According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma” is defined as an emotional response to a terrible event. An example of that terrible event is war. Like many wars, the Vietnam War had its toll on the veterans, and Ehrhart relates his story in passing time. We can see vividly why the war was traumatic for him. The war was traumatic for him because the war was not what he had imagined it to be; both in-war, and post war. This eventually affected his temper management and his ability to trust people
The first traumatic effect the war had on Ehrhart, was the reality of war that dawned on him once he started fighting in the war. Usually, more often than not, trauma starts after the war. But Ehrhart’s trauma was so intense, that it started even while he was still fighting in the war. The first reality of war he experiences, is when the soldiers molest an old man, just because they suspect is he knows about the Vietnam rebels. The movies painted war as an act by the government, to give justice to those who deserve justice, and those who were to be punished, punished. When this reality dawned on Ehrhart, that the war wasn’t what the movies portrayed it to be, he was transformed from a vibrant teenager to an animal with just one instinct: surviving the war. To make the trauma worse, on returning from the war, Ehrhart was not given any welcome parade, instead he was plunged into anti-war society, which made him very paranoid. “Finding myself…, and having no idea what those guerilla theater mines might cook up for me if they once figured out who I was, I’d spent my first month at college trying to keep a low profile” (Ehrhart, 90) .The students did not make it any better, they bothered him with questions about the war, igniting memories of the war which he tries so hard not to remember.
Furthermore, Ehrhart felt he had to keep his emotions bottled up inside him. Most veterans always have a problem with sharing their emotions regarding the war experience with their family and loved ones. Some of them are able to work through this through the help of continuous psychiatry sessions while some never get out of the emotional toll. Ehrhart case was no different. When he falls in love with Pam, he never shares his traumatic experience of the war with her. And not only Pam but most other people he accompanies and gets intimate with. He feels they are people that have not fought in the war, and therefore could obviously not understand his ordeal in the war. He felt the best way to deal with his trauma is to keep his feelings about the war and his encountered horrors all bottled up inside of him. But on the contrary, Ehrhart succeeds in making the trauma worse for himself, as his trauma goes from bad to worse. His in ability to trust people with his traumatic war experience occasionally led to temper outbursts, usually directed at Pam; his girlfriend, who was one of the few people who really cared about him, and not like the others who saw him as a specimen. “… the surge of pent up emotions inside- fear, sadness, nervous exhilaration.- rising through me like a great wave on the ocean”(Ehrhart 90). Ehrhart lets us understand the feelings he had tried to repress for so long, the fear that he experienced during his nightmares, the sadness he felt when he concludes to himself that the war is indeed a mistake, the nervousness he feels as a Swarthmore student. It is not until he starts sharing his ordeal with people did the effect of the trauma lessen.
Another aspect of Ehrhart’s life that the war affected, was his temper management. This was not a direct trauma from the war, but it developed in Ehrhart’s character overtime. His theory that no one understands him, causes him to flare up at anyone who brings up the issue of the war, or talks about the war, or slightly provokes him. At different times in Ehrhart’s life, as is narrated in the book, Passing Time, Ehrhart loses his temper even in