Consider War – The Sociological Imagination

In today’s media driven age, personal problems are often on full display. Lives are depicted through status updates, selfies and check ins. Whilst sometimes insignificant, the personal issues people raise could be an indication of a more public, community based problem.  C Wright Mills, author of “The Sociological Imagination”, discusses this concept in his body of work.

 

“Consider war,”(Mills, 2000) Mills says, “consider marriage.” (Mills, 2000) Both events hold personal meaning and present individual issues, but Mills suggests that these are simply an after effect, a result of a larger problem within society’s mainframe.  The ‘sociological imagination’ determines the relationship between personal and societal, between the individual and the wider community.  “Consider war. The personal problem of war… may be how to survive it or how to die in it with honor.” (Mills, 2000)  For the soldier, for the civilian caught in between, the issue the individual faces is survival. The structural issue, the public issue of war, in this regard, is its effect on the family institution, “with what types of men it throws up into command; with its effects upon economic and political…institutions.” (Mills, 2000)  The social issue of war directly influences upon the individual, creating the individual’s woes. “Consider marriage. Inside a marriage a man and a woman may experience personal troubles, but when the divorce rate during the first four years of marriage is 250 out of every 1,000 attempts, this is an indication of a structural issue having to do with the institutions of marriage and the family and other institutions that bear upon them.” (Mills, 2000) Again, the problems faced by the individual are indicative of a larger societal problem. Mills suggests that it is an issue of society that causes the individual woe and thus it is the larger picture that requires review, and alteration, if the problem is to be fixed.

 

I am the daughter of two veterans, one of which served in combat. At the completion of his twenty-two-years’ service, my father was medically and honourably discharged, but little did my family know, he had developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The man I had once known and loved, the carefree, spontaneous lover of life, the clown and hero, was not that man that came home to us. My father became withdrawn, he would wake from nightmares, and he was short of temper. This kind hearted soul became easily irritated and full of rage, not something mixed well with two hormonal teenage daughters. Soon my home environment became its own battleground, a place I tiptoed around on egg shells so as to avoid spiking his anger and irritation, to avoid gaining the attention of the man I had once rushed too to speak of any achievement and gain that coveted look of pride. For years, I don’t think I saw my father smile. A personal problem such as this effects everyone around them and my family strained under the pressure and eventually parted ways.  It took many years of treatment, acceptance, discussions and meetings to move on, for my family to come back together again. Though we are still broken, still separated, we are family yet again.

 

PTSD is a much larger problem then civilians understand. Whilst only 5% of the population may develop PTSD, 20% (Ikin, 2004) of the armed forces will. The official diagnosis was only recognised in the early 1980’s, yet it still holds a heavy stigma, both in society and in the military. “I asked for support several times which resulted in nil action and I began hiding my symptoms and lying about my recovery and ultimately attempted suicide which saw me admitted to hospital.” (A, Marin. 2002) The obvious statement is that the societal issue is the situation that soldiers are placed in. War is often a political or religious issue, but it is not war on which I will focus. I believe a further public issue lies within the treatment of veterans. Politically, veterans have served their purpose; they have acted on orders and completed their tasks, rendering them of little use to further the political campaign. This is when soldiers are cast aside, when they sign non-disclosures and their past, the events that led to their PTSD are classified, and the government washes their hands of them and their care. It is only after the statute is listed, that they are remembered, honoured or cleared. A number of years ago, when I was waiting in Centrelink, I watched as a Vietnam veteran had a flashback. In this small area with hundreds of people, with the squawking of mother’s at their children running wild, at the yelling of an unhappy patron, of the tears of an overwhelmed elder, in the heat of an oppressive Perth summer, stood this man. He had been there longer then I had, perhaps a few hours, and he snapped. The situation caused a flash back, he did not understand where he was, he did not understand that the person he grabbed and threw was a civilian, in his mind he was back in Vietnam, surrounded by the Viet-Cong and under fire. It took three security guards to subdue him. If the government had left the Department of Veteran Affairs to its own building, if it had not been combined with Centrelink, so that this veteran was forced to endure these conditions, these stresses, the event would not have occurred. My father’s own fight to obtain his pension, despite his honourably discharge, took a toll on himself and my family. The lack of understanding from the general public, even from the families of veterans who cannot possibly comprehend the terror they have endured, makes for a difficult life.

 

PTSD is still a hidden mental disorder, the stigma that surrounds it pervades deep within our culture, fueled by the government, a lack of education, understanding and effective treatment. Shame surrounds it, both within the military and civilian communities. As C Wright Mills explains in “The Sociological Imagination”, whilst a soldier may suffer, whilst this may be their personal issue, it is indicative of a wider community problem. Society needs to change in order to alleviate the individual of their pain, fear and struggle.

 

 

Reference List

  • Bale, J. 2014. PTSD and Stigma in the Australian Army. Army Research Paper, no. 3. Australia.
  • Dhavale, G. 2016. Examples of Sociological Imagination. Buzzle. Web.
  • Ikin, J. F., Sim, M. R., Creamer, M. C., Forbes, A. B., McKenzie, D. P., Kelsall, H. L., . . . Schwarz, H. 2004. War-related psychological stressors and risk of psychological disorders in Australian veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. British Journal of Psychiatry, V. 185, Pg 116-126. Australia
  • Marin, A. 2002. Systemic treatment of CF members with PTSD, Canadian Ombudsman report. Canada
  • Mills, C W 2000, The sociological imagination, Oxford University Press, London.
  • O’Toole, B. I., Marshall, R. P., Grayson, D. A., Schureck, R. J., Dobson, M., Ffrench, M., . . . Vennard, J. 1996. Psychological health of Australian Vietnam veterans and its relationship to combat. International Journal of Epidemiology, The Australian Vietnam veterans health study: III. V. 25, Pg 331-339. Australia.
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