Vietnam still haunts the American conscience. Not only did nearly 58,000 Americans die there, but—by some estimates—1.5 million veterans returned with war-induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This psychological syndrome, responsible for anxiety, depression, and a wide array of social pathologies, has never before been placed in historical context. Eric Dean does just that as he relates the psychological problems of veterans of the Vietnam War to the mental and readjustment problems experienced by veterans of the Civil War.
Employing a multidisciplinary approach that merges military, medical, and social history, Dean draws on individual case analyses and quantitative methods to trace the reactions of Civil War veterans to combat and death. He seeks to determine whether exuberant parades in the North and sectional adulation in the South helped to wash away memories of violence for the Civil War veteran. His extensive study reveals that Civil War veterans experienced severe persistent psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and flashbacks with resulting behaviors such as suicide, alcoholism, and domestic violence. By comparing Civil War and Vietnam veterans, Dean demonstrates that Vietnam vets did not suffer exceptionally in the number and degree of their psychiatric illnesses. The politics and culture of the times, Dean argues, were responsible for the claims of singularity for the suffering Vietnam veterans as well as for the development of the modern concept of PTSD.
This remarkable and moving book uncovers a hidden chapter of Civil War history and gives new meaning to the Vietnam War.