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Sarge, I'm Stressed. Can We Go Home Now?

since you asked nicely......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, January 08, 1997.

The Presidential Commission has released its finding on the euphemism called Gulf War Syndrome. In short, as usual the Pentagon went into its standard foxhole mentality at first and denied and covered up anything that would suggest the military had any culpability. But almost as soon, it entertained the possibility that there was truth in all the claims and pursued the dual course of getting medical help for veterans.

But the somewhat embarrassing conclusion is that there is no Gulf War Syndrome. There was, indeed, exposure to the fumes of burning chemical weapons, but there is no correspondence between those who inhaled it and those claiming illness. This is not to say that all the people with all their varied symptom are not ill, it is that beyond the experience of war, there was no commonality of incident to the individuals involved.

As has been said, no lantern-jawed military hero or, for that matter, military typist would want - in the age of volunteer military - to admit to such mundane matters like stress. But if there is a common thread off all symptoms, virtually all of them can be attributed to excessive stress.

It makes those of a historical predisposition consider how, for example, a civil war veteran compared to that of Vietnam or the Gulf War. Surely the whole society suffered with its mentally damaged veterans, but beyond a few diaries and the rare public observation, the exhaustion and scarring of our worst, most terrifying war - that must have warped the men who ran the nation through the First World War - is hardly ever remarked upon. The physically disabled composed such a large number, there may have been no energy to cope with the shell-shocked. The largest item in the State of Mississippi’s post war budget was for artificial legs.

The major difference, of course, is that they were honored - arguably to excess - but they were allowed and, indeed, encouraged to tell their stories to a fascinated audience, year after year. Whatever else such honor did it performed the elemental therapy of acknowledgement and closure, something last seen in this country after WWII. The literature, especially the transient literature, is nearly devoid of the lives of men who obeyed orders to charge that mathematically guaranteed death to a nearly set percentage of those involved.

No truer benchmark of a society’s progress could be conceived than how it views and treats its veterans. Before, ours were honored, often just for being a name on a roster, but the combat disfigured were pretty much left to fend for themselves, even if they'd been drafted.

Now, an all-volunteer army is being treated for.....stress.