A Century of Trauma, Part 2: How Each War Affected America’s Trauma

Henry Lang came to Downton Abbey to take over as the Valet to the Lord Grantham when the Lord’s previous valet had to leave suddenly. This fictional account of a household of the English aristocracy is originally set during the early days of World War 1. The writers of Downton Abbey researched how the war affected different individuals in England. Lang’s short time at the Abbey is one of the most sublime.

Lang had to leave the war because of a condition we now call PTSD. At the time, it had various names: Shell shock, soldier’s heart, war neurosis, and Combat Fatigue. The general population did not treat these soldiers well. They were often considered cowards and treated like lesser humans.

Lang came to the Abbey and at first everyone was impressed by his skill set as a valet. But quickly he showed signs of emotional deterioration. What made it difficult for Lang is the Abbey was being used to convalesce injured officers. Eventually Lang collapsed emotionally after seeing too many wounds and groaning soliders, and he left the Abbey in shame. Nothing more is said of him for the entire series.

This poignant portrayal of a character is accurately written. It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million.

It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million. Click To Tweet

According to David J. Morris writing in The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Over half a million men were permanently evacuated from the fighting for psychiatric reasons, enough to man fifty combat divisions.” And though many of them were sent to mental institutions, they were not treated with any compassion.

David J. Morris

Despite its prevalence, shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.

Smithsonian Magazine also notes that they used horrific methods to wake up the soldiers from their internal nightmare:

Dr. Yealland asserted that his treatment cured all the most common “hysterical disorders of warfare”—the shaking and trembling and stammering, the paralysis and disorders of speech—sometimes in a single suspect half-hour session. Electric heat baths, milk diets, hypnotism, clamps and machines that mechanically forced stubborn limbs out of their frozen position were other strategies. As the war settled in, and shell shock—both commotional and emotional—became recognized as one of its primary afflictions, treatment became more sympathetic.

Even more tragic are some of the therapies adopted by American therapists. Many of them believed these soldiers needed to be shocked back to reality with a “hair of the dog” approach. Therapists kept these patients awake for days at a time. They re-enacted scenes of loud noises, flashing lights, and people falling down around them. The most heinous methods involved beating their bodies with sticks and hoses. One account says they used what we now call water-boarding to “wake up the dreary warriors.”

The WW1 soldiers drank heavily and commited domestic violence as they suffered through angst and depression. The roots for the American obsession with opiates trace their origin to the first world war and the untreated soldiers who came home with their PTSD pain untreated.

Why were these soldiers treated so starkly with so little empathic response? It was because not EVERY soldier returned with PTSD symptoms. Doctors and family members noticed that though most of the soldiers came home with the same stories about their experiences, only some of them showed the outward symptoms we associate with PTSD. Thus, people concluded that those soldiers with trauma symptoms had moral deficiencies.

Many of those with PTSD didn’t show the more notorious symptoms. They simply suffered in silence. But what is generally agreed is that whether each soldier had PTSD or not, most of them came back and medicated their pain. Whether through drugs or alcohol, whether with angry outbursts or isolation, the American society was shaken by a generation of men who were not the same as when they left.

This is the pattern we’re noting in this series of articles. War changes those who fight it. PTSD affects such a high percentage of them, even if they don’t show outward symptoms that others notice. And trauma sufferers affect their families in many negative ways. Thus, since we have four straight generations where war has affected the families of America, there are few family lines in our country not devastated by trauma.

Thus, since we have four straight generations where war has affected the families of America, there are few family lines in our country not devastated by trauma. Click To Tweet

We call this effect “Secondary Trauma”. Any individual who has had to live with someone suffering Primary trauma–which I contend is the majority of those who fight in war–will suffer some lesser forms of trauma themselves. If the primary trauma sufferer is violent, an alcoholic, or drug addict, many of their family members suffer Primary trauma themselves.

Since this has been occuring for four straight generations, it explains many of our societal ills. We will discuss that in a later article.

The trauma from the first world war went mostly untreated. And if it was treated, the treatments did not bring release and healing to those who suffered. But it didn’t stop there.

Just a dozen years after the end of World War 1, America experienced its worst recession in history. The impact on people recovering from the PTSD of WW1 was disheartening. In the first three years of the Great Depression, suicide rates jumped 20%. People were depressed, full of anxiety, given to violence, drinking, and drugs. In short, they experienced all the same symptoms of PTSD the soldiers did coming home from war.

At the end of the Depression, the US population was just eight years away from entering into the Second World War. I want the reader to consider what that must have been like. Millions of soldiers and their families had untreated PTSD from WW1. Then, just as the children of those soldiers reached teen years, they faced the PTSD as the result of the Great Depression. Before they even grew much older, these same teens were being sent to Europe and Asia to fight a war which was practically designed to create PTSD.

Millions of soldiers and their families had untreated PTSD from WW1. Then, just as the children of those soldiers reached teen years, they faced the PTSD as the result of the Great Depression. Click To Tweet

We call the ones who survived all of that trauma “The Greatest Generation”. As a whole, they were fortunate to survive at all. The ones who did not die or who were not institutionalized were still forever changed by what happened to them. Many of them were forced to serve in the second world war, or volunteered to do so. That started another round of PTSD and severe trauma.

As many as a million men may have returned from this war with PTSD. Almost all of them in combat situations suffered trauma. This is where the nation experienced a curious reaction to the soldiers. For the first time, the psychiatric/psychological community began to see these soldiers as emotionally damaged. And, for the first time, they were not shunned from society when they returned. They were hailed as heroes because of their service. And, since hospitals were no longer torturing them through treatment processes, some soldiers actually received help.

In 1952, a group of psychiatrists working for the APA developed a glossary of terms to describe psychological ailments and disorders. It was called the DSM. In that first volume, they identified a condition called “Gross Stress Reaction”. They recognized this as a disorder related to soldiers in particular. This is part of that diagnostical description:

This diagnosis is justified only in situations in which the individual has
been exposed to severe physical demands or extreme emotional stress, such
as in combat or in civilian catastrophe (fire, earthquake, explosion, etc.).
In many instances this diagnosis applies to previously more or less “normal”
persons who have experienced intolerable stress

Diagnostical and Statistical Manual, 1952

This “intolerable stress” was now definable and discernible by the medical community. But, because it was so new, very few soldiers benefited from treatment.

The television show MASH, set in the Korean War, highlights some of the changing attitudes toward PTSD. Several of their guest characters suffer this gross stress reaction and are sent home or treated in hospital. At the same time, some of the show’s recurring characters, such as Majors Frank Burns and Margaret Hoolihan, considered these men to be slackers and fakers.

Most military leaders were of the same opinion.

The soldiers who came home from WW2 gave birth to the baby boom generation. At the same time, they developed the largest alcoholic problem in history. More men suffered from alcohol addiction than at any other time before or since in America. With this alcohol dependency came violence, abuse, broken marriages, and broken bodies.

The soldiers who came home from WW2 gave birth to the baby boom generation. At the same time, they developed the largest alcoholic problem in history. More men suffered from alcohol addiction than at any other time before or since in… Click To Tweet

The women in these marriages were prescribed tranquilizers to help them cope. There are estimates that between 50-6o% of married women were consuming tranquilizers during the 1950s, most notably Miltown, Librium, and Valium. Together, these drugs were dubbed “Mommy’s Little Helpers”.

Unfortunately, the children of these gorked-out women and drunk, violent men could not be prescribed pills. Instead, they “medicated” with cannabis and alcohol themselves, creating a host of 1960s drug and alcohol addicts. Many of these young men were then sent to Vietnam where they were introduced to even harder drugs.

Though it is impossible to accurately count, between 1-1.5 million soldiers experienced some kind of battle conditions during the Vietnam War. Since it is virtually assured that anyone who undergoes combat situations endures some kind of trauma, these people brought this trauma back stateside when they returned home. If their numbers correlate to the numbers in other wars, perhaps 200,000-400,000 of these trauma sufferers returned home with PTSD.

Today, if you walk the streets of any major American city, you will find that a sizable minority of the homeless are vietnam veterans. Most of these have PTSD. You will also find these people populating VA psych centers, drug and alcohol rehab centers, and any other place where those with mental illness reside.

According to the National Vietnam Veterans Study, a government-led study of those who suffered trauma in the Vietnam War, a sizable minority of the soldiers still are affected by PTSD to this day. Here is their conclusion:

While NVVLS findings confirm that the majority of Vietnam theater Veterans are both mentally and physically healthy, a significant number are still suffering from PTSD symptoms and other chronic health issues related to their service.

National Vietnam Veterans Study

Over the years, how has the Military and the VA responded to this horrific toll on human life? They have sought to cover it up. As one psychiatrist at Fort Bragg told me “The Army has no use for those with mental illness. And we cannot afford to admit we caused it. That would cost too much.”

A study done by Yale University in 2018 concluded that there is significant evidence the Army has pressured non-governmental institutions to deny the effects of PTSD. Though the original DSM had a listing for war-induced PTSD, the second edition which came out during the Vietnam War removed it. According to the April 16, 2018 study published in the magazine “Chronic Stress“, the APA was ordered to eliminate all mention of combat-induced mental illnesses in the DSM-2. Recently released documents confirm the Army felt it would harm the morale of the troops.

A similar thing was done at the end of World War 2. Famous director John Huston created a documentary called “Let There Be Light” where he chronicled the almost 20% of soldiers who had PTSD from the war. The Army successfully blocked the release of this movie until 1981. At the time, they claimed it was to protect the privacy of the soldiers. But this has been shown to be completely false. It was to bolster the Military’s ability to recruit more soldiers.

Since the Vietnam war, we have experienced both Gulf Wars, wars in Afghanistan, Syria, the former Yugoslavia, and various peacekeeping flare-ups. One estimate is we have had another 2,000,000 soldiers coming home with some form of trauma.

One thing is clear from the overwhelming data and research: The U.S. Government and specifically the U.S. Military are quite aware of the psychological damage that war does to its soldiers. As I have read over 200 articles and 4 books on this subject, I come to a further conclusion: Because war PTSD has gone unrecognized and untreated for four consecutive generations, America has suffered completely from national PTSD, the likes of which few nations have ever faced.

Because war PTSD has gone unrecognized and untreated for four consecutive generations, America has suffered completely from national PTSD, the likes of which few nations have ever faced. Click To Tweet

In the next article, I want to show how this PTSD both affected and was treated by an institution which should have come to the aid of the wounded: The Church.

Instead of aiding the fight against the ravages of PTSD, the church has made it a lot worse.


My Struggle to Believe in a Bible Without Errors

I have believed in the doctrine of Inerrancy at various times during my 50 years as a follower of Christ. But I can’t say I have always believed it. For me, the evidence that this doctrine is true gets slimmer as time passes.

I want to make this clear: I am not trying to convince anyone. This is just my journey. This article may help others who are in situations where they cannot express their doubts about Inerrancy and still maintain relationships with other Christians of their tribe.

Just so you know. You can believe whatever you want. These are my struggles.

This morning, I texted my wife and asked if she would read Numbers 31 again. I suggested she read it as if she was not a follower of Christ, and not someone with a high opinion of the Bible. As we digested its contents together, we realized it was saying that God had ORDERED the Israelites to:

  1. Kill all the Midianite boys
  2. Make all the virgin girls their sex slaves
  3. Kill all the women who had sex before
  4. Kill all the men
  5. Set fire to all their towns
  6. Reward the most violent soldiers with more spoils from the massacre.

Get your head around these stated “facts”: God commanded sex slavery. God commanded slaughter of children.

Get your head around these stated "facts": God commanded sex slavery. God commanded slaughter of children. Click To Tweet Continue reading “My Struggle to Believe in a Bible Without Errors”

The Six Stages of Deconstruction

(This 2004 article appeared in its original form on the MTPastor blogger site I used to manage. The number of people experiencing Deconstruction has greatly increased since then. I decided it could use an overhaul).

“Tearing things apart is a powerful aspect of human nature.”

–Patti Smith

Greg and I had gone to high school together. We attended the same church and youth group. We graduated Bible College together and were ordained within a few months of each other. We genuinely liked each other.

So why did I want to punch him in the face?

I was just beginning to Deconstruct.

It was 1983 and my wife and I were at the national Congress of our Canadian denomination. The big issue being debated was whether women would be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in churches. For two years I had passionately advocated for full inclusion of women into ministry leadership positions. I had done my homework and was ready with all the theological arguments. I was ready to tear down the arguments of the Complementarians. I was even the person who brought the proposal to the committee which introduced the measure.

I had no idea Greg would make a complete ass of himself. I had no idea it would throw me into such an emotional tailspin.

He didn’t address the doctrinal issues. He didn’t appeal to historical precedent or denominational practices. He simply said: “Everyone here knows if we do this it will tear apart the church and God’s judgment will come on us all.”

With that, he was able to sway enough people to defeat the motion.

At that moment, I wrestled with whether to leave that denomination. They had already refused to ordain my wife at the same time as me the summer before. I had thought I would quit then, but she talked me out of it. When two of my close female friends from college had moved to a different denomination so they would be allowed to preach, I wondered why I was staying. Again, my wife talked me out of leaving.

When Greg used his scare tactic to convince thousands to make this decision, I actually decided to stay. But I was no longer, in my mind, part of the mainstream. I was tearing down the “good old boy, just stick with the majority” approach.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning what it means to deconstruct. Continue reading “The Six Stages of Deconstruction”

Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons

The 45 college-aged students were stunned and frightened. Some were weeping, and others were so angry they balled up their fists and held their breath. They looked around as if they were about to be the next victim in a Hallowe’en movie. “Jumpy” describes their mood. Some of them reported weeks later they had not had a good night’s sleep since that horrific weekend.

Was this a murder mystery experience? Did they just do a horror movie marathon? Or did they really experience a supernatural phenomenon?

Actually, none of those things happened. They went on a college-and-career church retreat with their church. They invited a group of seniors from a local Bible College to come and do some teaching and direction for their weekend.

“It will be fun”, they thought.

“It will be instructive”, they hoped.

“It will be the most chaotic moment of our lives”, imagined none of them.

The worst part was…I was one of the teachers that weekend. I and my fellow college students were zealous and ignorant–a very toxic combination. Continue reading “Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons”

How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.

[Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual abuse, religious abuse, church discipline, and bad treatment of members of the LGBTQ community which may trigger some readers].

She revealed to her Associate Pastor’s wife she was gay and hoped to find a female life partner. Within days, she was called before a meeting of the Elders. They demanded she repent from her wickedness.

She reminded them that she had just identified/admitted to herself that she was only attracted to women. She had not had sex and had not even kissed a girl.

Yet she was told it was time to repent or face church discipline. She told them she could not in good conscience pretend to be heterosexual. Days later, they informed her that the following would happen:

  • She was suspended from membership pending a time when she would publicly repent.
  • The Elders would read the notice of her suspension from the pulpit.
  • All members of the congregation–including her family members–would be told if they saw her or spoke to her they could only bring up the issue of her sin. They could not be friends with her or talk casually with her.
  • If she repented, she would never be allowed to do children’s or teen ministry. This was to prevent her from influencing young children toward lesbianism in the future.

She got angry at the church, God, and her family–who indeed shunned her–and vowed to never go to a church again. That was seven years ago. Continue reading “How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.”

How Parent Teen Exchanges Work

A mother called me one afternoon all angry and confused. She got my name from her friend, one of my counseling clients. She agreed to meet me so she could discuss how to handle a disagreement between she and her daughter.

“Mike, I went into my daughter’s room and looked through all of her drawers. When she figured out I had done this, she became livid and won’t talk to me. It seems all year we’ve had this deteriorating relationship. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Maria, can I ask you some questions to help you work this through?”


“Why were you looking through your daughter’s private dresser?”

“Well, first, I don’t consider her dresser as her private space. I bought it, I brought it home, I own the house, I set the rules.” I let this one slip for the moment. She continued.

“But the real reason I was doing it was because her best friend Nicole’s mom called me concerned the girls were doing Ecstasy at a party last week. I wanted to find out if she was hiding drugs in her room.”

“To your knowledge, has your daughter ever used recreational drugs?”

“I smelled pot on her earlier this year, but she denied it.” I also wanted to bring up the issue of acting upon unwarranted suspicions without having dialogue first, but I left that issue to another time.

“I didn’t find any drugs, but there was some stuff that really scared me. I found condoms in the bottom drawer. I found “Fifty Shades of Grey” in there as well. It just makes me sick to think about it.”

“Do you and your husband own your house outright or do you have a mortgage?”

“I don’t know why that’s important, but yes, we have a mortgage.”

“And Maria, if the bank sent over tellers and loan officers and began ransacking your house, looking through your financial statements and searching in all your drawers, how would you react?”

“Listen Mike, I know where you’re going with this. It’s not the same thing. My house is still mine, even if I have a mortgage. I’m protected by basic rights.”

“Of course you are. But don’t you think the attitude should be the same even if the laws governing our teens does not explicitly recognize their rights to the space they call their own? Shouldn’t we afford them certain levels of respect and dignity?”

Maria didn’t know what to say to this, so I continued.

“Maria, the basic idea behind Respectful Parenting is that teens must be afforded the same level of respect we give other adults. And it teaches that they must be allowed to make mistakes and be held accountable for those mistakes without parents always jumping in to save them or head off the problems. Most of that overseer attitude is reserved for the time before children become teens. As they reach age 11 or 12, we must change the rules and recognize their rights as adults.”

This was a lot for Maria to take in. Since she had never really recognized her daughter’s adult status, she was still operating as if she was a taller more mouthy child. The daughter however was aware of this and resented it. And the daughter was correct in resenting it. It is not appropriate.

If you treat a teen as an adult, there is a greater chance they will act like an adult sooner than their peers. And if they don’t, they were never going to act that way in the first place.

“Mike, what should I have done?”

“First, you start with some agreements between you and your daughter. Continue reading “How Parent Teen Exchanges Work”

Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected. Continue reading “Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel””

Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

experts 2

He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:

“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”

He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.

At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.

At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.

From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:

  • City Planning
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Immigration policy
  • Monetary policy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Business practices
  • Investment strategies
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical Exercise
  • Law Enforcement
  • Education (both grade school and college)

…on and on.

In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.

That is how we can identify an expert.

When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!

Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.

Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.

Why do preachers do this? And why do we allow it? Continue reading “Conflating The Preacher with Expertise”

Why Pastors Make Poor Allies

It was 1992. The church I attended was heavily invested in the pro-life cause. Many of its members marched in front of the only abortion clinic in our town, shaming women who entered, and calling for strict change of law to make abortions almost impossible to get. There were prayer meetings in the church to defeat the “powers of darkness” surrounding the abortion industry.

One of the members was involved in a commission to help re-write some of the state’s laws on abortion. Another member had been thrown in jail twice for marching against abortion. We had our “pro-life credentials” well established.

No one knew the reservations I had about the pro-life movement. As a counselor, I knew that dozens of women in our church had abortions in the past. Some of them were the most vehement opponents of abortion. Some of them lived shamed lives, hoping no one ever found out about them.

I had doubts the movement was from God. I had researched the pro-life movement’s political roots, and knew I could not support any of the principal players. I searched in vain for any mention of abortion in the Bible. Even the few verses which spoke about God calling someone from their mother’s womb were found in poetic writings which are hardly substantial fodder for theological positions.

In short, I had my doubts about all the marching going on.

The worst part was the work of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The Spirit of God was convicting me of my hatred and judgment toward women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies. God would not allow me just to ignore those hateful attitudes. In prayer one day, God directed me to publicly apologize for my attitudes and to make amends. I started to prepare a teaching but God showed me it wasn’t enough.

Continue reading “Why Pastors Make Poor Allies”

Explaining my Exvangelical Status

He was my mentor. He was ordained in a conservative evangelical church. He had been meeting with me for several years as I sought to reconcile what I believed about God and the Bible with the huge discrepancies I saw in the church. It was good to bounce my frustrations off his mind. I think I would have left Evangelicalism for good if he had not helped me cope with the hypocritical practices of the church.

That’s when he dropped a bombshell. He had been attending some evening meetings at a local charismatic group. We both believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given to people in the Church today. We also believe that there are proper and ridiculous ways those gifts can be practiced.

Here was his bomb. The night before, he claimed he saw gold dust appear on people’s hands during worship. Someone else said God gave them a gold filling during the prayer time which replaced their regular filling. My mentor was full of thanksgiving to God for these miracles. I asked him if he could confirm the gold dust or the gold tooth. Could he say with full assurance that it was really gold and not just some glitter or sweat from dancing in worship?

He was really angry with me for asking that question. He warned me not to criticize what might be the work of the Holy Spirit in case I was blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

At that moment, I decided I was mentally done with the Evangelical movement.

I wish I could give you the entire delineated journey of the previous 28 years up to that point. I have written about some elements of the journey in my books, articles, and blog entries. But with this essay, I want to explain to my friends and readers–and perhaps to those in my denomination looking for a reason to disqualify me–why I am not part of that tribe any more.

And I need to explain the parameters of what I left behind. Continue reading “Explaining my Exvangelical Status”