I watched the commemoration service for the Afghanistan conflict today. A moving expression of a nation’s thanks to the soldiers who fought there. Some lost their lives, others came back damaged in mind and spirit.
Added to the recent death of a friend’s son fighting the forces of IS, and my thoughts are for the military men and women who work so hard.
My husband is from a military and navy family, with a tradition of enlisting. For them, it was a matter of “shut up and get on with it.” They have fought in all of the wars of the twentieth century.
I’m currently working on a book about the heroes of Waterloo, and these events have helped me to understand. I’m writing two novellas. One is about a civilian surgeon working after the battle, and the other is about a soldier who comes back from the battle damaged in spirit.
While PTSD is a fairly recent concern, it affected soldiers for centuries. It just wasn’t acknowledged. Until so many soldiers were affected by “shell shock” in World War One, and studies by Freud, Jung and others concentrated on the illnesses of the mind, it was considered of no importance. Men were sent back into war mentally unable to cope with it. On others it had a cumulative effect. Tracing back into history, the effects of this terrible, insidious illness are easy to track in some people, especially when a researcher knows what she’s looking for.
Recent events have indeed concentrated the mind wonderfully. A writer is a sponge, absorbing what happens around her and then pouring it out in a different form. In my research into the results and consequences of the Napoleonic Campaign, the evidence is there. Private journals and accounts of suicides point to people who found the strain of war too much to cope with. And yet they were told they would get over it, or even to “pull yourself together, man!”
This more enlightened age is currently seeing brutalities and horrors first hand. It’s reported on the news and it haunts us for a long time afterwards. Seeing it like that, there have been reports of people so badly affected that it has given them nightmares. A form of PTSD? Perhaps.
At the time of Waterloo, news travelled much slower. One of the last great conflicts before photography delivered the news to people’s doorsteps with visceral reality, it nevertheless affected the population deeply. The influx of unemployed soldiers and the agricultural depression led to another crisis. The ordinary person could retain a romantic image of war until they had personal experience of it, and then it was forced upon them.
But the difference in the effects of war, then and now? Not so much.