In their book The Empire of Trauma, Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman ask, "[W]hen we consider the soldier suffering from nightmares and flashbacks as psychologically wounded rather than as a malingerer or a hero, what does this view of war and those who participate in it tell us," (2009: 8)? Taking inspiration from their question, I consider the political and ethical consequences of shifting understandings of the trauma of soldiers for how an American public might come to know and understand U.S. wars-past and present. I recuperate a different reading of the emergence of PTSD in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, exploring an understanding of (soldier) trauma that, I argue, preceded trauma's equation with victimhood. I then turn to the post-9/11 wars and examine the ways in which the trauma of (U.S.) soldiers has come to be understood and that "we" as "American civilians" are called upon to recognize and bear responsibility for the psychological suffering of those sent off to war in "our name."
Nadia Abu El-Haj, Professor of Anthropology & Co-Director of the Center for Palestine Studies, Columbia University.