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Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character Paperback – October 1, 1995


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Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character + Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming + War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation's Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684813211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684813219
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Shay works from an intriguing premise: that the study of the great Homeric epic of war, The Iliad, can illuminate our understanding of Vietnam, and vice versa. Along the way, he compares the battlefield experiences of men like Agamemnon and Patroclus with those of frontline grunts, analyzes the berserker rage that overcame Achilles and so many American soldiers alike, and considers the ways in which societies ancient and modern have accounted for and dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder---a malady only recently recognized in the medical literature, but well attested in Homer's pages. The novelist Tim O'Brien, who has written so affectingly about his experiences in combat, calls Shay's book "one of the most original and most important scholarly works to have emerged from the Vietnam war." He's right.

From Publishers Weekly

Shay is a psychiatrist specializing in treating Vietnam veterans with chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome. In this provocative monograph, he relates their experiences to Homer's portrait of Achilles in The Illiad. War, he argues, generates rage because of its intrinsic unfairness. Only one's special comrades can be trusted. The death of Patroklos drove Achilles first into passionate grief, then into berserk wrath. Shay establishes convincing parallels to combat in Vietnam, where the war was considered meaningless and mourning for dead friends was thwarted by an indifferent command structure. He convincingly recommends policies of unit rotation and unit "griefwork"--official recognition of combat losses--as keys to sustaining what he calls a moral existence during war's human encounters. The alternatives are unrestrained revenge-driven behavior, endless reliving of the guilt such behavior causes and the ruin of good character. Shay's ideas merit attention by soldiers and scholars alike.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

In that sense, it is unlike anything else I have ever read.
T. Graczewski
Dr. Shay's an excellent author who is able to break down PTSD and other psychological disorders down so laypeople can understand them.
Amazon Customer
The way in which Jonathan Shay relates Homer's Iliad and ancient combat veteran, Achilles to modern-day warfare is brilliant.
L. V. Sage

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Steve Banko, Duffysboss@aol.com on December 30, 1998
Format: Paperback
As a Vietnam combat veteran, I was imbued with the belief that my war was "special," a unique experience in the world's military history. In reading Dr. Shay's book, I had to re-think that thesis and am now struck with the obvious conclusion that all combat, be it with Alexander the Great or Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, inflicts psychological damage that can last a lifetime. Only geography changes.
Realizing that and reading the vast parallels between The Iliad and Vietnam PTSD symptomology, I was able to understand my own emotional scars and through that self-realization, truly begin to heal those scars. I referred my therapist to the book and she told me it offered her more insight into the cause and treatment of PTSD among Vietnam veterans than any of the seminars or textbooks she'd ever encountered. This is a must read for Vietnam vets and those who care about them.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A. on June 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
As a Marine recently returned from his second combat tour in Iraq, I have found this book to be immensely helpful in understanding the changes that have taken place in my life as a result of traumatic experience. While the vietnam war may be 30 years gone, the lessons of those who have experienced war first hand are as timeless and relevant today as they ever were.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Todd on July 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
In "Healing and Tragedy" (Chapter 11) Shay says that "Healing is done by survivors, not to survivors" and he is right. He also speaks of the healing power of narrative and says, "The ancient Greeks revered Homer, the singer of tales, as a doctor of the soul. In the Odyssey, Homer paints a (self-)portrait of the epic singer whose healing art is to tell the stories of Troy with the truth that causes the old soldier, Odysseus, to weep and weep again. (Odyssey 8:78ff)"
Something like that seems to happen to Combat Veterans when they read this book. Shay is neither the bard telling the story nor the warrior who lived it, but he takes the stories of those who were there and presents them in such a way that, reading them, "the old soldier weeps and weeps again...".
The truth is here. Another reviewer has viewed some of the stories with a measure of skepticism -- and there are some "red flags" in some of the stories -- but that is the nature of "War Stories" and those who know what "the facts on the ground" were can see therough all that to the essential truth that Shay so eloquently presents.
I bought this book because it was recommended to me by readers of my own book, "Aftermath: A Song For Tyrone..." and I am glad I did! I wish I had read it years ago!
If you are a Veteran -- or if there is a veteran who means a lot to you -- or if you just want to understand more about war and what it does to the soldier and to those who love him and to society in general -- buy this book! Buy it -- read it -- give it as a gift!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Doug Lemieux/dlemieux@worldnet.att.net on April 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
My emergence from the hidden life that I have inside my mind, and the recent diagnosis of Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has, after 33 years of isolation, allowed me to understand all the Dr. Shay has written about. I also realize that my feelings and emotions are no different than other veterans and warriors, no matter what war, has felt upon his return. A search for my lost identity, trying to find a place in this world, and to be able to function within that place, is my goal thru the therapy that I am receiving now. Dr. Shay succinctly captures the emotions and perceptions that I have lived with for many years since my return from NAM. Also, I realize now that I am not alone with the losses of relationships, jobs, friends, and the seeking of isolation that I sought.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Alan L. Chase VINE VOICE on March 28, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the books I had been planning to read for several months is Dr. Jonathan Shay's groundbreaking work: "Achilles in Vietnam - Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character." I am glad that I finally found the time to acquaint myself with its message. The book is remarkable for several reasons. On its surface, it is one of the most comprehensive examinations of the phenomenon of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam veterans. Beneath the surface level, it is a brilliant exposition of the experience of Vietnam veterans in comparison with - and in contrast to - the warriors whose battlefield experiences in Troy are described in Homer's Iliad. To look at the tragedy of what our Vietnam veterans have experienced in returning home from that war through the lens of Homer's epic adds a poignancy and depth that is utterly without peer in my knowledge of PTSD literature.

My reading of this book is both timely and relevant, in light of the ongoing investigation of current conditions and practices of treating veterans returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also timely in that the televised coverage of the conflict in Mesopotamia has ripped open scabs and exposed unhealed emotional and psychological wounds in a large number of Baby Booker generation Vietnam veterans. They are returnign to VA hospitals and clinics in droves.

"Such unhealed PTSD can devastate life and incapacitate its victims from participation in the domestic, economic and political life of the nation. The painful paradox is that fighting for one's country can render one unfit to be its citizen." (Page xx)

Dr.
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