War Is Hell

Last week’s video of Marines urinating on Taliban corpses went viral on the Internet. Among the responses was Lt. Col. Allen West’s ‘Shut Your Mouth, War Is Hell‘.

I agree the actions of those Marines do not represent the values we learn in the Corps, however, unless you’ve been shot at by the Taliban, Shut Your Mouth!

Here’s an insightful perspective from a Combat Marine and Purple Heart recipient…

“When you have witnessed your brothers-in-arms being killed, when you have had your very own brush with death, when you have endured deployment after deployment…

Sergeant Jason R. Arellano
Sergeant Jason R. Arellano
In that single moment, when the dust has settled and you are the one left standing. Your emotions may or may not get the best of you. While certain actions may not be condoned and will certainly be frowned upon by many, they can be understood.

In war, our emotions can be like the venom of a baby rattlesnake… they can be released uncontrollably but at some point we will be responsible for our actions. This may be done publicly or internally.

We have all done something in our lives that we can now look back and say “what was I thinking?” War can bring out the worst in ANYONE. It has brought out the worst in me. Engage, reload and move on to the next target.”

~Sergeant Jason Arellano (USMC 3/5, ’01-’05)
Follow Sgt. Arellano on Twitter: @ResolutionGear
See also: Perfect Valor

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Killing In War

by Wally Beddoe, 2010


This report considers the moral issues associated with killing in a war. To add flavor to an otherwise mundane report, we will hear first-hand thoughts from Marines I have interviewed for this paper who have killed in war and how killing affected them then and now. For the purposes of this paper, just war theory, while an extremely important framework and is referenced, is not covered in depth. We can assume killing in a just war. Finally, we will conclude with my arguments supporting or opposing killing in war.


Encyclopedia.com defines war as “armed conflict between states or nations (international war) or between factions within a state (civil war), prosecuted by force and having the purpose of compelling the defeated side to do the will of the victor. Among the causes of war are ideological, political, racial, economic, and religious conflicts. Imperialism, nationalism, and militarism have been called the dynamics of modern war. “

One cannot research ‘killing in war’ without encountering the terms “jus ad bellum” and “jus in bello”. According to Wikipedia, jus ad bellum are a set of criteria that are consulted before engaging in war, in order to determine whether entering into war is justifiable. While jus in bello concerns whether a war is conducted justly (regardless of whether the initiation of hostilities was just).


Killing is an event that causes someone to die or the act of terminating a life. The rules of jus in bello aim to minimize the destruction in wars and protect civilians and non-combatants. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states “Soldiers are only entitled to use their (non-prohibited) weapons to target those who are “engaged in harm.” Thus, when they take aim, soldiers must discriminate between the civilian population, which is morally immune from direct and intentional attack, and those legitimate military, political and industrial targets involved in rights-violating harm.” (“War,” 2000)

In nearly every article I read about killing, a distinction was made between combatants and non-combatants. Killing a combatant was allowed (not the same as murder) but killing non-combatants is an evil, and is never allowed.


Since my research is on killing in war, and in order to gain insight into the killing perspective, I asked some Vietnam Veterans, friends of mine, what they thought about killing in war. These Marines all had similar stoic responses that it was a matter of survival and that killing was necessary to protect their brother Marines. Marines, especially during Vietnam, were psychologically trained to kill. I was expecting a response to be more in line with stories of horror, mental sickness, guilt and emotional trauma but that’s not what I received. With the exception of my good friend Gordon Boswell, the killings by these Marines were (generally) up high in a helicopter whereas the killing Boswell did as a reconnaissance sniper was on the ground, up close and extremely personal. Boswell was himself shot on three separate occasions. Perhaps there is an emotional separation of sorts, if that’s possible, when the killing is not one-to-one.

Gordon Boswell, 1st Force Recon, Sniper, Vietnam, 1970-1971
“Taking another person’s life in skirmishes (fire fights, ambushes) didn’t bother me then or now. The overwhelming fear and adrenaline to survive takes over; you want to protect the rest of your fellow Marines. It seemed like everything happens in milliseconds; up close and personal. I can’t remember most of the details of these. Now when you are looking at another human being through a scoped weapon, you know that when you squeeze the trigger, his life is going to end and usually there was enough lag time to recover from the recoil and see the “pink mist”. It didn’t bother me then but now these memories have come back to haunt me. While the rest of the world is sleeping, I have nightmares in 3-D color, restless nights, pacing the floor and the f**ked up sweats at night. Bos~”

Mike Amtower, USMC, HMH-463, Vietnam ’68-‘69
“Look at it this way —- when someone in a wartime situation is shooting at you and doing his level best to kill your silly butt, the best, and only thing you can do, is shoot back and suppress his fire, or return the favor. It comes down to a simple matter of survival. I always had the feeling that the safest place in the world was about 6 feet long, 4 inches square at the rear, with a pair of handles and a butterfly. If it was bucking in your hands and the rounds were landing anywhere near the fool shooting at you, he was apt to change his mind. The sheep, sheep dog and wolf scenario was and is a good analogy.”

R.T. Foster, USMC, Helicopter Squadron, Vietnam ’68-‘69
“There is no shame, there is no guilt and no you would not understand.”

Bruce “Howdy” Mayor, USMC, HMM-161, Vietnam ’69-’70
“At the moment you are aiming at the muzzle flash or the movement in the bush or the target running across the rice paddy. Because of your training you sight the target and squeeze the trigger. It is not until you are returning to base that the thought of what just took place enters your mind. Yes, it grabs you like nothing else, but then you realize that muzzle flash was aimed at you or your fellow Marines. That movement in the bush was someone trying to get a better shot at you or your fellow Marines. The person running across the rice paddy was warning the rest of his squad or telling them to open fire upon you or your fellow Marines. You don’t talk about it because there is nothing to say, it is part of war, the ugly part. You came home and hopefully so did your fellow Marines.”

John “J.D.” Barber, USMC, HMM-263, Vietnam, ‘70/’71
The first time I fired back, the fire stopped coming from where I aimed. Not sure if I killed anyone, but odds are I did. The incident caused me to think about what I did. What I came away with was this; they were trying their best to kill me and my Brother Marines around me. I did what I had to do to protect them and myself. I also thought a bit deeper to my time in Vietnam. If I didn’t kill anyone directly, I was responsible for many deaths, just by what we were doing. Such as dropping off Marine Grunt’s, Sniper’s, Recon, etc. and then supporting them and their mission. When it comes to actual war, WWII was the last time we actually fought one. True war is unconditional. You fight it to win it, and you don’t worry about who is killed or what is destroyed. All you have to do is look at the Pacific war (number of Japanese POW’s) or the war fought by the Army Air Forces (Dresden, Tokyo, etc.). Just my thoughts on a very deep subject.

Fred Whitehurst, USMC, HMM-265, Vietnam ’65-‘67
“We have a saying and I still stick by it today. KILL THEM ALL AND LET GOD SORT THEM OUT! I’ve seen too many dead Marines to have any regrets for any gooks I may have killed.”

John “Ace” Hunt, USMC, HMM-265, Vietnam ‘69
“Wally, I never gave it one thought at all. … I looked at it as they [enemy] are so ruthless, and do want to kill you, so kill them at any chance you had, which I did, and as many of them as I could. Think I did a very good job, on top of good jobs. I made sure of that. Yes killing, even in War, is a rough thing, but it’s them, or you, and your Crew, plus whoever you’re hauling around at that time. I would NOT hesitate one second to pop a gook anywhere, and at any time. If they were running, pointing at me, or shooting at me, trying to hide, they suddenly blew up. Then, I’d look for any more to pop. I do not regret it, not one bit, just wish I had had more opportunities, and that can be printed at anytime, anywhere. If I had it to do over again, I’d do a much better job, that’s for certain. Just hate that my flight time ended as early as it did. Semper Fi.”


Aristotle, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is probably among the triad (Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine) of those responsible for the origination of the Just War Theory.
In his work, Augustine asked whether a Christian can ever justify killing another, given the Biblical imperative to “turn the other cheek.” Augustine’s answer was this: One can use force, not to protect oneself, but to protect one’s neighbor. As the scholar Jean Elshtain, author of the highly regarded book Just War Against Terror, explains:

For early Christians like Augustine, killing to defend one’s self alone was not enjoined: It is better to suffer harm than to inflict it. But the obligation of charity obliges one to move in another direction: To save the lives of others, it may be necessary to imperil and even take the lives of their tormentors. Thus, according to Augustine, if only you are attacked, you are obligated to turn the other cheek and die, because personal self-defense is immoral; only if someone attacks your neighbor’s cheek are you permitted to retaliate. (Brook, & Epstein)

According to author Darrell Cole in his book “When God Says War Is Right”, fighting justly in a just cause is not an evil, but a good – an act of love – that is pleasing to God; fighting unjustly is an evil for which there is never an excuse.

The right ethics leads to individual (and societal) survival, prosperity, happiness; the wrong ethics leads to misery, poverty, death. This is true in every field but is especially true in the realm of war, as the present struggle has made clear. We are losing the war on Islamic Totalitarianism because our leadership, political and military, is crippled by the morality of altruism, embodied in the tenets of Just War Theory. The moral code inherent in Just War Theory defines rules that undercut, inhibit, and subvert any hope of success in war, because it demands that one regard one’s own life as the sacrificial object of others. The moral code of rational self-interest, by contrast, defines principles to attain the values that one’s life and happiness require—including success in war and national self-defense. Altruism is the morality of defeat, and rational self-interest is the morality of victory. (Brook, & Epstein)


In his 1977 book “Just and Unjust Wars”, Michael Walzer argues that the individual acts of killing that occur in combat are morally justified by the collective right of self-defense. He dismisses the idea that soldiers require an individual moral justification for killing other soldiers in war. Instead, he holds that all soldiers act merely as constrained agents of their respective warring states. Still, Walzer’s collectivization of soldiers’ agency does not lead him to dismiss the moral importance of principles of individual self-defense. In fact, his argument is based upon the individual moral right to kill in self-defense.

The way that Walzer relates the right to kill in self-defense to the moral justification for killing in combat is complex. He begins by assuming that all persons possess the rights to life and liberty. He then asserts that communities of people, such as states, possess those same rights in virtue of the rights of their members, and that the collective analogues of those rights for states are territorial integrity and political sovereignty. He therefore concludes that a state is justified in defending its territory and sovereignty in the same way that an individual person is justified in defending her life and liberty. Walzer, however, notes an important distinction between the defense of individual and collective rights. Whereas individuals can use forceful non-lethal measures to resist minor violations of their rights, states often do not have that luxury. When states forcibly defend their rights, their citizen-soldiers usually get killed, which presumably violates those citizens’ rights. This, in turn, presents a challenge to the very concept of collective self-defense. For, if states derive their rights from the rights of their citizens, yet their citizens’ rights are violated in the course of defending their states’ rights, and then it appears that the violation of individual rights would undermine the legitimacy of exercising collective rights. Walzer counters this problem by giving an account of why the killing of citizen-soldiers in combat is not a violation of their rights. He does this by arguing those individuals’ collective roles as soldiers cause them to lose their individual rights to life, so that their deaths are not a violation of rights. In this way, Walzer is able to hold that the right to kill in self-defense directly justifies a nation’s recourse to war and indirectly sanctions the killing that occurs within the war. (Kilner)

It’s important as a Christian to understand what the Bible says about killing. “When we look at the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, we can see that these laws were given for the good of mankind. One of these laws is in verse 13: “Thou shalt not kill.” You may wonder if God said “do not kill,” why He would then decree that governments could send men to war to kill other men. The reason is that the Hebrew meaning of the word translated as “kill” actually means “murder” or “to slay someone in a violent manner unjustly.” So, in the Ten Commandments God is saying, “Thou shalt not murder.” Unjust premeditated killing with the wrong motives of hatred, vengeance, greed, jealousy, etc. is murder. Killing in self defense to protect oneself is not murder nor is executing condemned killers. The very founders of this nation were known to carry a Bible in one hand and a musket in the other in order to defend the freedom they sought here. The freedom to worship God was one of those freedoms they fought for and died for.” (Miller)


Members of the Unites States Armed Forces, such as me, all take an oath:
“I, Walter Beddoe, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (U.S. Code)

Because of this oath, we are morally obligated to kill if necessary to achieve the objectives of our Nation. Pete Kilner, Army Officer and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars says on his blog “If killing the bad guys is not morally justifiable, then all participation in war is immoral. I feel very confident that killing combatants who fight for an unjust cause is morally permissible and perhaps obligatory for soldiers waging a just war. In fact, I find that many people who oppose war on moral grounds don’t have a problem with killing enemy combatants of an unjust aggressor. “(Kilner-Blog)

Enemy combatants have an equal right to kill. “Enemy combatant’ shall mean an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy combat forces.” (Denniston, 2008)

My research suggests that the common position in nearly all camps is that killing in war is morally accepted and is therefore legitimate (ethical) to kill “enemy combatants” in war.

Works Cited:
War. (2000, February 4). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/
Brook, Y, & Epstein, A. (n.d.). “just war theory” vs. american self-defense. Retrieved from http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-spring/just-war-theory.asp
Kilner, Peter. (n.d.). Soldiers, self-defense, and killing in war. Retrieved from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-41998-18346/unrestricted/etd.PDF
U.S. Code, . (n.d.). 502. enlistment oath. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode10/usc_sec_10_00000502—-000-.html
Kilner-Blog, Peter. (n.d.). Thoughts of a soldier-ethicist . Retrieved from http://soldier-ethicist.blogspot.com/

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War is an ugly thing, but

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

~John Stuart Mill

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A couple months ago, I was contacted by Bruce Williams-Burden, a former Navy Corpsman.

Bruce was wrapping up his book “LUMINOUS BASE”, which is a magnificent story of the fifty-seven Hospital Corpsmen who died in the course of their duty over a 45-year period (1962-2007).

Bruce asked me if I wouldn’t mind giving it a read in short order and provide my feedback. I agreed to help him out.

In the book’s introduction, Bruce writes “From the perilous time of George Washington there have been American patriots, average men and women, who stood up against the enemy and put others or their country before themselves. These heroes are often forgotten with time and with each new conflict in which our country becomes embroiled. It is for both political and non-political reasons that we tend to focus on the new breed of heroes instead. This book was written to shine a light of recognition on a select group of U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsmen whose military role put them on or around helicopters. Of these men there were fifty-seven who died in the line of duty.”

Further summary: Since the last century, in war and in peace, in good weather and bad, the helicopter has proven itself over and over again when it has been used for military medical evacuations, for search and rescue missions, as well as for simple transportation. Among the thousands who have flown on one of these aircraft have been U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsmen who did so as aircrew members, as patients, or as passengers. And between 1962 and 2007 there were fifty-seven of these men who lost their lives. All of these corpsmen were killed far from their homes in places that include Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest. The contents of Luminous Base tells the individual story of each man, with some of these accompanied by comments from family or friends.

My feedback to Bruce after reading the book included the following:

What a fantastic job you did! As I read through the pages, I kept thinking “It can’t get any better than this”, but it did! It kept getting better and better… You really have a talent Sir! YOU NAILED IT! What you did for those Corpsmen is nothing short of heroic in itself… Semper Fi Doc!

LUMINOUS BASE is dedicated to every man and woman who has worn the caduceus of the Navy Hospital Corpsman in the past, to those who wear it now, to those who will wear it in the future, and to all of their families.

For all who have flown Medevac from Vietnam to Iraq, I recommend you add LUMINOUS BASE to your library. In addition to telling loving stories of the Corpsmen who were killed in action, Bruce’s book also reviews related history and aircraft. A must have for POPASMOKE Marines and Corpsmen as well as history buffs and all other proud American Patriots.

LUMINOUS BASE can be found on Amazon.com

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The Real Rules of War


Five years ago, a particularly gruesome image made its way to our television screens from the war in Iraq. Four U.S. civilian contractors working in Fallujah were ambushed and killed by al Qaeda. Their bodies were burned, then dragged through the streets. Two of the charred bodies were hung from the Euphrates Bridge and left dangling.

This barbaric act left an impression that our military did not forget: In a special operation earlier this year, Navy SEALs captured the mastermind of that attack, Ahmed Hashim Abed. But after he was taken into custody in September, Abed claimed he was punched by his captors. He showed a fat lip to prove it. Three of the SEALS are now awaiting a courts-martial on charges ranging from assault to dereliction of duty and making false statements.

This incident and its twisted irony takes me back to an oddly serene setting many years ago. When I was in college, I joined my parents on a trip to retrace my father’s wartime experience in Europe. We drove from France, through Holland and Belgium and on to Germany—the same route he had taken with the U.S. Army in 1944-45. At a field outside the Belgian town of Malmedy, we got out of our rented car where my father described something I had never heard before.

During the Battle of the Bulge, in the bleak December of 1944, the Germans had quickly overrun the American lines. They took thousands of prisoners as they pushed through in a last chance gamble to turn the war around. One unit, part of the First SS Panzer Division, had captured over a hundred GIs. They were moving fast, and they didn’t care to be burdened by prisoners. So the SS troops put the American soldiers in that field and mowed them down with machine guns.

Around 90 Americans were killed in that barrage. The Germans then walked through the tangle of bodies, shooting those who were still alive in the back of the head. The few that survived were brought to where my father was located in the nearby town of Liege where word of the massacre quickly spread.

My father was never a talker. And in spite of the fact that we were on a trip to look at his past, he didn’t open up much, or couldn’t. When I asked him what the reaction was among the U.S. troops, he answered without emotion: “We didn’t take prisoners for two weeks.” I immediately understood what he meant, and had the sense not to press the issue any further. I just looked out at the field, now green and peaceful on a beautiful summer day, and realized he was looking at the same field and seeing something quite different.

In the weeks following the Malmedy massacre, U.S. troops clearly broke the rules of the Geneva Conventions. Justified or not, they were technically guilty of war crimes.

My guess is that the American correspondents imbedded with those troops knew all about this and chose not to report it. So did their officers. They understood the gravity of the war, as well as the absolute importance of its outcome. And they understood that disclosing this information might ultimately help the enemy. In other words, they used common sense. Was the U.S. a lesser country because these GIs weren’t arrested? Was the Constitution jeopardized? Somehow it survived.

You don’t have to dig too deep to understand that war brings out behavior in people that they would never demonstrate in normal life. In Paul Fussell’s moving memoir, “The Boys’ Crusade,” the former infantryman relates a story about the liberation of Dachau. There were about 120 SS guards who had been captured by the Americans. Even though the Germans were being held at gunpoint, they still had the arrogance—or epic stupidity—to continue to heap verbal abuse and threats on the inmates. Their American guards, thoroughly disgusted by what they had already witnessed in the camp, had seen enough and opened fire on the SS. Some of the remaining SS guards were handed over to the inmates who tore them limb from limb. Another war crime? No doubt. Justified? It depends on your point of view. But before you weigh in, realize that you didn’t walk through the camp. You didn’t smell it. You didn’t witness the obscene horror of the Nazis.

Rules of war are important. They are something to strive for as they separate us from our distant ancestors. But when only one side follows these rules, they no longer elevate us. They create a very unlevel field and more than a little frustration. It is equally bizarre for any of us to judge someone’s behavior in war by the rules we follow in our very peaceful universe. We sit in homes that are air-conditioned in the summer and warmed in the winter. We have more than enough food in our bellies and we get enough sleep. The stress in our lives won’t ever match the stress of battle. Can we honestly begin to decide if a soldier acted in compliance with rules that work perfectly well on Main Street but not, say, in Malmedy or Fallujah?

In his book, Mr. Fussell probably sums up the feelings of many soldiers when he quotes a British captain, John Tonkin, who experienced a great deal of the war. “I have always felt,” Capt. Tonkin said, “that the Geneva Convention is a dangerous piece of stupidity, because it leads people to believe that war can be civilized. It can’t.”

Mr. Kozak is the author of “LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay” (Regnery, 2009).

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Wally Beddoe, December 2009
University of Bridgeport, Psychology

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after someone has experienced a life-threatening situation. People with PTSD often can’t stop thinking about what happened to them. They may try to avoid people and places that remind them of the trauma and may work hard to push thoughts of the event out of their head. Feeling numb is another common reaction. Finally, people find that they have trouble relaxing. They startle easily and are often on guard. (NCPTSD, 2007)

My paper will reflect the symptoms, causes, treatment, and experiences of PTSD as shared by a few Marine friends diagnosed with the disorder; Marines who served one or more tours of duty in combat. Some veterans come out of the battlefield relatively unscathed. Others are so severely traumatized, it takes decades to manage. Earlier generations may have called the condition “Shell Shock”, “Soldier’s Heart”, or “Combat Fatigue”.

Writing a paper about PTSD when one has never experienced it is a tough assignment. I can only imagine the miserable environment of one suffering from this psychological disease.

According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 17% of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. In 1984, the National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study (NVVRS) found similar rates for Vietnam Veterans. But only about 40% of veterans with PTSD seek treatment. There’s still a stigma attached to PTSD, and veterans with PTSD just can’t get any respect. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the most debilitating injuries a soldier can suffer in war time. It is life-long condition that can be treated but can never be cured. It’s an ailment that destroys lives.

A 2007 study of combat-exposed Vietnam War veterans shows that those with injuries to certain parts of the brain were less likely to develop PTSD. PTSD involves the persistent reliving of a traumatic experience through nightmares and flashbacks that may seem real. Twenty percent to 30 percent of Vietnam vets (more than 1 million) have been diagnosed with PTSD, and a similar rate has been reported among Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans. Public health officials are currently tracking the disorder among soldiers returning from Iraq. Yet, while war and natural disasters tend to call the greatest attention to PTSD, it’s estimated that millions of Americans suffer from it as a result of assault, rape, child abuse, car accidents, and other traumatic events. (NIH Press, 2007)

When we study the brain, we learn about the Limbic System, which refers to parts of the brain (forebrain) that are closely associated with fear and response.

The Limbic System has a major role in producing emotion and motivated behavior. The amygdala, in particular, is strongly related to fear. In situations where true danger exists, such as in military combat, the amygdala’s rapid response may aid survival. However, disorder of the brain’s fear system can be very disruptive. An example is the war veteran who involuntarily dives into the bushes when he hears a car backfire. Another important part of the brain and Limbic System is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is important for forming lasting memories and lies inside the temporal lobes, which is why stimulating the temporal lobes can produce memory-like or dream-like experiences. (Coon, & Mitterer, 2007)

As defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-Fourth Edition-Text Revised (DSM-IV-TR), PTSD is an anxiety disorder comprising four major criteria:
1. Exposure to or witnessing an event that is threatening to one’s well-being and responding with intense fear, helplessness, or horror.
2. Symptoms of re experiencing, such as recurrent and intrusive memories, nightmares, a sense of reliving the trauma, or psychological and physiological distress when reminded of aspects of the trauma.
3. Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or reminders of the trauma, and the inability to recall parts of the trauma, withdrawal, and emotional numbing.
4. Arousal increases, as manifested in sleep disturbance, irritability, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance, or exaggerated startle response.

The cause of PTSD is unknown, but psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved. PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters). Having been exposed to trauma in the past may increase the risk of PTSD. (A.D.A.M., Inc., 2009)

In order to present meaningful information about PTSD, I interviewed some of my good friends; Vietnam Veterans diagnosed with PTSD, and asked them about their experiences.

My first phone call was to a very good friend, Gordon “Bos” Boswell. Bos was a Force Reconnaissance Marine who served 23 months in Vietnam. He was shot on three separate occasions and medically evacuated by helicopter each time. Once, while in a very bad place called the Bo Bans, walking point with his best friend Christopher Six, Christoper stepped on a ‘Bouncing Betty’ mine. When triggered, these mines launch into the air and then detonate at about waist height. The explosion projects a lethal shower of steel balls and steel fragments in all directions. No words can describe the scene. Bos was yelling at his friend “Don’t die on me!” but there was nothing he could do. Christopher died in Bos’ arms. He then applied a tourniquet on another friend who lost his arm in the same explosion. “At this point, I completely lost it” said Bos. Four Marines died. Bos and two others were also shot or wounded. Continuous exposure to this type of environment challenges a human’s psychological tolerance.

When Bos was discharged from the Marines in 1971, he said he had no emotions [left] whatsoever. He was numb, like a rock. He attended LSU where there was protesting going on. He was embarrassed to tell anyone that he was a Vietnam Veteran. Even his girlfriend and future wife Cheryl did not know. The years following Vietnam were very hard for Bos. He suffered from rage, screaming nightmares of never-ending fights, and sweating terribly. “The slightest thing would just set me off” explained Bos. There were countless scuffles and fist fights. For six years he went to a mental health counselor. “He was no good and he had no clue” Bos told me.

Around 1995, Bos received some direction from friend and fellow veteran Michael Rodriguez. Michael suggested that either he ends up in a vet hospital or he gets help in an outpatient clinic that he could recommend. Bos followed the advice of his good friend and went to the outpatient clinic where he met Dr. Simpson. Bos was tested for PTSD and in 1996 was diagnosed with 70% disability due to PTSD and Agent Orange. Bos says he was shocked when Dr. Simpson told him “I hate to tell you, PTSD is a progressive disease, it doesn’t get better and there’s no cure for it”. Dr. Simpson treated the PTSD by prescribing Xanax, a medicine used to treat anxiety and panic disorder. “It definitely helps, makes me much more laid back” said Bos.

Bos wrapped up my interview by reiterating “PTSD is the real deal.” He added, “My wife has PTSD from putting up with my [antics] for the first 15 years of our marriage. She’s a good woman! These days I keep a level head, stay away from bad places because I can snap in a heartbeat. I take my Xanax with the morning cup of coffee and it definitely helps.” (G. Boswell, personal communication, November 20, 2009)

On Bos’ personal website, he writes “Sometimes, I awake in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, and I know I’ve been walking through the Bo Bans again; the place continues to haunt me. I wonder if some present-day Vietnamese ever sees the ghost of the young man I once was, wandering through the Bo Bans”.

In response to a PTSD posting on a veteran website I maintain, a few friends responded:
“Hi Wally, I was diagnosed with PTSD about 5 years ago. I didn’t know what it was all about and didn’t know I had it until I was asked some very emotional questions from a shrink at the VA. The biggest obstacle is admitting to yourself that you have PTSD. Once you understand what its’ all about you can start to manage the symptoms. There is no cure but you can function. I wear rubber band on my wrist and whenever PTSD interrupts rational thinking I snap the band. Most times that is all you need to break the thought pattern. The VA tries to drug you up but it doesn’t work for me. Only makes it worse. NO DRUGS FOR ME. PTSD not only affects the person but everyone that is close to you. I wonder how my wife and family were able to put up with me all those years.”
(Jardo Opocensky, personal communication, November 9, 2009)

“Wally, you will get lots of opinions but no answers except an acknowledgment that it exists in some form. I have one axe to grind: For compensation, the VA seems to seek one incident. Hell, we all can probably site 365 or more! That is my issue in a nutshell. Imagine driving the roads daily in Iraq and then coming home to drive on our highways, hit by an IED or not. PTSD? You betcha! I submit that constant stress, especially under threat of death or injury, can cause problems even more than just one incident. You have a secondary problem in that if the VA is going to pay for PTSD then everyone will put in for it, real, imagined, or fake. Let me share a personal experience. Last May, while out for a run, I was hit from the rear by a bicyclist. The fall broke my right shoulder and my arm. After six months of rehab I am back to running. Now, if anyone comes up behind me while running, I jump in fear. Am I suffering from PTSD or am I reacting as any normal person would? So, it is an issue that merits your study. Thank you. SF, /s/ Ray.”
(Raymond J. Norton, personal communication, November 9, 2009)

“Good luck Wally, I don’t know that the VA really understands it! The shrink I see at the VA has commented that the condition seems to be surfacing at a faster rate now among Vietnam vets than in the past. His theory is that the majority of us came back, threw ourselves into whatever we did the rest of our lives and functioned well as long as we stayed busy and were working ourselves to a point of exhaustion. Now that we are starting to slow down, more of us have problems. Mine is a mild case manifested by bouts of depression. Of course, many of my old Corps friends thought I was crazy anyway, so it might be hard to tell the difference.”
(Bob Quinter, personal communication, November 9, 2009)

“Wally, I was diagnosed in the 70s and went to some VA outreach programs that showed me that there were a lot of really messed up people that made me feel like I was OK… Realized that half the battle has just understanding why I felt and behaved the way I did, I wanted to be away from people especially crowds; did not want to stay in one place too long; felt like I was tuned in to a different world than most other people. After flying as a Gunner on the Huey gunships, it is very hard to go back to the States and be able to replicate the adrenaline rushes. Closest you can come is Police work which I did for four years. Alcohol allowed me to get to sleep at night. Once I had some spare time on my hands the PTSD started to get me freaky and so I went to the VA and after 2 years of meds and meetings my wife told me I’m almost able to get along well with others. Two weeks ago I started bleeding internally and when I went to the VA my doctor said the Citalopran that I was taking could in some cases cause life threatening internal bleeding and she took me off all my meds pending the results of an upcoming colostomy; Back to the beer. Semper Fi, Phillip D. Moss, VMO-2, 1968-1970.”
(Phillip D. Moss, personal communication, November 9, 2009)

A publication by the Psychopharmacology Unit, University of Bristol, United Kingdom, reflects best what I found repeatedly in my interaction with my veteran friends, which are the parts of the brain affected by PTSD.

The publication states “PTSD is a highly disabling condition that is associated with intrusive recollections of a traumatic event, hyperarousal, avoidance of clues associated with the trauma, and psychological numbing. The field of neuroimaging has made tremendous advances in the past decade and has contributed greatly to our understanding of the physiology of fear and the pathophysiology of PTSD. There appear to be 3 areas of the brain that are different in patients with PTSD compared with those in control subjects: the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the medial frontal cortex. The amygdala appears to be hyper reactive to trauma-related stimuli. The hallmark symptoms of PTSD, including exaggerated startle response and flashbacks, may be related to a failure of higher brain regions (i.e., the hippocampus and the medial frontal cortex) to dampen the exaggerated symptoms of arousal and distress that are mediated through the amygdala in response to reminders of the traumatic event.” Further, the analysis read in addition to the high rate of PTSD exposure to combat exposure, risk for PTSD is also higher when a physical injury has been received. For example, two to three times higher rates of PTSD have been found among injured Vietnam veterans compared with non-injured veterans. (JRRD, 2007)

Kolb (1987) proposed a neuropsychological explanation of intrusive memories and associated psychophysiological arousal in PTSD. He has supplemented a two-factor learning theory that PTSD results from both classical conditioning of extreme emotional responses to traumatic stimuli (i.e., fear, terror, anger, rage, sadness, guilt, and indignation) and operant conditioning of emotional numbing, withdrawal, and avoidance of traumatic stimuli (Kolb, 1987). He proposed that PTSD results from excessive traumatic stimulation that overwhelms the capacity to process information efficiently. Such stimulus overload occurs when the … capacity to process information signaling threat to life overwhelms the cortical … processes concerned with perceptual discrimination and effective adaptive responses for survival (Kolb, 1987).

Cognitive Behavior Therapy – Exposure to memories and reminders of the original trauma
-In the 1980’s, Dr. Terence M. Keane and his colleagues found that exposure therapy was effective in treating the PTSD symptoms of Vietnam War veterans. Exposure therapy, previously known as imaginal flooding therapy, involves carefully exposing the patient to prolonged and repeated imagined images of the trauma until the images no longer cause severe anxiety. In Keane’s randomized clinical trial involving 24 Vietnam veterans, Keane found that exposure therapy was effective in reducing many of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms, including nightmares, flashbacks, memory and concentration problems, and irritability.

Other treatments include:
Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), which is very controversial.

Critical Incidents Stress Debriefing (CISD), which is immediate treatment of trauma; and also very controversial.
Exposure; Facing the situation or object that triggers anxiety (memory and cue dependency).
In flooding, feared stimuli are presented to the patient at full intensity, not gradually.
Medications such as Anxiolytics and drugs that reduce anxiety like Valium and Xanax
Antidepressants (Tricyclics and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)


My research indicates that while there may not be a solution to PTSD, approaches to controlling the effects of PTSD include communication, education, research & development, medical, and therapeutic efforts. Most important is that veterans or PTSD sufferers communicate with others if they feel they may have PTSD. Understanding PTSD and knowing what the options are for treating it is very important. Active-duty troops must be educated and made aware of PTSD and can recognize the signs in themselves or their comrades. Continued research and development is vital to learning more about the brain and how it processes fear and stress. Medical research and drug testing must continue. Research available therapy opportunities for dealing with PTSD are also critical. Dr. Keane suggests cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to access emotions associated with the traumatic event and promote emotional processing. It is this emotional processing that is viewed by many experts as the essential ingredient for treating PTSD.

I’m grateful to my Marine Brothers who supplied information pertaining to their PTSD. I believe communication is a large part of the dealing and healing process. The more we know about PTSD, the more we can help those who suffer from the symptoms that cripple lives of veterans and their families, co-workers, and friends.

Work Cited:

Coon, D, & Mitterer, J. (2007). Introduction to psychology. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

NCPTSD. (2007, May 22). P common reactions after trauma. Retrieved from http://ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/fs_commonreactions.html

JRRD. (2007). Posttraumatic stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder-like symptoms and mild traumatic brain injury. Retrieved from http://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/07/44/7/kennedy.html

Kolb, L. (1987). A neuropsychological hypothesis explaining posttraumatic stress disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144: 989-995.

A.D.A.M., Inc. (2009). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved from https://health.google.com/health/ref/Post-traumatic+stress+disorder

NIH Press. (2007, December 26). Study suggests some brain injuries reduce the likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder . Retrieved from http://www.gluvsnap.com/news/New_Online_Features_Translate_Vision_Science_to_Everyday_Life%20_51.html

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