I worked as a war reporter for 15 years
before I realized that I really had a problem.
There was something really wrong with me.
This was about a year before 9/11, and America wasn’t at war yet.
We weren’t talking about PTSD.
We were not yet talking about the effect of trauma and war
on the human psyche.
I’d been in Afghanistan for a couple of months
with the Northern Alliance as they were fighting the Taliban.
And at that point the Taliban had an air force,
they had fighter planes, they had tanks, they had artillery,
and we really got hammered pretty badly a couple of times.
We saw some very ugly things.
But I didn’t really think it affected me.
I didn’t think much about it.
I came home to New York, where I live.
Then one day I went down into the subway,
and for the first time in my life,
I knew real fear.
I had a massive panic attack.
I was way more scared than I had ever been in Afghanistan.
Everything I was looking at seemed like it was going to kill me,
but I couldn’t explain why.
The trains were going too fast.
There were too many people.
The lights were too bright.
Everything was too loud, everything was moving too quickly.
I backed up against a support column and just waited for it.
When I couldn’t take it any longer, I ran out of the subway station
and walked wherever I was going.
Later, I found out that what I had was short-term PTSD:
post-traumatic stress disorder.
We evolved as animals, as primates, to survive periods of danger,
and if your life has been in danger,
you want to react to unfamiliar noises.
You want to sleep lightly, wake up easily.
You want to have nightmares and flashbacks
of the thing that could kill you.
You want to be angry because it makes you predisposed to fight,
or depressed, because it keeps you out of circulation a little bit.
Keeps you safe.
It’s not very pleasant, but it’s better than getting eaten.
Most people recover from that pretty quickly.
It takes a few weeks, a few months.
I kept having panic attacks, but they eventually went away.
I had no idea it was connected to the war that I’d seen.
I just thought I was going crazy,
然后 我觉得 很好 现在我不再疯狂
and then I thought, well, now I’m not going crazy anymore.
About 20 percent of people, however,
wind up with chronic, long-term PTSD.
They are not adapted to temporary danger.
They are maladapted for everyday life,
unless they get help.
We know that the people who are vulnerable to long-term PTSD
are people who were abused as children,
who suffered trauma as children,
people who have low education levels,
people who have psychiatric disorders in their family.
If you served in Vietnam
and your brother is schizophrenic,
you’re way more likely to get long-term PTSD from Vietnam.
So I started to study this as a journalist,
and I realized that there was something really strange going on.
The numbers seemed to be going in the wrong direction.
Every war that we have fought as a country,
starting with the Civil War,
the intensity of the combat has gone down.
As a result, the casualty rates have gone down.
But disability rates have gone up.
They should be going in the same direction,
but they’re going in different directions.
The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced, thank God,
a casualty rate about one third of what it was in Vietnam.
But they’ve also created —
they’ve also produced three times the disability rates.
将近有 10% 的美国军人正陷于战争中
Around 10 percent of the US military is actively engaged in combat,
10 percent or under.
They’re shooting at people, killing people,
getting shot at, seeing their friends get killed.
It’s incredibly traumatic.
But it’s only about 10 percent of our military.
But about half of our military has filed
正在领取 PTSD 的救济金
for some kind of PTSD compensation from the government.
And suicide doesn’t even fit into this in a very logical way.
我们都听说过一个不幸的统计数据 平均每天 有22个退伍军人
We’ve all heard the tragic statistic of 22 vets a day, on average,
in this country, killing themselves.
Most people don’t realize
that the majority of those suicides are veterans of the Vietnam War,
他们想要自我了断的决定 事实上 可能不会
and their decision to take their own lives actually might not be related
to the war they fought 50 years earlier.
In fact, there’s no statistical connection between combat and suicide.
If you’re in the military and you’re in a lot of combat,
you’re no more likely to kill yourself than if you weren’t.
In fact, one study found
that if you deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan,
you’re actually slightly less likely to commit suicide later.
I studied anthropology in college.
I did my fieldwork on the Navajo reservation.
I wrote a thesis on Navajo long-distance runners.
And recently, while I was researching PTSD,
I had this thought.
I thought back to the work I did when I was young,
我在想 我敢说纳瓦霍人 阿帕契族人 科曼奇人
and I thought, I bet the Navajo, the Apache, the Comanche —
I mean, these are very warlike nations —
I bet they weren’t getting PTSD like we do.
When their warriors came back from fighting the US military
or fighting each other,
I bet they pretty much just slipped right back into tribal life.
And maybe what determines
决定长期 PTSD 的因素
the rate of long-term PTSD
isn’t what happened out there,
but the kind of society you come back to.
And maybe if you come back to a close, cohesive, tribal society,
you can get over trauma pretty quickly.
And if you come back to an alienating, modern society,
you might remain traumatized your entire life.
In other words, maybe the problem isn’t them, the vets;
maybe the problem is us.
Certainly, modern society is hard on the human psyche
by every metric that we have.
As wealth goes up in a society,
the suicide rate goes up instead of down.
If you live in modern society,
you’re up to eight times more likely
to suffer from depression in your lifetime
than if you live in a poor, agrarian society.
Modern society has probably produced the highest rates of suicide
抑郁 焦虑 孤独以及虐待儿童的比率
and depression and anxiety and loneliness and child abuse
ever in human history.
I saw one study
that compared women in Nigeria,
one of the most chaotic and violent and corrupt
and poorest countries in Africa,
to women in North America.
And the highest rates of depression were urban women in North America.
That was also the wealthiest group.
So let’s go back to the US military.
Ten percent are in combat.
Around 50 percent have filed for PTSD compensation.
所以大概 40% 的退伍老兵 并不是在海外受到精神创伤
So about 40 percent of veterans really were not traumatized overseas
but have come home to discover they are dangerously alienated
So what is happening with them?
What’s going on with those people,
the phantom 40 percent that are troubled but don’t understand why?
Maybe it’s this:
maybe they had an experience of sort of tribal closeness
in their unit when they were overseas.
They were eating together, sleeping together,
doing tasks and missions together.
They were trusting each other with their lives.
And then they come home
and they have to give all that up
and they’re coming back to a society, a modern society,
which is hard on people who weren’t even in the military.
It’s just hard on everybody.
And we keep focusing on trauma, PTSD.
But for a lot of these people,
maybe it’s not trauma.
我的意思是 当然了 士兵的确是受过精神创伤
I mean, certainly, soldiers are traumatized
and the ones who are have to be treated for that.
But a lot of them —
maybe what’s bothering them is actually a kind of alienation.
I mean, maybe we just have the wrong word for some of it,
and just changing our language, our understanding,
would help a little bit.
“Post-deployment alienation disorder.”
Maybe even just calling it that for some of these people
would allow them to stop imagining
trying to imagine a trauma that didn’t really happen
in order to explain a feeling that really is happening.
And in fact, it’s an extremely dangerous feeling.
That alienation and depression can lead to suicide.
These people are in danger.
It’s very important to understand why.
The Israeli military has a PTSD rate of around one percent.
The theory is that everyone in Israel is supposed to serve in the military.
When soldiers come back from the front line,
they’re not going from a military environment to a civilian environment.
They’re coming back to a community where everyone understands
about the military.
Everyone has been in it or is going to be in it.
Everyone understands the situation they’re all in.
It’s as if they’re all in one big tribe.
We know that if you take a lab rat
and traumatize it and put it in a cage by itself,
you can maintain its trauma symptoms almost indefinitely.
And if you take that same lab rat and put it in a cage with other rats,
after a couple of weeks, it’s pretty much OK.
the murder rate in New York City went down by 40 percent.
The suicide rate went down.
The violent crime rate in New York went down after 9/11.
甚至在之前战役中 饱受 PTSD 之苦的老兵都说
Even combat veterans of previous wars who suffered from PTSD
said that their symptoms went down after 9/11 happened.
The reason is that if you traumatize an entire society,
we don’t fall apart and turn on one another.
We come together. We unify.
Basically, we tribalize,
and that process of unifying feels so good and is so good for us,
that it even helps people
who are struggling with mental health issues.
During the blitz in London,
admissions to psychiatric wards went down during the bombings.
For a while, that was the kind of country
that American soldiers came back to — a unified country.
We were sticking together.
We were trying to understand the threat against us.
We were trying to help ourselves and the world.
But that has changed.
Now, American soldiers,
American veterans are coming back to a country that is so bitterly divided
that the two political parties are literally accusing each other
of treason, of being an enemy of the state,
of trying to undermine the security and the welfare of their own country.
The gap between rich and poor is the biggest it’s ever been.
It’s just getting worse.
Race relations are terrible.
There are demonstrations and even riots in the streets
because of racial injustice.
And veterans know that any tribe that treated itself that way — in fact,
any platoon that treated itself that way — would never survive.
We’ve gotten used to it.
Veterans have gone away and are coming back
and seeing their own country with fresh eyes.
And they see what’s going on.
This is the country they fought for.
No wonder they’re depressed.
No wonder they’re scared.
有的时候 我们问自己 是否能够拯救那些老兵
Sometimes, we ask ourselves if we can save the vets.
我反倒认为 真正的问题在于 我们能不能拯救我們的社會
I think the real question is if we can save ourselves.
If we can,
I think the vets are going to be fine.
It’s time for this country to unite,
if only to help the men and women who fought to protect us.
Thank you very much.