Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character

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Atheneum, 1994 - History - 246 pages
45 Reviews
The number of books on the Vietnam War is, by now, vast and varied. Until recently, however, there has been very little for the public to read about the psychological effect of that conflict on the men who fought in it. Gradually, it has come to be known that the combat veterans of Vietnam suffer, in appalling numbers, from what is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Indeed, of the three quarters of a million surviving combat veterans, one quarter of a million suffer from this disorder and the personal costs it imposes. (For a full discussion of PTSD and its symptoms, see the Introduction and Chapter 10.) In Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Jonathan Shay casts new, challenging, and irrefutable light on the lives of these men and the ravages of combat trauma on their minds and spirits. For many years, Dr. Shay has been the psychiatrist for a group of Vietnam veterans. In that time, he has come to see an overwhelming and undeniable similarity between their experiences and those of the soldiers in the Iliad; after all, this centuries-old epic is about soldiers in war and its disastrous consequences for their character. More specifically, the elements of Achilles story - the betrayal by his commander, the shrinking of his moral and social world to a small group of friends, the death of one or more of these comrades, the accompanying feelings of grief, guilt, and numbness followed by a "berserk" rage - are heard over and over in the stories of these men who were once soldiers and are still caught up in that old struggle. Drawing at length on these men's vivid and heart-rending words, as well as on Dr. Shay's own close, ingenious, and persuasive reading of Homer's classic story, Achillesin Vietnam has already been acclaimed by soldiers, writers, classicists, and psychiatrists. It should transform any and all future discussions of the Vietnam War.

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Review: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character

User Review  - Kim Hamblin - Goodreads

Three caveats: 1) This is not an easy read. 2) This book is not for everyone. 3) My rating and comments may well be biased because so much of what Shay has to say mirrors what I have encountered in my ... Read full review

Review: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character

User Review  - Cmacauley - Goodreads

I picked this up after hearing Jonathan Shay give a presentation in Washington. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Shay has used a brilliant medium for discussing the foundations of PTSD in combat ... Read full review


Betrayal of Whats Right
Shrinkage of the Social and Moral Horizon 2 3
Grief at the Death of a Special Comrade 3 9

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About the author (1994)

Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., is a staff psychiatrist in the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston. His patients are Vietnam combat veterans with severe, chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Visiting scholar-at-large at the U.S. Naval War College in 2001, Dr. Shay speaks frequently at the invitation of U.S. military services, universities, and colleges. He lives in the Boston area.

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