Since this weekend, I cannot stop thinking about the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, where two ex-servicemen, pledged to protect our country, made a decision to become cop-killers. Is there a link between their service and their later, fateful decisions?
So I’ll ask what others are probably thinking: is it PTSD that caused these eruptions? And what, exactly, does that even mean? Should we think about this as a psychological disfunction, caused by bearing witness to horrors and pain, or is it something more?
A bomb blast creates a pressure wave that travels through the entire body. Simple physics dictates that at each interface between tissues some of that pressure is reflected, some is transmitted, and some is absorbed. Soldiers who have experienced a bomb blast have been found to exhibit a unique type of brain injury, where their white matter appears as though it has absorbed the energy and separated from their grey matter, scars forming at what used to be a smooth interface. These men (the data set is almost all men, so far) also have unique behavioral problems, including an inability to focus, depression, and loss of self-control. And lashing out, at themselves (in the form of suicide) or at those around them.
I do not know what trauma these men experienced in Iraq, yet I cannot help but wonder if the hell they chose to visit upon their fellow citizens this past week is a hell they brought back from war. A hell that deserves its own research, and the tolerance that comes from understanding that we, as a society, may have created it inside the citizens we respect most, as part of the job we asked them to do.
I don’t know any of the answers here. I do not want to stigmatize our veterans, or in any way distract from the great and good things they contribute on a daily basis, both here and abroad. But I implore us, as a society, to not dismiss this topic because it is uncomfortable. Reality is often uncomfortable, but the discomfort only grows if we do not recognize it for what it is.