cosmic-fairness would eventually win out and they would come out.  This self serving bias has us believing that “I never thought it could happen to me” and the person might still be in denial while they slowly starve out in the wilderness, expecting a plane to spot them any minute now.  Again, see the book Deep Survival.  Those that are able to muster strength and survive typify a saying that we pagans often say to each other, that the gods help those who help themselves.  Again, see the book reference.

Is combat trauma different in this respect?  There is one side that wonders how a just-god/cosmic-law-of-truth-and-justice/karma could have a war where innocent people die.  While some religious faiths would have us believe that such things as AIDS and cancer and hurricanes are some form of punishment by a vengeful, shallow, petty god against the wicked, while at the same time saying that ‘the lord works in mysterious ways’ when it is pointed out the good people that have suffered by such ‘judgments’ as well.  But still the question lingers, how can a loving-god/cosmic-justice have such evil/hate/violence/destruction/pettiness/pain/strife as is exhibited in war?

This is a problem if one hold the view that order is above chaos as is often the case with many monotheistic religions and New Age religions.  Among many others, indigenous people, Earth-centered, and some pagan views, order is on equal footing with chaos.  Creativity is the partner of destruction.  Neither is ‘above’ the other.  Both are sacred.  Among the Northern Traditions (such as The Eddas) the world was a place of danger and beauty.  One had to be aware of both to be alive.  This same attention to the present is found among combat soldiers in theater.  They are equally aware of the hazards around them, constantly scanning for danger, yet they also savor sunsets and playful children and letters from home. 

But the question that I held in my mind, of which I’ve prepped for five paragraphs, is this: does the act of killing another person bring about trauma to the killer’s mind?  Aside from all contextual issues, of defense or aggression, of necessity or hate, just the bare bones action itself.  Just as penis in vagina does not entail trauma or specialness (a different statement than intimacy, there IS intimacy.  There is also intimacy in domestic violence), does a combat action, such as knife in heart or bullet in head entail trauma to the person perpetuating the action?

It is the case that a number of researchers in psychology are academics.  No big surprise, it takes time in going to college and graduate school to become such.  Yet it also seems the case to me that in the humanist academics, such as psychology, there seems to be a large skewedness to the worth of the individual.  Again, nothing shocking here.  It is easy for us to affirm the worth of the individual and to show care and concern for such.  But in this academic stance of the left liberal humanities it seems a given fact that the taking of another person’s life, just the action of it, creates a trauma/damaging effect upon the perpetrator’s mind.  That the only one’s who do not undergo any transformation are sociopaths.  However, philosophy would have no sacred cows and will question even such a thing as the worth of the individual.  I’ve wavered back and forth on if the act of killing, the action itself aside from context, imparts trauma.  A few hours ago I would have said yes.  A wonderful mind, when I posed my thoughts to her, asked the question of doctors and euthanasia.  Would they feel trauma?  I posed to her the link and she responded with a host of questions suitable for its own entry and thoughts. 

My current belief is that no, just the action of killing does not entail trauma.  However, here is the kicker.  Save for instances of big time dissociation, there can not be no context.  That is, we always have our world-view/social-laws/philosophical-outlooks/spiritual-beliefs on the nature of our identity and the meaning(s) of the cosmos/universe/reality/existence.  This is important. For it is becoming vogue to create war dramas where the soldier/veteran has psychological issues simply from the fact of having been in combat/killed-others.  This message is mixed in easily with pacifist morality.  They are hard to disentangle and to casually tell apart.  Much like right-wing-hate groups and decent church goers, or the Taliban and moderate Muslims.  Recall, it was an Islamic mystic, a sufi named Rumi that gave us such beautiful poems of love

91781[1] In the writings above there are instances of individuals that did go to combat and performed heroically and did not suffer from PTSD.  This is a line of thought that can easily be mistaken or took the wrong way.  Our ‘man culture’ (and by extension our military culture) is very male/domination/aggression/controlling and the way to keep things together, to be a man is to win, control, dominate.  What else is a man but that which is opposite woman (in our limited understanding).  And when you think of women, do the terms nurture, soft, collective, warm, gentle come to mind?  Can a warrior (read: man) exhibit any of these traits?  Is it just testosterone?  Are men just naturally violent?  Or can we shape the context of our movement in this world.  That is, initiate ourselves into different ways of being?  In the book King Warrior Magician Lover  one page says it wonderfully.

We call these phenomena pseudo-events (gang initiations, and possibly some military conscription, and others) for two reasons.  For one thing, with the possible exception of military initiation, these processes, though sometimes highly ritualized (especially within city gangs), more often than not initiate the boy into a kind of masculinity that is skewed, stunted, and false.  It is a patriarchal “manhood”, one that is abusive of others, and often of self.  Sometimes a ritual murder is required of the would-be initiate… But these pseudo-initiations will not produce men, because real men are not wantonly violent or hostile.  Boy psychology… is charged with the struggle for dominance of others, in some form or another… it is sadomasochistic.  Man psychology is always the opposite.  It is nurturing and generative, not wounding and destructive.

How often has it been written that men are nurturing and generative?  This is where we can make a huge impact on future warriors.  It isn’t a war issue, for that is a separate political issue dealing with American interests, empire, consumerism, capitalism, trade, strategic interests, and so on.  For this I would wish for a better informed society that reads, pays attention to the issues (not listen to talking idiots on t.v.) and voted with an informed conscience.  That is, an active citizenry.  Aside from this, it is likely that warriors will still be needed.  We need warriors that can fight.  That means kill.  But this, again, isn’t a warrior issue, it is a man issue.  Some sergeants that I know went on a snatch/grab mission here in Oregon to get an AWOL soldier.  He was a ‘troublemaker’ and without any self direction and control.  His parents were somewhat glad to see the four sergeants on their doorstep to pick up the young man.  They had surrounded the house for possible attempts of fleeing (he did) in order to catch him (they did).  The mother, relieved, lamented to the soldiers “I was hoping that when he joined the Army that you’d make him into a man” to which one of the sergeants quipped “Our job is to train him to be a soldier.  It was YOUR job to make him a man”.  This statement is telling and is at odds with the notion that the military bootcamp is a ritual into manhood.  It is almost.  But it isn’t a ritual into manhood… but into soldierhood.  We are sending still boys who are very good soldiers off into a war where they can survive physically but to survive psychologically they ought to be men before hand.  This is in opposition to the needs of the military that must have eager soldiers ready to kill, to charge up the mountain without hesitancy.  It is easier to get a young 19 year old to accept this as his purpose than it is a 30 year old.  And yet the rates of suicide of soldiers coming back are highest in the 18-25 year old age brackets. 

We, as a society, do not understand what a ‘man’ is supposed to be.  It is alien for us to consider man as having traits of nurturing in its constellation.  We do not consider that perhaps nurturing is a word given to ‘human’ of which man is but one type.  Unknowing of what man is we are also unable to give our boys initiations into any sort of manhood.  Our initiations from boyhood are high school football, prom night and the first time at sex, the first job. 

Feminism has had three waves of philosophy and activism.  Men in this country (and the world) need a wave, a true wave, that grips us.  Not a wave where we try to lessen our masculinity into some watered down version.  But a reimagining of what it means to be man and the roles and responsibilities that this bring with it. 


2 thoughts on “trauma- masculinity and war

  1. Wow, I was very moved by this article. As a It was a pleasure to read this article today. As a Viet Nam veteran I understand all too well the challenges you talk about. My life in the 1970’s was an ongoing living hell. I tried everything, therapy at the VA, medications, drugs, even meditation. In the long run, none of it really worked, and I found myself back in the same repeating pattern of crippling attacks of anxiety, depression, and failed relationships.

    All that changed in 1986 when I learned Vivation. With Vivation I was finally able to heal the underlying cause of trauma. I can’t say enough about Vivation and it’s unique power to heal PTSD. The reason it worked is it finally help me make peace with my body, and thus my anxiety and “crazy” energy. The reason is that Vivation works at the feeling level in the body where trauma is stored, and as such helped me fully integrate and discharge my traumatic experiences.

    Since then I’ve gone on to recommend it to many of my friends and others suffering from PTSD. All of them, except one have been completely cured of any residual PTSD symptoms. The one who still suffers believes he deserves to suffer for “crimes” he feels he committed during the war, and is simply unwilling to heal, despite having a powerful tool like Vivation to heal it with.

    I share this because I just can’t imagine people suffering for one-year let alone a lifetime without knowing these types of powerful healing tools exist to help them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s