Casualties of war continue to happen long after the individuals time in combat has come to an end. To the public’s eye, veterans returning home must be overwhelmed with joy to be out of danger and put back into the world they once knew. But are they? Veterans returning home from combat experience are faced with the difficult task of coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its side effects, because of their experiences in combat. In Lousie Erdrich’s, “The Red Convertible” and Wilfred Owen’s, “Dulce et Decorum Est” we can see how and why a returning veteran, such as Henry, would have trouble readapting to his former environment and handling the symptoms of PTSD.
First, in order for us to see what Henry was suffering from, we must first analyze what post-traumatic stress disorder actually is, and how it can affect both the combatants, and their families. PTSD can best be described as war-related anxiety. The residual effects of the war experience for ex-soldiers are manifested in a variation of behaviors (Brown 372). These behaviors faced by returning veterans can vary widely in each individual case. Some constant behaviors or symptoms in many cases are, “reexperiencing the traumatic event; numbing of responsiveness to, or reduced involvement with, the external world; and a variety of autonomic, dysphoric, or cognitive symptoms”(Brown 372). These behaviors do not necessarily show themselves immediately when a veteran returns home from war. They can be delayed for a Jenkins 2
number of months before they are known to the family or friends. If they are delayed for at least six months then they are categorized as, “delayed post-traumatic stress disorder or delayed stress response” (Brown 372). Nevertheless, whether delayed or immediately recognized, this disorder can severely effect the veterans experience adjusting back to the life of a civilian. Delayed stress response can be displayed through intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, sleep disturbances, vivid nightmares, alienation and isolation from persons and social experiences and finally, depression (Brown 372). PTSD does not solely extend to the veteran himself. Charles C. Hendrix and Lisa M. Anelli write that, “The effects of PTSD also extend to the family members of affected veterans”(Hendrix / Anelli 87). They go on to say that, “For many families of U.S. military veterans, Vietnam was, and continues to be, a traumatic experience (Hendrix / Anelli 87). This tells us that the effects of the war on the veteran can make it very difficult to integrate back into a normal lifestyle. They continue with some consequences that the family may suffer because they are living with someone who suffers from PTSD. They include, “...emotional emptiness (from the veteran’s learned numbing response to stress), loss of the father or husband from stage specific tasks and routines of family life (often due to the veteran’s withdrawal or fear of getting close), and the emergence of family patterns, such as distance or violence (from the Vietnam experience where violence was necessary for survival)...” (Hendrix / Anelli 87). These experiences make it very difficult for either the veteran or the family to resume where they left off. These symptoms and behavior patterns can cause a significant rift within the family. Many of the returning veterans may not struggle with every symptom of PTSD or delayed PTSD, but many may struggle with multiple symptoms.
Secondly, because returning veterans have experienced the horrors of war, they are left changed forever. The effects of war on returning veterans minds has psychologically altered their perception of normal experiences; compared to that of an individual who has not experienced combat. As the reader of, “The Red Convertible”, we are not given a glimpse into what Henry experienced in the jungles of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. But, if we take a look back into...