- Paperback: 246 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Edition edition (October 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684813211
- ISBN-13: 978-0684813219
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 133 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character Paperback – October 1, 1995
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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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That being said, the book is not for everyone because the anecdotes are pretty gruesome. However, Dr. Shay has written an important book that contributes to our understanding of PTSD that simultaneously examines Homer's epic work with a fresh perspective.
I had no clue in 2002, that the highest incidence of PTSD was among women who had suffered sexual or physical trauma; they are still a largely invisible portion of our society. I also had no clue that PTSD was about to grow in magnitude in our society. With the multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, in many cases in excess of five years for an individual soldier (who might have been a Reservist or a National Guard member), they will be coming home deeply affected by their experiences. In many cases, they will have lost their families, their jobs, and their homes when they return, PTSD is a wound that most can hide for a while. But just because you don't see it in an artificial limb, doesn't mean that the injury doesn't exist. Right now, the fastest growing segment of the US homeless population is returning female Iraq/Afghanistan veterans. So no, society hasn't really learned or understood the lessons of our Vietnam Veterans with PTSD.
We would benefit from reading or re-reading what Jonathan Shay has to say about that injury. Because this is no longer an academic exercise about whether we can learn from the past about the traumas visited upon veterans. This is alive and happening today, and how we choose to honor and help those soldiers with less visible scars, is a measure of who we are as a society.