If you are a veteran, you should know who Sebastian Junger is. If you want to understand the challenges of life on the battlefield and off, you should read his books, watch his documentaries, pour over the articles he’s written – whether you are a veteran or not. He’s incredibly prolific on the topic of being a soldier, particularly a combat soldier, and what that means. For what its worth, when Sebastian Junger says something about PTSD, the combat experience, whether from a soldier’s perspective or an embedded journalist’s perspective, its the best information out there.
He experienced his own PTSD episode after the time he spent investigating what was going on in Afghanistan from many different perspectives. This seems to have led him down a very personal path to try to understand the effects of war both on and off the battlefield. He has recently investigated why, with only 10% of American forces ever seeing combat, does the U.S. military have the highest rate of PTSD in history.
I encourage you to read the Vanity Fair article, written by Junger titled How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield .
The first time I experienced what I now understand to be post-traumatic stress disorder, I was in a subway station in New York City, where I live. It was almost a year before the attacks of 9/11, and I’d just come back from two months in Afghanistan with Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. I was on assignment to write a profile of Massoud, who fought a desperate resistance against the Taliban until they assassinated him two days before 9/11. At one point during my trip we were on a frontline position that his forces had just taken over from the Taliban, and the inevitable counterattack started with an hour-long rocket barrage. All we could do was curl up in the trenches and hope. I felt deranged for days afterward, as if I’d lived through the end of the world.
By the time I got home, though, I wasn’t thinking about that or any of the other horrific things we’d seen; I mentally buried all of it until one day, a few months later, when I went into the subway at rush hour to catch the C train downtown. Suddenly I found myself backed up against a metal support column, absolutely convinced I was going to die. There were too many people on the platform, the trains were coming into the station too fast, the lights were too bright, the world was too loud. I couldn’t quite explain what was wrong, but I was far more scared than I’d ever been in Afghanistan.