8 November 2010

Wartorn: 1861-2010, Exploring Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress - HBO Documentary

American Civil War doctors called it hysteria, melancholia and insanity. During the First World War it was known as shell-shock. By World War II, it became combat fatigue. Today, it is clinically known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a crippling anxiety that results from exposure to life-threatening situations such as combat.

The HBO special Wartorn 1861-2010 brings attention to the invisible wounds of war. Drawing on personal stories of American soldiers whose lives and psyches were torn asunder by the horrors of battle and PTSD, the documentary chronicles the lingering effects of combat stress and post-traumatic stress on military personnel and their families throughout American history, from the Civil War through today’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The HBO Documentary Films presentation debuts on Thursday November 11th, only on HBO in the US.

The documentary shares stories through soldiers’ revealing letters and journals; photographs and combat footage.

“Combat fatigue” was considered a character flaw in World War II. In a famous story, Gen. George S. Patton slapped a soldier hospitalized with nervous exhaustion, ordering “that yellow SOB” back to the front. It took 50 years for WWII vets to be diagnosed with PTSD. Today, in the documentary, a group opens up publicly about their traumas for the first time. Al Maher, who was a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, laments the toll his war experience took on his family life – he became abusive and took to drinking. As a result, he has not spoken to his sons in 25 years. Abner Greenberg, a corporal in the Marines who lost two best friends in Iwo Jima, kept his wartime traumas pent up and never shared them with his children until he joined a PTSD group and discovered what was wrong with him. Former Army sergeant Bill Thomas remembers shooting four Germans, and being moved when the sole survivor showed him a family photo. “How do you explain the horrors?” Greenberg asks. “It consumes you.”

For more information visit the HBO site.

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