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Pentagon's Advice to Traumatized Veterans: Think Happy Thoughts!

Hey, all you quitters and whiners: If it’s bad and it hurts, you have to try harder, have faith, and above all, think positive!

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“Positive psychology programs show only modest effects in school settings and military situations pose considerably more challenge.  

There's a long tradition in the military of searching for the elusive “bullet-proof mind,” or “psychological Kevlar.”  When those efforts have failed, as they consistently have, there's an equally long tradition of finding ways to make sure it is the individual soldier, and not the system, who takes the blame.

This new magic the Army has bought comes in a very pretty package. Some people obviously do grow through challenging experiences, and a positive attitude, optimism even, can affect the way individuals care for themselves, their families and friends, their careers and their communities.  

But the effect can also go the other way. Rightly or wrongly, traumatic experiences leave many people devastated and enraged. Telling them to exorcize their real feeling and substitute positive or optimistic feelings about what they are enduring or have endured feeds what Ehrenreich calls a “mindless triumphalism of ‘survivorhood’ that “denigrates the dead and the dying."

And who can really defend -- and on what grounds -- teaching anyone to feel good about the horror they have experienced in combat. What has happened to our traumatized soldiers is NOT OKAY. They have been seriously, often lethally, injured.

“It’s a mistake to try to turn your anger and resentment and sadness or grief into something else,” Ehrenriech told Amy Goodman in October. “It’s very bad to try to just plaster on a smiley face. 



Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her latest book, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War , was released on Memorial Day, 2006. Her Web site is Flashback.

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