Essay on Psychological Impact of the Vietnam War

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Psychological Impact of the Vietnam War
“It begins with an event in which the individual is threatened with his or her own death or the destruction of a body part, to such humiliation that their personal identity may be lost” (Howell-Koehler, Nancy). There are many psychological illnesses that be created when a person’s life is threatened. The most widely known is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with guilt, flashbacks, hallucinations, and suicide falling under its most common side effects. With 30% of all Vietnam veterans experiencing PTSD (National Veterans’ Readjustment Study). The veterans who experienced PTSD would have a hard time getting back to normal life, finding a job, and are more susceptible to suicide. The nature of war depends on the location and events, the Vietnam War pushed those to extremes. In return, the Vietnam War impacted the veterans psychologically.
Guilt is one of the psychological effects of the war. The definition of guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined ( As many as 1.6 million military personnel fought in combat, provided close support or were at least fairly regularly exposed to enemy attack (Vietnam War Statistics). Out of the 1.6 million military personnel, 800,000 felt guilty for their actions in Vietnam (Fincher). “Can a person kill 50 enemies, come home, sit at a desk, and go on working as if nothing ever happened?” (quoted anonymously in “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”). Many soldiers had a hard time getting back to a normal life after what they experienced in Vietnam. Many could not forgive themselves for their actions and most felt guilty for not being able to save one of their friends or another soldier. They experienced an event in life most do not get to experience, leaving them alone with their own thoughts. Those thoughts eventually led to them rethink every situation on how they could have saved a person’s life. They felt as if they could have done more to save the person. This led to survivor guilt.
Survivor guilt also affected many veterans. The definition of survivor guilt is feeling guilt for having survived a catastrophe in which others died ( “In my case, I first experienced guilt when I arrived home from the war in mid 1966. I felt guilty, because I had left my best friends, my brothers, behind to fight and die, while I was safe at home in the real world. I felt that I had betrayed the only people who I could really trust, entrust my life to and whose lives were entrusted to me” (Bob Neener). Many thought that it was their fault for their fellow soldier’s death and many wondered why they had survived while the ones who had families to return to did not survive. “Why did I, with no wife, no kids, make it out alive when my friends who had wives and kids didn’t” (anonymous quote in “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”). They also felt guilty for being able to return home and most believed that they did not deserve to live and that they should have had been the ones to die in Vietnam. In most cases they had blamed themselves for surviving. The images often play in the veterans head; while he asks himself what else could have he or she done to save the person. This led to flashbacks and hallucinations.
Flashbacks and hallucinations affected many veterans. “A hallucination is a fact, not an error” (quoted anonymously in “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”). Within the last 5 years, 13%-20% still suffer from hallucinations and flashbacks from the war (Ibid). These occurrences can make the veteran feel as if they are back in Vietnam, with all the emotions to come with it. One veteran shared his experience, “I often have auditory flashbacks: I hear the jet engine whistle. When I see a helicopter, I smell the JP4, the fuel” (Ibid). Even though they had left Vietnam, many still felt like they were fighting in the war, but this time the war was against