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Fear Again and Fear More

Crawling through the jungle in Southeast Asia might heighten your senses. Knowing that besides the poison offered by nature there are also dangers in the form of a human enemy moving with stealth through the jungle piques the senses even higher. The heightened sensitivity of ones senses in these circumstance s is due to the fear of the unknown. If a soldier didn’t have a touch of fear he would just be suicidal. In the original “Ocean’s 11” Sammy Davis Jr. tells us that bravery was another word for stupidity. These were men who survived World War II not by shirking their duties, but by carefully doing what they were asked to do without the crazy heroics that got many of their friends killed. These were not frightened men, but smart and careful men.

Fear causes us to be careful. And, the reaction to fear is most often understood and predictable. And, when all those precautions are taken and the fear remains, then we begin to react in more and more extreme ways. This is the way fear has evolved over time to protect our species.

I remember an instance when I was younger and fear effected me in a profound way. It was silly and irrational, but fear changed my behavior. It was about 10 or 11 o’clock at night and I had a silly idea to go skinny-dippi ng with a girl I knew. We both thought that it might be fun and we knew just the place, a public swimming pool. We figured that we could climb a short fence, undress and swim around quietly without being detected. There were shady areas and the pool could not easily be seen from any of the roads nearby.

Just the idea of doing something that we normally wouldn’t do was enough to get my adrenaline flowing. My senses were piqued as we got to the pool and climbed the fence. We got undressed and entered the pool. The water was cold and invigorating . Every nerve cell in my body was on high alert. The problem, however, was the sounds that came from around the pool. Every car that drove by just might have been someone that could catch us swimming in the pool. Every noise was amplified in our heads. Headlights shining as a car drove by just might be someone with a flashlight. After only a short time of swimming in the pool, we retreated to the locker area. The possibility of being caught surely could be reduced if we just hid in the locker room.

We sat on the bench talking. But the echo of the locker room building created eerie sounds that continued to pique our senses. Adrenaline continued to flow and every little sound now seemed to be amplified. Cars that were over 100 yards away driving down the street sounded like they were just outside the building. Finally the fear got the better of us, and we decided to just get dressed and go neck in the park somewhere out in the open where we had ventured many times before.

Just thinking about this silly incident that happened more than twenty years ago still brings back some of those feelings. And, our lives were never in danger and if we had gotten caught the cops would have just told us to be on our way. I know, because there had been other occasions where we had been told to be on our way.

When I imagine a soldier in the jungle of Vietnam or the desert of Iraq hold up in a place just sitting there waiting I imagine those few minutes I spent at that pool. Then I begin to multiply. There is the length of time. I spent about 30 minutes with my senses piqued thinking that every sound might be some official that might catch us sitting around naked. The soldiers are sitting around for hours and days not knowing if that next sound might be their last. Just the idea of being catch with your pants down compared to be caught off guard with your riffle down might mean the difference between life and death.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that some of these men might begin to behave in strange and different ways. When the stress doesn’t go away people begin to experiment with ways that might make that stress go away. Obviously they can’t just leave the battlefield; the military would frown on that. So, like my adventure at the pool we left the pool to seek a safer place. Soldiers would naturally seek to find a safer place. But, when they have no choice and can not leave the position assigned to them then they are forced to leave the place mentally or spiritually. People cope by fantasizing and imagining different times and places. They cope by praying and focusing on something outside the current reality. No matter what they specifically do to cope they find a way to leave the place of fear and danger only to be jarred back into reality when they are called on to respond to the next military need. But, what about those who don’t know how to escape the present through fantasy and imagination? Does the stress effect them even more than those who have found these other ways of coping? What about those who actually fear their imagination, because they have dreams that bring back horrible memories? Surely these people are out there mixed in with all the rest. And, what about those who have created such an elaborate fantasy that they know longer know how to come back into reality? Or, perhaps they are too frightened to rejoin reality?

Stress takes its toll on the human body. War creates stress. The military deals with stress of war every day, and they never teach soldiers effective ways to deal with stress. That is because every person needs to create their own way to deal with stress. And each person might need specific ways to deal with different types of stress. The issue of stress is actually quite complex and not perfectly understood and agreed upon. In fact, the military doesn’t want to admit that there is a permanent effect of stress on the soldiers in the military, because then they might be responsible for compensation to the soldiers effected by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And, if the military was responsible for PTSD, then the US government would be required to pay a large sum of money to help those in the military suffering from PTSD.

War puts our soldiers in harm’s way. And, being put in harm’s way creates fear. The prolonged experience of fear creates long exposure to stress. Long exposure to stress will cause people to react in experimental ways to relieve the stress. If that stress is not relieved it may become imprinted on the person to such a degree that the person feels as if they are still under stress even after the real fear has been removed. This state is what we call PTSD. The fear becomes imagined fantasy that remains in the person for many years to come. It isn’t the person’s fault that they experience this fear. The fear is not real, but it doesn’t go away. And the person begins to react in strange ways in order to relieve the stress caused by the fear. Thinking about this in a rational way will not make the fear go away. It is just there and it will remain there until the person learns to cope with the irrational fear. Often the person knows that the fear doesn’t make any sense, but they can’t make it go away, even by drinking alcohol, taking drugs or doing irrational and dangerous things.

For some people therapy helps. This can help by getting a person to sort through his fears and eventually realize that the fears are not based in reality. But, being told that the fears are not real will not take the fear away. Instead a person needs to come to a realization that the fears are “really really” not real. This is a mental stumbling block.

However, who is going to pay a person to sit and listen to them talk about things that they really do not want to think about? Should the US government pay these soldiers to go talk to a shrink? Is this irrational fear a “real” war injury? How should society react to a veteran that has withdrawn to his machine gun nest to fantasize about the years of yore? In the end, who is ultimately responsible for these vets, and who should pay?

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Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

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