4
Mar

The “reclusive” author,  J.D. Salinger, died at the end of January, and the front page New York Times article (www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/books/29salinger.html) said this about his service in World War II:

“He served with the Counter-Intelligence Corps of the Fourth Infantry Division, whose job was to interview Nazi deserters and sympathizers, and was stationed for a while in Tiverton, Devon, the setting of “For Esmé — with Love and Squalor,” probably the most deeply felt of the “Nine Stories.” On June 6, 1944, he landed at Utah Beach, and he later saw action during the Battle of the Bulge. In 1945 he was hospitalized for “battle fatigue” — often a euphemism for a breakdown — and after recovering he stayed on in Europe past the end of the war, chasing Nazi functionaries.”

Given that, as part of the 4th Infantry Division, J. D. Salinger landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and fought at the Battle of the Bulge, it seems odd that his “battle fatigue” received half a sentence. Nor does the article mention that his division liberated Dachau’s subcamps. Yet though the article– just like all other commentaries and discussions of Mr. Salinger’s life– explores at length his solitary and unusual characteristics, there is no mention that his trauma might have played any role at all, yet alone a significant one, in his behavior.

Neither “battle fatigue” nor “PTSD”reveals what war does to the soul. As a veteran says at the end of Ken Burns’ World War II series, “We all were war casualties.” War’s terrors rip soldiers from their moral and emotional anchors, severing them from their identities, families, and communities. Mr. Salinger’s isolation and literature expressed the consequences of where he had been and what he had seen there.  Take another look at  “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”

I wrote a letter to the New York Times pointing out the value that such a perspective might create.  The newspaper did not publish it.

For all the presence of “PTSD” in our news, our vocabulary, even our television shows, I see a deep resistance to acknowledging how people in our lives- whether intimate family members or cultural icons—were and are troubled by trauma. Perhaps such acknowledgement would require recognizing within ourselves stunted aspects of our own spirits.

I know how painful and difficult that is to do.  For years—in the face of incontrovertible evidence— I avoided recognizing my own trauma.

Judaism believes we are all born with a neshama tora. A pure soul.  Acknowledging the loss of that integrity is excruciating.  But to deny it keeps us stuck, unable to heal and renew our purpose.

The Multigenerational Ripple of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Category : Uncategorized

4 Comments

  1. Carol Schultz Vento, March 10, 2010:

    Interesting point. I was not even aware of his WWII service and D-Day experiences until I read about it in his obituary. And you are so right, there is no attempt to make a connection between his war and his extreme need for solitude.

  2. Lou, January 25, 2011:

    Hi, I believe you are right on in your thinking on this. I’ve written about the characters in Nine Stories and PTSD as I found it to be so strongly represented on those pages. Sorry for leaving a link, but if you’re interested here is my take:

    http://babysblackballoon.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/231/

  3. J. Corbett, August 27, 2013:

    I was at a psychiatric conference a few years back, and the presenter showed brain scans of the shrunken hippocampus (supposed memory center in the brain), in cases of severe P.T.S.D., stating that this was a severe abnormality. I said at the time, that I thanked God for that shrunken abnormality, and who the hell wants to remember, living hell.

  4. Stephen Lloyd Olin, June 11, 2015:

    battle fatigue was an issue our family dealt with but never spoke of. Lloyd was in the 4th Infantry Regiment, 2nd wave D Day Utah Beach, AntwerpX, The Bulge and a lot of bloody fights that were parts of bigger affairs. He never played the hero. He used humor in describing times when he was most afraid. If he were alive today I would take him to fort drum to meet the other soldiers. He could not cure battlefield stress and except for throwing punches when someone woke him from sleep, he dealt with it fairly well I guess. He did say more than once he would like to “do it again except the 2nd time around I would be afraid I would get killed.” Then he would have a good laugh and shake his head. I think he was just happy that he got out of it all alive and that was a victory in itself.

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