Post-traumatic stress disorder has become an increasingly difficult challenge for the nation in the wake of three controversial and unpopular wars; Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. What soldiers thought they were fighting for and what they learned when they got overseas was often jarringly out of sync. Worse, the life they came back to was unrecognizable and adjusting to peacetime life was impossible. They have never come home.
Is it possible that a nation can also suffer violent, catastrophic and ultimately unhealed trauma that mirror the symptoms of personal PTSD: denial of an agony by refusing to talk about it; inability to grieve for the loss suffered; and concealing residual and shame-inducing bitterness?
I believe the Civil War and Reconstruction are the cornerstones of our national PTSD. To those generations that came after the war, too much history has been written to celebrate the glory of victory, or worse, the nobility of a lost cause whose legacy, slavery, is so heinous that its consequences are barely being accounted for two and a half centuries later –not in our teaching of history or in our national discourse. Not enough has been written about what it will take to bridge the divisions that the war and Reconstruction revealed and which now face us with rising urgency every day.
Perhaps in learning how to better treat our wounded veterans’ PTSD, we might also learn how to heal the heartbreak and loss that are eating at our collective soul. This is the first of several posts that will explore what it will take to foster national healing.