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Letter to the Editor
By Rashid Patch
Dear The Veteran,
I was shocked by a quote from Dr. Edward Tick in John Ketwig's review of Coming Home in Vietnam in the Fall 2022 issue of The Veteran. "The Vietnamese people don't experience PTSD. They know exactly why the war was fought, and why it was necessary. There is no guilt. They were defending their homeland against invaders, something they had done for many years.There is great sorrow, sadness, and loss, but those are different from PTSD." This statement is both bizarre and incredible.
While PTSD was first recognized in combat veterans, PTSD is a psycho/physiological response to trauma and shock. If you are picked up and flung forcibly against a wall, you experience trauma and possibly also shock. It does not matter what threw you against the wall. A bomb, a rocket attack, artillery fire, a gas leak in a kitchen, a tornado, an earthquake, a runaway truck striking the building, an enraged domestic partner, a home invasion robbery. Any of those could, and sometimes do induce PTSD.
It may be that emotional or psychological stress could increase the likelihood of inducing PTSD. It may be that being free of conflicting emotions could reduce that likelihood. However, young children and infants, without conflicting internal ideas, are also subject to PTSD. Pets and domestic animals exhibit PTSD.
It may well be that veterans in Vietnam feel less moral stress about their war service. It may well be that they have much better access to health and psychological care than US veterans do and that psycho-physiological disturbances are caught early and successfully treated, instead of ignored and allowed to proceed to debilitating PTSD. But if you are thrown against a wall and undergo shock, you have a high likelihood of developing PTSD, no matter what the reason you were thrown against the wall, and no matter what your ideology about what picked you up and threw you.
It is possible that experience in full-contact sports, like rugby, American football, boxing, or martial arts, may make you less likely to experience a shock reaction to physical trauma. A Judoka who has been thrown hundreds or thousands of times may hit the wall and bounce off, without being shocked or stunned, though they may be bruised. The same for football players—they've been hit and tackled, and even if they've broken bones, they do not readily go into shock. It is also possible that experience in mindfulness meditation may also lessen the likelihood of shock reaction, despite the trauma.
However, the physiological processes that can result in PTSD do not depend at all on motivation or mentation; and to claim that those physiological responses are absent from an entire nation is clearly false, and not so subtly racist.
To say, "The Vietnamese people don't experience PTSD," is quite akin to the racists of 1900 saying, "Asians / orientals / Africans / Hispanics / Jews / Eastern Europeans simply don't feel pain like we (white Europeans) do." It is profoundly racist. It is a claim that one ethnic group simply does not have the same neurological makeup of other humans, and is thus immune to maladies that "more sensitive peoples" suffer.
I don't know what Dr. Tick thinks qualifies as PTSD, but it seems very greatly different from the common understanding of the term.
I enlisted in USMC in 1966. Somehow I was never sent out of the USA. I connected with VVAW in 1971 in San Francisco when their offices were in a warehouse I had studio space in.