The lasting trauma of war

avoiding protracted war in the first place

Normandy landingI never saw the movie Saving Private Ryan. Didn’t think seeing the apparently realistic depiction of hundreds of soldiers being shot during the D-Day action at Normandy was something I wanted to experience.

Even 75 years after D-Day, we’re still learning about the campaign. Classified maps and documents reveal the careful planning that went into the invasion, “as Allied commanders orchestrated how to begin liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.”

Not incidentally, today, members of the Albany (NY HS) Marching Falcons marched along Omaha Beach from Vierville-sur-Mer to St. Laurent-sur-Mer, two towns liberated during the Normandy invasion by American and Allied forces. They’ll also participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American cemetery.

Most World War II veterans didn’t talk about the war, at least not in their twenties or thirties or forties or fifties. But as they got older, some of them were willing to share their stories, no matter how gruesome and devastating. The storytelling is more important than ever. Out of 16 million US veterans of WWII, fewer than a half million were still alive in 2018, with about 348 dying each day.

Meanwhile, for our more recent veterans, Civilians Are Blind To The Lasting Trauma Of War. “Shortly before Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Army posed a broad question to veterans, prodding them to talk about how serving America ‘impacted’ their lives. [They]…offered a stream of stories that comprise a very different picture [than expected]: suicide, depression, PTSD, poverty, drug addiction, living with physical disabilities and a sense of abandonment from the Army itself.”

There are ways that folks can give back to veterans. The harder task would be finding Ways You Can Support a Veteran Living With PTSD. Veterans have a suicide rate 50% higher than the general population.

“In recent decades, we’ve seen a widening experiential divide between civilians and soldiers in American life. The U.S. has one of the largest all-volunteer armies in the world, and while that may sound good on paper, it’s really not.

“Volunteerism means that military service is vulnerable to stratification by class and race.” Those distinctions, of course, also existed during the draft for the Vietnam war, but the broader point remains true.

“Addressing war’s lasting trauma — and avoiding protracted war in the first place — should be a defining issue in politics right now.”

D-Day; Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was just this FORCE, her speaking voice like music, her wisdom and compassion evident in every sentence.

dday.kn17825As D-Day approaches, all I can think about are 90-year-old men who saw awful things but sucked it up to get through the events, and then stoically never talked about them. That is until 50 or 60 or 70 years later – goaded by family members or in recognition of their own mortality, as at least 600 WWII vets die EVERY DAY in the US – they start telling their stories. And while unique, they are the same story, of friends, of an officer who died that day, of bodies they tripped over while trying to maintain their position.

And, almost inevitably, they cry. They weep for those comrades they still know by name 70 years after they perished, tears that they weren’t allowed to shed at the time because it wouldn’t have been “manly.”

In some ways, it reminds me of the Holocaust survivors who blocked out the horror they saw until much later. They say “war is hell” for a reason. And that was a conflict generally supported by the American public, something I must say I’ve never really experienced in my lifetime; either initially or subsequently, Americans have grown weary of the wars we fought.

So World War II becomes “the good war.” As though there is any such thing.


maya_angelouAll these people have written these great Maya Angelou stories and cited her quotes. And while I’ve read a lot of great tributes to her, I don’t have one and haven’t seen one, that exactly captures my feelings, though “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner Shonda Rhimes tweeting simply, “Maya” is pretty close.

I mean, I remember seeing the 1979 TV adaptation of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and only reading the book later. Or I could note seeing her in everything from Roots to Sesame Street to Touched by an Angel. Sometime recently, I even linked to her calypso singing. Unfortunately, I never met her, though I’m likely to have been as tongue-tied as Keef was.

But for me, she was just this FORCE, her speaking voice like music, her wisdom and compassion evident in every sentence. For decades she was like a grandmother talking, trying to relay important knowledge.

I bought for The Wife, probably for some occasion in early 2002 – Valentine’s Day or our anniversary – Hallmark tan/green pottery bowl with these Maya Angelou words inside: “Life is a glorious banquet, a limitless and delicious buffet.”

The morning Maya died, I was reading someone’s Facebook post, someone who was hoping that she would get better after she’d declined to attend some event in her honor. Then the Albany NBC-TV affiliate, WNYT, citing a station in Winston-Salem, NC reported her death. But still, I waited until other sources confirmed it – and her Wikipedia post quickly noted her in the past tense – before I could really believe it.