David Grossman is a professor of psychology, former Army Ranger, and the author of a number of books on the psychology and sociology of legitimate and illegitimate violence.
His publisher contacted Joe and asked if we’d review the new edition of his book ‘On Combat‘.
A longer review will follow, but I think I want to open with a quote that will perfectly explain my disgust with the Hollywood flood of ‘damaged soldier’ films, as well as the root of my disdain for the Scott Beauchamp / The Nation / Kos ‘Killitary’ meme that is echoing among our would-be intellectual betters this week.
The World War II generation was the “Greatest Generation” and today a new Greatest Generation is coming home. That is, if we do not screw them all up by telling them (and their families, their neighbors and their employers) that they are ticking time-bombs doomed to a lifetime of mental illness.
Here is what I believe is the heart of the matter. To harm and destroy people, you have to lie:
Lie Number 1: Ignore the vast majority who are just fine and report only on the minority with problems.
Lie Number 2: Fail to report that most PTSD cases are people with only 30, 40, or 50 pounds of PTSD, people who in previous wars would have gone undetected.
Lie Number 3: Fail to report that we are damned good at treating PTSD and that we are getting better at it every day.
Lie Number 4: fail to report that PTSD can be a step on the path to stress inoculation and that one can be stronger when they come out the other end.
Lie four times over. Lie the worst kind of lie: the lie of omission that gives only the essence of bad news. Create an expectation in veterans (and their families, neighbors and employers) that they are all fragile creatures who could snap at any time and are doomed to a life of suffering. Get veterans invested in their grievance and their role as victim. Get them to draw disability from PTSD and convince them that they will never recover.
I want the media to care, but I am convinced that most of them are a part of a mob-mentality, a pile-on, if-it-bleeds-it-leads profession that does not care about the harm they do. Remember, this is the same profession that put the Columbine killers on the cover of Time magazine twice – yes, twice – thus giving those brutal mass-murderers the very fame and immortality they wanted. This in turn inspired the Virginia Tech killer who also appeared on every news show and on the front page of every newspaper in the nation. Sadly, this too inspires countless other as the media continues to be their happy co-conspirators in a murder-for-fame-and-immortality contract.
Please forgive me if I have been harsh but the situation calls for us to be passionate. Yes, some of our veterans will suffer from PTSD and we have an obligation to give them the best possible support. But we also need a balanced, tough love, that creates an expectation that they will get over it, get on with it, and be better for the experience. that they will be the new Greatest Generation.
I prefer to emphasize the positive expectations. Positive self-fulfilling prophecies. Now there is a nice concept. But will we ever see it in the news?
If you wonder why I am filled with contempt for those who demean soldiers – as opposed to those who dispute policy – it is because in doing so, they actively harm the soldiers; it is one thing to damage the reputation or power of an actor in the political arena. It is another to damage the psyche of someone who was willing to take up arms in our name. I may strongly disagree with folks who dispute me on issues what the right thing to do may be – and some elbows may get thrown, although I hope they would be rare.
But I loathe people like the Hollywood elite mentioned in the New York Times this morning, folks like Scott Rudin, who see the souls of the U.S. military in the couple of kids who murder – while ignoring the reality that like murderous football players or music producers, soldiers who murder are rare indeed.
But let me get back to Grossman.
Grossman discusses three broad areas in this book; the psychology and physiology of human beings under incredible stress; the ways people train or condition themselves to cope with such stress; and the impact of that stress on them once it is over.
There are things Grossman suggests which I can’t quite bring myself to accept. But the problem is that everything in the book that I have actual experience of is 100% accurate.
And I’ve got to accept it when evidence pushes back against belief.
Grossman codifies academic research and anecdote into the foundations of a new discipline in understanding people under stress. I’m not aware of anyone working at his level in this area – I’d love to be pointed at others if they exist.
And in a world where good people will be required to do bad things – as we have been since time immemorial – and where the core values of society don’t readily accommodate them (I doubt that Spartans or Huns got PTSD), this discipline will be incredibly valuable at bringing those good people home.
As noted, I gave my copy to my son, who has read it and will take it with him when he reports for service. I can’t compliment the book any more than that.