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The Wounds of our Warriors

Just because one cannot see wounds does not mean they are not there. Pamela Moss and Michael J. Prince analyze war-derived psychological trauma in their co-authored volume, Weary Warriors: Power, Knowledge, and the Invisible Wounds of Soldiers. Following, the authors share their personal backgrounds and further insight into their volume.




How were you drawn to the topic of invisible wounds of combatants?


Michael J. Prince: In a personal way, my interest in the subject of weary warriors comes from being the son of a Second World War veteran. My father served in the Royal Canadian Air Force overseas as flying officer, wireless operator and air gunner, so I grew up in a family in which these topics were, at times, discussed. In a professional way, my work on developments in welfare states highlighted the significant place of wars, soldiers, and veterans in the struggles around the formation of social programs.


Pamela Moss: I came to the topic through my interest in ill bodies. Chronic, fluctuating illness fascinates me – a lot of the time you look fine but feel poorly, sometimes you look lousy and feel okay, and sometimes you simply can’t function so who care what you look like. For me, there seemed to be an overlap between the work I was doing with women’s experiences of Myalgic encephalomyelitis and with some forms of trauma that soldiers and veterans seem to experience. Those chronic illnesses that challenge medical and psychiatric practitioners while at the same being marginalized within an institution like the military or psychiatry as a biomedical practice, such as shell shock, battle fatigue, PTSD, makes for an even more intriguing inquiry into how do you get sick and what counts as illness. What it means for soldiers is that doing your job comes with a risk of developing a condition that puzzles psychiatrists and ostracizes you both in the military and in society.


What makes this subject so compelling?


MP & PM: The topic’s undeniable intensity is evident from the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the peacekeeping missions of recent decades, and the legacies of Viet Nam, Korea and the world wars. Calling on young women and men to lay down their life for a country’s politics has been a rallying cry for some time. Publishing death counts and reporting deaths are one way to keep alive the idea that real bodies are part of the war. But sometimes the numbers erase the humanity underlying them. PTSD does help keep the public aware of the human costs of war. We all know someone or know of someone who has been affected by the emotional trauma endured by soldiers from a war. We need only to open our eyes, for the dying do walk among us.


What we also have found is that the events, debates, lessons, and power struggles over understanding traumatized soldiers’ bodies can either seemingly remain the same and persist over a long period of time or they can momentarily emerge as both unique and earthshattering and fade from existence overnight only to be taken up decades later. Such a subject matter is multidisciplinary: The book examines military psychiatry, the medical care and psychology of veterans, diagnosis as part of defining war neuroses, the sociology of the military, and cultural representations of the weary warrior in film, television, and literature.


You mention television, can you say a little more about that?


MP & PM: Television is a medium through which many stories about soldiers and psychological trauma get told. We see a lot of examples today, particularly in various episodes of crime dramas and also through a handful of characters scattered across different network shows. Earlier, however, one of the most popular shows, if not the most popular one, on American television in the 1980s featured four veterans as the main characters, all of whom were dealing with different intensities of trauma from their own war experience—Magnum, PI. The rhythm of the show over a season would showcase perhaps three or four episodes that had as a primary storyline delayed stress or battle fatigue. The show was premised on the integration of veterans into so-called regular society. Infused into the overall structure of the narrative were war heroes, ill bodies, and veteran support systems—all of which were part of the fabric of the life of a post-deployed Navy officer making a go of it as a private investigator. Of course, many of the challenges of day to day living were minimized. Yet the notion that someone can be struggling years after active service and still be an attractive, happy go-lucky, fun-loving kind of normal guy was tremendously different than the marred buddy in film noir that populated cinematic representations of the returning Second World War veteran.


How is Michel Foucault relevant to your critical analysis?


MP & PM: We have drawn on the growing area of Foucault studies based prominently in history, philosophy, political science, and women’s studies. Alongside students and scholars in these fields, we share an interest in psychiatry and trauma and in the subjectivity of embodied individuals in pain and distress. Like Foucault, we are not primarily interested in how power plays out in one tightly delineated relationship; rather, we are interested in the way in which force relations interact with multiple elements that come together to produce emotionally and psychologically traumatized soldiers, including things like the screening and training of recruits, the spatial organization of field hospitals used to treat combat nerves, and putting into place post-deployment programs for support.


How does a feminist poststructuralist approach relate to studying the military and combat trauma?


MP & PM: Poststructural feminists have been particularly effective in addressing the complexities of how power works to produce subjects. They are attentive to various fleshed, emotional, and psychic aspects of specific bodies within complex contexts where institutional and structural relations function to restrict and contain as well as facilitate and enable how these bodies act including how they respond to their environments. These kinds of ideas break open what weary warriors are and how those warriors come into being. Once we unsnarl the knots that have produced traumatized soldiers as ill in the way they are ill and re-entangle lines of thinking that have been submerged or left out of the way we think about ill soldiers who have endured deep emotional and psychological distress are thought, we all can begin to act differently.


What might veterans take away from reading Weary Warriors?


MP & PM: Veterans from both recent and distant battlesmay take away from Weary Warriors a deeper appreciation of how distinctions between the well soldier and the ill soldier are established and how they play out over time and in different conflicts. We hope that veterans can locate their own experiences and struggles in relation to our discussion on how culture works to produce a particular type of ill body as the quintessential war neurotic as well as how soldiers might find support institutionally within and outside the military and after discharge into civilian life. We also think that veterans’ partners and other family members might find the book useful in a number of ways including, for example, understanding the various methods traumatized soldiers are treated post deployment or working with organizations representing veterans to assist in making claims to state organizations and medical institutions.


Non-veterans, too, have a place in all this. Weary warriors need to be taking up their places within society, at home, and in their lives without being marked with a ostracizing mental illness, while feeling alive and ready to engage in living every single day, and having ample and appropriate support to reduce suffering. Non-veterans need to work toward making this happen.




Pamela Moss is a Professor in Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She co-authored with Isabel Dyck of Women, Body, Illness (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), edited with Katherine Teghtsoonian Contesting Illness (University of Toronto Press, 2008), and wrote and edited with Karen Falconer Al-Hindi Feminisms in Geography (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008). She is working on a book manuscript about women’s tired bodies entitled Fatigue.


Michael J. Prince is Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He is author of Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2009), author and co-editor with Glen Toner and Leslie Pal of Policy: From Ideas to Implementation (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010), co-author with Bruce Doern of Three Bio-Realms (University of Toronto Press, 2012), and co-author with James Rice of Changing Politics of Canadian Social Policy, 2nd edition (University of Toronto Press, 2013).