COMMENTS: Insanity of War

Mental health researchers at the Pentagon received maximum publicity for their study of the ill effects of war on soldiers and Marines. Combat frequently causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder--and stress can translate into breakdown of military discipline and ethics. The upshot is incidents of brutality against civilians, a willingness to torture prisoners and to turn a blind eye to the war crimes of comrades. All three networks led their newscasts with their Pentagon correspondent's coverage of this distressing study to make it the Story of the Day.

NBC's Jim Miklaszewski spelled it out: "The unrelenting combat in Iraq is sending thousands of American troops home as emotional casualties of war." Meanwhile, CBS' David Martin worried about the adverse consequences for Iraqi civilians when soldiers fail to "think straight in the midst of combat and casualties." He showed the mantra being repeated during USMC basic training--"do not go to your dark side"--where "honor" is defined as "doing the right thing when no one is looking, sir," as one recruit put it. The study found that 20% of Iraq veterans display psychiatric symptoms, ABC's Jonathan Karl (subscription required) pointed out. Its recommended remedy for this psychiatric damage is shorter tours of duty and longer periods at home between rotations. The army's policy, Karl noted, is the precise opposite.

NBC followed up with an In Depth report by Dawn Fratangelo on the particular mental illness suffered by women soldiers, "the other PTSD." There is a high incidence of rape on the battlefield--military women sexually assaulted by their own comrades in arms. The aftermath often consists of nightmares, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and denial, a syndrome that Veterans Affairs shrinks have labeled Military Sexual Trauma.


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