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Shell Shocked Veteran / Real Life

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  • Sadly, every war in the history of mankind will at least have one of these.
    • This trope is Older Than Feudalism as archeologists have found clay tablets dating from the Assyrian Empire recording that soldiers coming back from war suffered from nightmares consisting of people they've killed in battle coming back to haunt them.
    • Traditional scholars claim that the Church set up the Code of Chivalry to curb the knights' violent streak. However, a recent study shows that chivalry as a concept may have been invented by the knights themselves as a coping mechanism for what we now call PTSD.
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  • As George Santayana puts it — "Only the dead have seen the end of war."
  • At once more and less prevalent than it used to be. War is no longer so much about hacking apart other people at arm's length or closer, and more advanced weapons tend to make for less in-your-face combat, which takes some of the edge off. But those weapons are also far more lethal, more diverse and more easily made or obtained than ever before. The last century, in particular, has seen the advent of 'total war' and the rise of guerrilla warfare, which has redefined the relationship of civilians to warfare in a way that just asks for atrocities to happen.
    • The primary difference between combat now and earlier is that combat during the previous two centuries has become far more sustained and intense. A human mind and psyche can stand up to a few hard knocks and come out ok; this was well suited to warfare up until the last couple of centuries, as wars usually consisted of long periods of doing other stuff interspersed with short, sharp battles. However, the intensity and length of combat gradually began to extend beyond the human psyche's ability to cope. Put a man in danger for a day and you'll give him the shakes that night. Put him in constant mortal danger for months or even years on end (see World War I, for example) and soldiers begin breaking down.
    • Since WWII most of the developed world has shifted from using large conscripted armies in times of conflict to smaller all-volunteer forces. So as the number of soldiers in the field has decreased, so too have cases of PTSD. On the other hand, mental illness is losing the stigma it once had and more people are actually discussing it publicly, leading to an appearance of it being more prevalent.
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  • There's a saying among veterans and survivors of horror ordeals: There Last Night. As in: a discussion between two vets where one would say they were in Vietnam in '68, and the other might reply, "Mate, I was there last night." For some, they can never let it go. The tragic real-life trope of Shellshocked Veteran led to the forming of groups such as Legacy.
  • The term 'shell shock' originates in part from the trenches of the First World War. (Artillery) 'Destruction' doctrine was pioneered by the French in 1916 and entailed that "the artillery destroys, the infantry occupies." Accordingly the French and their allies/subordinates (the French retained military and political command throughout the war) attempted to utterly destroy the entirety of the enemy's tactical defenses in zones up to twenty kilometres wide and five kilometres deep through bombardments as long as a week in which a million rounds — and in one case, the Commonwealth's Paschendaele campaign of 1917, four million — were fired by at least five hundred and as many as two thousand artillery pieces firing at a rate of at least one every few seconds. If you were one of the up to fifty thousand soldiers on the receiving end of an Entente bombardment you might have to go thirsty and possibly hungry and live in filthy conditions for a week knowing that you could die at any moment note . Germany and Austria-Hungary used Artillery 'Suppression' doctrine (the artillery suppresses, to help the infantry assault) instead, so their bombardments would only ever last for five hours at the very most, but all bombardments were highly stressful experiences: when the bombardment stopped, and you had no idea when that'd be, you would have to fight for your life against the attacking enemy infantry. Made worse by artillery barrages pausing and then resuming in an attempt to catch soldiers who would leave shelters to man the lines in case of enemy attack. Doubly worse when artillery started lobbing shells full of chemical agents.
    • These pre-offensive bombardments gave a name to a condition that had already become apparent among the troops when (after the 'Christmas Truce' of 1914) 'Trench Raids', constant sniping, and sporadic artillery 'harassment' bombardments became commonplace. While a soldier at a typical section of front might only be at the front lines for eight hours a day (including lunch/dinner), six days a week, this was still more than enough that many soldiers simply snapped from the pressure and suffered mental and emotional breakdowns. Fortunately for most of them, their immediate superiors shared their burdens and tried to be as understanding as they could and looked the other way. Unfortunately, several hundred of the millions who served ultimately were shot for 'cowardice' that we today would recognise as stemming from acute mental distress. Unsurprisingly the British and Russians, who had the most recent experience with warfare, treated the problem with the most sympathy and the French and Germans, who had the least and strong traditions of martial pride to boot (more so in the French case), the least. German non-recognition of the existence of 'Shell Shock' would ultimately continue until after World War Two.
  • One of (many) reasons why the French were so ill-prepared to resist the Nazis in World War II may be attributed to nationwide trauma following World War I. Even though France ultimately won, the cost of victory was so terrible that the French had nearly lost all appetite for war. Around 8 million Frenchmen (two-fifths of the country's pre-war male population) fought in the war; about 1.3 million died, while another 4 million had been injured. The sheer number of men lost coupled with the physical and mental scars of the war led to a population decline for nearly three decades. By 1940, the population of France was 40 million, which was roughly the same as it was in 1914.
    • What made the problem worse was that, after being wounded, a French soldier's ordeal had only just begun. French military medicine, never robust, often collapsed under the strain of World War I, with many soldiers placed in hideously unsanitary conditions and forced to endure the functional equivalent of Roadside Surgery in the unlikely event they survived to reach the rear. The sheer trauma and horror French wounded experienced contributed mightily to the 1917 mutinies and the lasting mistrust against the French government afterward.
  • For a contrast, illustrating that this trope is sometimes Truth in Television and sometimes not, consider the case of Shaar Menashe, a hospital in Israel dedicated to the care of mentally ill survivors of the Holocaust. Post-traumatic stress disorder's ravages have resulted in there being people in the world for whom the Shoah never ended, who are still in the camps after seventy years.
    • Not surprising; in real-life, people don't ever recover from or "get over" PTSD. They must learn to live with PTSD (which sucks for all concerned) because those ravages never go away. Sort of like cancer's remission. Tragically, in many cases, a trigger, a return to battle, a social situation requiring subtle grasp of nuance, or a random startle will instantly ratchet a sufferer right back up to their highest ever — and most unbearable, undefusable, and unmitigated — levels of PTSD symptoms.
    • An issue has been a perception of weakness if a veteran were to seek treatment while in service; part of the US military's efforts as a result of Iraq (and particularly of "traumatic brain injury" due to so many explosions) has been to both facilitate treatment and to encourage service members to take advantage thereof.
  • During World War II, General George Patton infamously slapped and verbally abused two soldiers suffering from "battle fatigue" as PTSD was known then. Public reaction was mixed, but Eisenhower privately reprimanded him and forced him to personally apologize to the soldiers, which he did. He retained his job due to the needs of war but did not command an army for 11 months (missing the Normandy landings).
  • Audie Murphy, one of the most highly decorated American soldiers in World War II, suffered from shell-shock. Later, based on his own experiences, he campaigned for support of Korean War and Vietnam War victims of what was called "battle fatigue" at the time Murphy served. Prior to that point, discussing war-related mental illnesses was considered taboo in many circles.
  • Roméo Dallaire, one of the most admired people in Canada, commanded UN forces in Rwanda during the genocide there and is credited with helping to save 32,000 lives. He later had problems with depression and alcohol, including a suicide attempt. He is often cited as an example of a strong and heroic person who was nevertheless vulnerable to PTSD and has spoken about it publicly in order to destigmatize the condition.
  • It is worth noting that there are soldiers who are not psychopaths or sociopaths yet are somehow 'immune' to PTSD, or at least able to behave normally after the end of the conflict. While there are undoubtedly a large number of people who suffer from PTSD, there are also people who, despite having been put into high-stress situations and lost friends, can still live the rest of their lives without suffering any symptoms of PTSD. They may just have more psychological resilience than most people, but the answer is still unclear.
    • Other factors also greatly reduce or prevent PTSD. They include acknowledgment of the person's experience (it goes a surprisingly long way just to help the person know that they aren't flawed for feeling the way they do), having social support, and no previous history of mental illness. Also, the older a person is when the traumatic experience happens, the less likely they are to develop PTSD, possibly because they have established ways of coping with the trauma and context for what is happening to them.
    • There is some evidence that certain types of activities that 'desensitize' a person to violence seems to reduce the effects of combat on many people. Given how debilitating PTSD is, anything that may help to reduce the incidence and severity needs to be looked at seriously.
  • Ishiro Honda, the creator of the Godzilla series, became this after World War II. He was originally an optimistic man with a positive outlook on life. Alas, World War II happened, and he became a foot soldier. When he saw Hiroshima after it was hit by the Little Boy atom bomb, his life changed forever. Since then, Godzilla (1954) was based on his PTSD of Hiroshima, and plenty of his films will end in a Bittersweet Ending.
  • William Tecumseh Sherman, second in command of the Union armies during the The American Civil War had previously been relieved after having a near-psychotic break. He's the Trope Namer for War Is Hell for a reason.
  • Ulysses S. Grant is also a likely sufferer of PTSD. He cried in his tent after every battle he commanded and was so nauseated by the sight of blood that he couldn't eat undercooked meat.
    • They were not alone. Doctors diagnosed "soldier's heart", which we can see, in hindsight, was PTSD. This was particularly likely in the final part of the war, where unrelenting campaigns racked up a fearful death toll.
  • Charles White Whittlesey was the commander of The Lost Battalion in World War I. After the war, he received the Medal of Honor and was much in demand for speeches and parades. Three years after the war he committed suicide. We don't know why exactly, but this trope seems like a pretty good guess.
  • Oklahoma City bomber Timothy Mcveigh was a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and suffered from PTSD. Having to kill Iraqis merely at government behest, as well as the massacres at Ruby Ridge and Waco, is what caused him to view the US government as an enemy and sent him over the edge.
    • He said of killing Iraqis: “They were human beings at the core. They were no different than me. Then I had to reconcile with that the fact that, well, I killed them."
    • He also said that bombing the Murrah Federal Building was fundamentally no different than the government bombing any other target and that he "did not write the rules of engagement".
  • Adolfo Scilingo, a pilot responsible for participating in the infamous death flights- where hundreds of heavily drugged and barely conscious people were put into Cement Shoes and thrown into the ocean from planes to drown- during Argentina's Dirty War. He's so thoroughly traumatised by his experience that he actually wants to go to prison for his crimes, doesn't sleep, can't interact with his children, and generally speaking, hates himself.
  • Finland ignored many international anti-drug treaties and refused to impose such laws because of PTSD — and the drug abuse resulting from it — being so commonplace amongst veterans after WWII. Only in the late 1970s were the drug laws taken seriously as many of the veterans were now in their fifties and sixties and past their prime.
    • Much of the drug-related slang in the Finnish language can be traced to WWII.
  • There was a psychologist who worked with autistic war veterans who had PTSD but didn't get it from combat as one would expect. They had it because they had been bullied as children so badly that they had lasting psychological trauma from it.
  • While talking about PTSD and Battle Fatigue was taboo in WW2, not every unit treated it lightly. The 8th Air Force, for example, decided very shortly after commencing regular daylight raids on Occupied Europe (and the maiming of bomber formations that came with it), that after a crew flew so many missions, they were to be sent home. And while 24 missions sounded good on paper, before P51 Mustangs started taking the bombers all the way to their targets and back, it was seen as almost impossible. On top of that, many German pilots specifically targeted bombers that had a large number of missions to try and break the will of the crews. Needless to say, the fact that any bomber crew hit the magic number before 1944 can be counted as a major miracle.
  • Vietnam Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry — an essay by writer Gustav Hasford, himself a Vietnam War veteran, discussing the use and abuse of the "shell-shocked veteran" trope. (Hasford's novel The Short-Timers was adapted into the film Full Metal Jacket.)
  • "No such thing as an ex-soldier" Even if someone has not been through any particularly traumatic experience, and is perfectly capable of functioning in society, just being trained as a soldier leaves a mark, to the point that one might recognize the other just by the way he walks or looks around.
  • Patrick Stewart's father was a soldier in World War II who suffered from "combat fatigue" (what we now know as PTSD) after finishing his service. Stewart believes that his father's PTSD was a contributing factor in his abusive behavior.
  • Tragically, post-traumatic stress disorder can develop, not only in war, concentration camps, and prisons, but even in elementary schools. Severe bullying and violence can cause children so dire emotional and psychological stress that they develop fully-fledged PTSD already in their early teens. The emotional scars of Holocaust survivors and those who have experienced serious bullying in the school are remarkably similar.
  • Similarly, post-traumatic stress disorder can develop in victims of child abuse and domestic abuse.
  • It's unfortunately common in a Wretched Hive (or the Wrong Side of the Tracks in part of a city), especially with lots of gang violence and a lax police force — children and teenagers are frequently scarred from the deaths of their friends and family members, and are sometimes forced to participate in criminal activities themselves through self-defense or lack of money. It's noted that in some ways, PTSD from living somewhere is even worse than combat — soldiers at least have the option to go home, but people who are already home have nowhere to go.
  • Capt. Herbert Sobel, the original commander of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division proved to be an excellent soldier for training men, but a piss poor commander which caused his company's NCO's to revolt. This led to him being removed from command. note  Due to this and the horrors of war, he would later attempt suicide, but botched it and severed his optic nerves leaving him blind for the last 20 years of his life. He would later die due to gross negligence in a nursing home/mental health facility. Sadly, despite having reached the rank of Lt. Col by the end of his career, Easy Company never really forgave him. Thus, they excluded him from all their reunions and correspondences except for one man who paid for his veteran fees but never interacted with the man besides that.
  • First responders at the Pulse Nightclub massacre all ended up suffering PTSD, with the most common trigger being the sound of a cell phone ringing, due to the victims' phones constantly ringing, as the victims' loved ones were trying to contact them.
  • Football legend Kenny Dalglish was unfortunate enough to "be there" at Hillsborough in 1989 (the worst British football disaster ever), Heysel in 1985 and at Ibrox in 1971 (the worst British football disaster before Hillsborough). Kenny, a biopic film, explored the effects the three disasters had on him subconsciously (Dalglish, perhaps unsurprisingly, spoke very little about his thoughts on these horrific events.) When Liverpool MP Steve Rotheram announced he would submit an Early Day Motion to have Dalglish knighted, he noted "It is common knowledge it (Hillsborough) affected him deeply".
  • Arnold Ridley, better known as Pvt. Godfrey from Dad's Army, was in the British Infantry at the Battle of the Somme and would suffer PTSD for the rest of his life, including almost killing his son who had woken Ridley from a nightmare. How much his character Godfrey's pacifism and experiences at the Somme were developed from Ridley's own is unknown.

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