Friday, May 27, 2005

NAZI SOLDIER SYNDROME / Iraq Veterans' Unspoken Epidemic

By Matt Frei, BBC News, Washington

They are getting restless at Fort Hood. The flight from Iraq should have arrived mid-afternoon, but there is a delay and it is now getting dark.

But they have already waited for a year - they can stretch it out for another few hours.

Then the moment that every soldier, and every family dreams of - the return from war unharmed.

But it is the injuries you cannot see that are beginning to worry the Pentagon.

"My nightmares are so intense I woke up one night with my hands round my fiancee's throat," says Lt Julian Goodrum.

'A suicidal wreck'

"Another night she woke me up. I was really kicking and really getting violent in my sleep.

"So now I sleep on the couch until I can get my sleep, my nightmares, more under control."

Lt Goodrum is a veteran of two Gulf wars. He returned from the first a hero, from the second a suicidal wreck.

He suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) and he is not alone.

More than 10,000 returnees from the Iraq war have sought help for a condition in which the mundane becomes a menace.

"The smell of diesel takes me back to Iraq," Lt Goodrum says.

"I am getting better with crowds, but still if it is a very confined space and I am totally surrounded I have issues with that.

"When I am in crowds I tend to watch people's hands."

Unseen consequences

It is the nature of Iraq's insurgency of unseen snipers and roadside bombers which has fuelled the trauma.

And so the Pentagon has gone to an unlikely source for help: video games, designed in Atlanta to recall the streets of Falluja and thus exorcise the ghost of war.

Ken Grapp, CEO of Virtually Better - a company that creates virtual reality environments to help treat anxiety disorders, says: "It can be totally debilitating to where a person would rather choose suicide than choose to live.

"Persons with PTSD may go back to the streets of Falluja every day in their own minds.

"We are just providing a shared experience where therapists can work with the person and have a better understanding of where they were, and help them process that information."

The Pentagon says it is taking PTSD seriously.

But Lt Goodrum and many other veterans disagree bitterly. It is the epidemic that dare not speak its name.

"For the majority of people - especially military - it is easier to accept and understand a physical injury than a psychological one," Lt Goodrum said.

These are the unseen consequences of a war that will change lives long after the last bullet has been fired and the last soldier has returned home.



Gary Ray said...

I had nightmares when I came back from my generations war of having being drafted all over again and told I was going to do it all again. I couldn't stand the smell of diesel fuel. I'd get up in the middle of the night and run into a wall. Or smack the wife in my sleep. My daughter, when she was just months old was sleeping in between us one night and brushed up against my back. I flipped around and grabbed her head and was about to pop it open when I heard my wife's voice scream out, "Gary, that's Sarah!" In my haze I saw my baby's face and I flipped out. I got out of bed cussing God and Government and War. Made a point of not letting my dreams run my show so to speak. Doesn't always work. Now, I've been talking to returning vets and I live my nightmares over again and time has rounded off the rough edges and slowed me down. Now I have dreams about things I didn't do. I have their nightmares and mine. I've been sleeping on the couch a lot and not sleeping a lot again.

When I was at the hospital in Fort Riley, helicopters were flying all the time. It was like I never left, I was just in a cleaner less bloody hell. I flipped out one day while working at Fort Riley after I got out of the service. I had a GSA contract to recover all the pool tables on base. My brother and I were on our way to work on a table by a lake park site for the Army. It was raining. I saw a helicopter make a turn and told my brother they went down. They did. They died. While working.

I had something different happen to me. A flash back while awake. I was back in a chopper crashing into the Red China Sea. I was going nuts on the inside. My brother said something to me and I grabbed him by his t-shirt and threw him thru some doors. I dragged him over a pool table and my hand got tangled in his shirt and we both went flying thru some cafeterias doors. GI's were eating lunch. We landed on a table full of GI's. We broke the tables, GI's scattered and my brother landed on top of me somehow,, with my fist still twisted in his shirt. Broken glass in my back and my little brothers eyes were bulging out of his head with that fear I seen so many times. He had a foot long screw driver in his hand. He was screaming you crazy! I screamed back, "Do it man, use it, do it!!!" Sometimes I wish he did.

At the time I didn't care if I lived or died and if I had the guts, I would've taken myself out. I must have been gutless cause I'm still here and by brother didn't beat the crap out of me with this huge screw driver and the GI's didn't even come close to us. We got up, apologized and one Master Sergeant asked me, "When did you get back son?" One year ago Top.

Sorry, I lost it. That was the first time someone said I needed to talk to the Docs at the VA. Guilt was eating me up and it still does in little bites. I wanted nothing to do with them. They wanted nothing to do with me. Nobody did. Welcome home.

I slept on the floor last night by the way. Morning America.

Danny Garrett said...


A few years ago I coined a term to describe a certain dynamic about Vietnam veterans’ post-traumatic problems –“Nazi Soldier Syndrome”.

Simply stated, it is this: ALL combat veterans have post-traumatic episodes; it is those veterans that were on the wrong (and/or losing) side of the conflict who must bear the pain twice-over.

The German soldier at the end of World War II was no different than his American, British or Russian counterpart in suffering under combat; however he also had to bear the full weight of guilt at having been among those who initiated and perpetuated the horror for all.

I bear that weight, though I shudder to think of the tonnage that must be borne by the US combat veterans now being manufactured as I sit at my keyboard.

Windbender said...


I wonder if this could be a reason that people in the South are still fighting the "war of agression" (chuckle -- we are from the deep south back to 1686) or civil war? I don't think people in the North are as conscious of that war as Southerners are, or are they? I know that when we lived for a short time in Virginia, we were amazed at how recent that war seemed, when we in Texas were more conscious of the Alamo than the civil war. Perhaps this Nazi Soldier Syndrome affected the South the same way? Just a thought...

btxusa said...

The "Nazi Soldier Syndrome" is a very interesting idea. One thing I recently learned, however, is that some of the "Greatest Generation" had similar guilt feelings. My cousin's husband returned from WWII and she said he walked down alleys instead of the street in their small hometown because he didn't want to encounter anyone who would ask questions. He told her that he had "killed people," so he preferred the non-traffic alleys. Since he was on the "winning" side, the "Nazi Soldier Syndrome" name might not fit that situation.


Xonk said...

The taboo against killing another human is deeply ingrained in us. It's not just spiritual and culture - it seems to have biological roots. Rarely do animals of the same species fight to the death. For instance, rattlesnakes do not bite each other when they battle, they wrestle.

Violating that taboo results in guilt, even when you are convinced the cause is just. Thousands of WWII vets were forever haunted by what they had had to do. There were far more PTSD causalities of WWII than most realize.

Over coming that taboo against murder is one of the major goals of infantry training.

Which, by the way - has become extremely good at it. In the War Between the States it was common to find muzzle loading rifles packed with charge after charge. But the rifle had not been fired. The soldier had gone thru the motions - but never actually pulled the trigger.

After WWI General Smedley Butler, USMC, put it this way:

Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and
classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they
were made to "about face"; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder
to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a
couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.

Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another "about face" ! This time
they had to do their own readjustment, sans [without] mass psychology, sans officers' aid
and advice and sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn't need them any more. So we scattered
them about without any "three-minute" or "Liberty Loan" speeches or parades. Many, too many,
of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make
that final "about face" alone.

The military has made careful studies after every war, to find ways to increase the number of soldiers who actually try to kill the enemy. They have succeeded very well. The estimates are that 15% of WWII soldiers actually aimed at, and fired to kill the enemy.

In Vietnam that percentage was 90%.

And if you doubt the cause for which you kill - well... then the guilt is far worse. The guilt can be overwhelming. I don't need to go on...

I believe much of the revisionism we see is an attempt to assuage that guilt.


Anonymous said...

Hello and my deepest respect and gratitude to ALL war veterans, no matter where they are from or who they have fought. Thank you for defending our freedoms.

I have a question which I thought perhaps one of you may address:

There is mention here of all kinds of syndromes and one of them mentioned was Nazi Syndrome. I thought I had actually coined that phrase myself! I am not nor ever have been a war veteran. What I am is a first generation Canadian whose parents came over from Germany right after the 2nd World War. My father served in the German army and was a prisoner-of-war in England for five years. He is actually more like a hippie than a Nazi and learned English while there. Decided that Canada was the place to go as it was the wild west and peaceful - far from the torments of Europe. We ended up in a small town in the west where we were relentlessly persecuted(I was even punched in the stomach by a boy 5 years older than myself when I was 5 years old and visiting a friend's house). I felt that we were being made to atone for the sins of our race, even though I was actually born here. There was a lot of hatred out there back then. Remembrance Day was traumatic for me because of this. I have lived with what I have called a kind of survivor's guilt.... The guilt of my race and what happened during the war. Has anyone heard of this? Thanks... German Hausfrau