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June 2019

Book: Tribe

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While the term is new, the symptoms of the disease have long been known, mostly to specialists, but also to the public – either through minor investigative journalistic research, by discovering the manifestations while caring for someone that is going through this, or by word of mouth (especially if living in areas where veterans also live). Today it is known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, but you might be familiar with it as shell shock, battle fatigue or soldier’s heart.
It has been noticed since WWI (probably even before than, but hasn’t been officially recorded until then) – where soldiers that were on the front lines have had an inability to re-enter civilian life in times of peace, experiencing severe mood swings, restlessness, lack of sleep and other psychiatric symptoms so severe that has been a leading cause in suicides among veterans.
While all nations have experienced it in all of their combats, it does seem to spike in American soldiers coming from Wars that were fought on foreign land. While soldiers in France and Great Britain that had it after the war would go on to rebuilding the buildings and infrastructure that were bombed during the war, giving them a sense of purpose and a common goal. American soldiers on the other hand returned on jet engines to a society that has not been affected by war. Merely hours from wearing full combat gear in trenches with mortars flying over head, to cruising streets in civilian gear being tortured by backfiring exhausts pipes and loose manholes that those of us that haven’t seen warfare have long ago discarded as white noise.
And this is exactly what the book is about – how the re-entering of soldiers in civilian life should be done gradually and should include a specific set of activities that would reinforce one’s purpose and ability in being useful to society. Following a series of Native American traditional customs, where people in villages were grouped into warriors, farmers, and other ocupations and had to follow strict rules for each “job descriptions”. Warriors for example were prohibited from entering the village right after the war had ended and had to go through a process of reacquainting themselves with life in times of peace – even their duties after combat changed in order to better allow them to adapt while living with what they have seen and lived through.
While the book takes what some people call a macho approach, and there is evidence to support that, it does show that the current system in dealing with veterans (usually young people that have signed for combat in high school and therefore are still extremely impressionable, but with significant numbers in all age and gender demographics) is not helping, or not helping fast enough, the high number of soldiers that are committing suicide after they return home. Ferm and well documented, Sebastian Hunger portrays a modern problem that needs to capture attention and support in order to overcome it – a war journalist, that has experienced his fair share of violent encounters, helping his colleagues, the soldiers he followed in war, in overcoming the solitude of civilian life by giving them what kept them sane for so long through the hell they went through, comradeship.