Much has been said about the craziness in our political system, these past few years…both sides alleging the other is evil, or crazy, or illogical, or racist, or sexist, etc etc. From the outside looking in, it seems our country is imploding from within, with countrymen and countrywoman fighting countrymen and countrywomen. It’s a melee of political fury, fueled by the relentless (or so it seems) energy being generated by a groundswell of anger.
People say the anger is about disenfranchisement, or about racism, or about male privilege, or about the mistreatment of women, etc. etc. And, all of these concepts, and the emotions they represent, are important, necessary, and relevant. Many of these ‘wrongs’ have been a concern for decades, with festering resentment due to the fact that they were never ‘righted.’ However, they are as intense and aggressive as they are, at this point, due to a larger problem.
What is that problem?
To understand the problem, first we must digress to what seems to be a completely unrelated topic. But the reader must trust that it will all make sense in a little bit, and it is quite possible that what will be revealed will resonate with what the reader has already been thinking. So here we go.
9/11. A moment in time that will be part of this country’s history, and part of the history of the world, for as long as history is recorded. It is the Trojan Horse story of our time. And there is no need to go into gory detail about what happened; it is a well-known fact. There are probably few people in this great country who do not know the significance of that date, and I dare say there are probably a lot of people, outside of our land, who also know this date. A small, rather insignificant entity, focused on channeling the hate of thousands of its’ followers, succeeded in dealing a harsh blow to the innards of the most powerful country in the world. The damage was significant; two of our grandest buildings reduced to rubble, massive devastation in the surrounding area, and even more significantly, thousands of our countrymen and countrywomen stolen from us, devastating families, workplaces, and communities. The lost, in lives, and assets, was tremendous. And, the toll continues to mount, as first-responders continue to die from illnesses contracted while working the scene, doing the dirty work to help us recover from the single worst domestic terror incident ever to have occurred on this great land. There is no way that anyone could argue, sanely, that this day did not have a huge and long-term impact on our nation and its occupants.
What followed, and continues to follow, has been a series of actions to address this ripping of so many loved ones from our lives, and this horrific intrusion on our national safety and security. The mastermind of the attack, Osama Bin Laden, is now with his maker, thanks to us. Many of his fellow henchmen have joined him in the great thereafter, wherever that is. And, we have gone to the source, and tens of thousands by tens of thousands of our servicewomen and servicemen have taken the fight to the Middle East; the origin of much of the hate that fuels the relentless aggression directed our way. We have unleashed countless bouts of fury on our enemies, laying waste to their holdings and killing thousands of enemy combatants.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a term that was not even around until about 30 or so years ago. Now, it is part of our daily vocabulary. If you want the technical definition, you can google it, but the basics are this: You are either witness to a trauma directly (i.e., you see someone die), or you hear about it happening to someone very close to you, or you have it happen directly to you. It becomes burned in your brain, and your brain repeatedly reminds you of it, through dreams and flashes of memories related to it (smells, sounds, tastes, etc.), causing you panic attacks or unbearable anxiety. You slowly learn the connection between the flashes of memory and the resulting panic attacks, so you start to protect yourself by avoiding things that will ‘trigger’ you. You stop going out, you socially withdraw, you detach emotionally, and you stop being open and trusting. You feel empty or ‘dead inside.’ You can only feel ‘extremes’ in emotions, such as anger, and that ends up being how people experience you. You don’t sleep well, you never feel safe, you watch your surroundings, and you have a hair-thin trigger for any threat. People experience you as a stubborn, inflexible, intimidating, angry, and aggressive person. And so you are…because all you are, at that point, is your defenses, and defenses tend to be, well, impenetrable. But from your point of view, there is no question that you MUST be that way in order to insure your survival. The defenses are not optional.
Working in the field I do, seeing veteran after veteran, I have come to see a pattern. Veterans, before and after a war, are two different versions of themselves. Before, they tell me how they were the life of the party, or a very integral part of their family; a loved and cherished member of society with close ties with those they loved, and a sense of being important and valued by those they loved. Afterwards, they hear, over and over, that they are not the same person, and that they are now an ‘asshole.’ Marriages end, relationships end, family members ostracize the veteran, friends fade away, and the veteran ends up alone and depressed, with no idea why this has all been happening. 22 a day kill themselves. It is so very sad.
And here we are, America. Here we are.
18 years and some months after 9/11, we are a nation in emotional turmoil. It is sister upon sister, brother upon brother, politician upon politician. And in this paranoid, divisive environment, the ‘cream’ that rises to the top will be the people who operate best in such turmoil and chaos. Warriors. Fighters.
One thing that happens whenever a person develops PTSD and then decides who is to blame for that PTSD, is that they then become very focused on going after whatever it is that they feel caused their PTSD. And, in order to not be frustrated or thwarted in their campaign against the ‘enemy,’ they quickly learn to put a particular ‘spin’ on the situation that makes it clear that they are the ‘good guy’ and the other side is the ‘bad guy.’ Further, because they are the ‘good guy,’ their motives are above reproach, and their aggressive actions are not assault or abuse, or murder, but rather nothing more than self-defense. The problem is, both sides are thinking the same thing; both sides think the other side are murders and abusers.
Not only do we see this in the wars we have been fighting, continuously, for the past 19 years, but we also see it in our politics. Politicians have become more aggressive, it seems, and uglier. Character assassination, which has always been one of the most aggressive social behaviors one can engage in, has become common-place. It used to be that we only used this in extreme cases, but now, it seems to be the ‘go to’ way that one fights back when attacked. And, those who avoid this approach are quickly swept away by the ones who are full-throatily using this approach. Politics has become about who can assassinate the character of someone better than anyone else.
And, it is not only in politics. Character assassination is now the weapon of choice for a large swath of our population. While before we tried to find the good in people, now we are trying to find the bad in people, and then spin it into the worst possible version, for maximum effect. Lives have been destroyed, careers ruined, families devastated. We are destroying ourselves from within, in our search for the ‘bad buy.’
And so, it is my conclusion that this is a nation with PTSD. Because of the chronic feeling of unsafety that 9/11 so effectively created, we now are turning on each other in a relentless pursuit of a feeling of safety. Which we will never get. Not this way. Destroying each other.