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Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Paperback – Nov 25 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (Nov. 25 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074321157X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743211574
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #126,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

It's not exactly a secret that those returning from war often have difficulties adjusting to the peaceful life at home. Nor is it a secret that hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans have had emotionally rocky homecomings. The main reasons Vietnam veterans have suffered disproportionately have been identified in many books. Shay (Achilles in Vietnam), a Tufts Medical School faculty member, serves as a Veterans Administration psychiatrist administering to emotionally troubled Vietnam veterans and offers his second study engaging the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, in order to describe and explain veterans' plight. Shay presents an amalgam of scholarly Homeric interpretation and case studies of maladjusted Vietnam veterans, arguing that leaders-from top policy makers to drill instructors-hold the key to preventing many psychological problems in the military. He advocates fostering a climate of community at the unit level by training and supporting competent, open-minded, ethical military leaders who have the full support of their superiors. While it's an intriguing argument, the case studies do not contribute to existing literature, and the tone of the book-which contains countless italicized words and phrases-comes off too often as hectoring or stridently didactic. Readers with a working knowledge of The Odyssey and a familiarity with the effects of PTSD among Americans who served in the Vietnam War may get the most out of this book, which could affect policy if it finds its way to upper echelons of command.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Shay, a psychiatrist in the Department of Veteran Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston, has worked with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Vietnam veterans for many years. In his first book, Achilles in Vietnam, Shay explored the stresses and psychological injuries caused by armed combat, using the insight of Homer's Iliad. That book was warmly received in both the medical and the military professions. In the first third of the new book, Shay uses Odysseus's epic journey to explore the stresses faced by veterans who return home, still scarred by their intense experiences. In Shay's interpretation, Odysseus experienced nearly all of the symptoms he has observed in returned veterans of modern wars fearfulness, inability to trust or be close to anyone, emotional outbursts, violence, criminal activity, sexual adventurism, and so forth. Clearly, Homer understood and appreciated what war really meant to the participants. The second section deals with healing techniques. The third contains Shay's suggested measures for prevention of such long-lasting injuries. Whether or not one agrees with Shay's prescriptive measures, this is a mandatory purchase for any library serving the military or their families, or where medical professionals deal with any kind of stress-related disorder. It is also a fresh take on a literary classic. Highly recommended. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
READ THIS BOOK, because no movie or book has ever captured as vividly and realistically the combat veterans painful re-entry into normal civilian life as Jonathan Shay's "Odysseus in America".
READ THIS BOOK and learn that Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" are true stories of combat veterans. This will surprise and delight anyone who enjoys the classics or war stories.
READ THIS BOOK and understand what the American combat veteran experiences on his return home. Anyone involved in the helping professions will enjoy and benefit. Anybody who has a combat veteran in their family will learn and be better for it.
READ THIS BOOK and you will understand the great sin that we all commit against our veterans; especially Vietnam vets. Every woman who has a son will want to read this.
READ THIS BOOK and you will finally understand Homer.
Dr. Jonathan Shay has shown that it is as true today as it was thousands of years ago that warfare makes men different. He is a psychiatrist who works with veterans in the Boston VA. In his first book "Achilles in Vietnam" he explained the cycle of trauma and pain that is inflicted by combat. This sequence is --betrayal of what's right by commanders (a common Vietnam story), a soldier's rage at this injustice, their withdrawal into a circle of the closest comrades, then the loss of these comrades with accompanying deep guilt and the growing feeling of being already dead, and then the ice cold berserker state and loss of fear in combat. Then veteran is whisked from the killing ground and immediately plunked down in America. He comes home the way he was in Vietnam.
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Format: Hardcover
The one problem I had with "Achilles in Vietnam" was that it did not seem to offer much in the way of solutions. "Odysseus in America" provides the answers to the ugly problems outlined in the first book. I'm not sure exactly what Dr. Shay intended but these books are relevant for far more than combat PTSD. They are very helpful for an overall understanding of "moral injury" and "psychological injury", to use terms he seems to have invented.
I think all therapists should read these books. They are very useful to understanding child abuse also. If you are working on your problems from child abuse or other psychologically traumatic incidents, they are very good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xb2e474f8) out of 5 stars 39 reviews
75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb2c8909c) out of 5 stars Homer Knows What War Does To Men! Nov. 26 2002
By Dennis E. Spector - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
READ THIS BOOK, because no movie or book has ever captured as vividly and realistically the combat veterans painful re-entry into normal civilian life as Jonathan Shay's "Odysseus in America".
READ THIS BOOK and learn that Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" are true stories of combat veterans. This will surprise and delight anyone who enjoys the classics or war stories.
READ THIS BOOK and understand what the American combat veteran experiences on his return home. Anyone involved in the helping professions will enjoy and benefit. Anybody who has a combat veteran in their family will learn and be better for it.
READ THIS BOOK and you will understand the great sin that we all commit against our veterans; especially Vietnam vets. Every woman who has a son will want to read this.
READ THIS BOOK and you will finally understand Homer.
Dr. Jonathan Shay has shown that it is as true today as it was thousands of years ago that warfare makes men different. He is a psychiatrist who works with veterans in the Boston VA. In his first book "Achilles in Vietnam" he explained the cycle of trauma and pain that is inflicted by combat. This sequence is --betrayal of what's right by commanders (a common Vietnam story), a soldier's rage at this injustice, their withdrawal into a circle of the closest comrades, then the loss of these comrades with accompanying deep guilt and the growing feeling of being already dead, and then the ice cold berserker state and loss of fear in combat. Then veteran is whisked from the killing ground and immediately plunked down in America. He comes home the way he was in Vietnam. Shay explains that Odysseus doesn't trust anybody, tells a lot of lies, gets into a lot of dangerous and foolish situations, conceals himself, disguises himself, and emotionally is as cold as ice to those closest to him. This is realistic of combat veterans at home. He is forever different.
How do I know this? I am a Vietnam veteran and served in the 101st Airborne and 1st Infantry Divisions. When I read "Achilles in Vietnam" I said, "He's captured what happened to us and the way we felt." Now Shay has captured our struggles to live normal lives. And, I my true life experiences are part of "Odysseus in America".
Shay has one other story in "Odysseus in America". That is prevention of the destruction of our soldiers' psyche. He has ignited a debate for reform. And, Senator John McCain and Max Cleland (both Vietnam veterans) to voice their agreement with Shay. His plan for reform consists of ending the "individual replacement system." Shay explains that, "These kids go into the military and give their total trust and lives to the Army. Then the Army breaks this bond by immediately sending them into combat without the support of anyone they know. They fight alone, and they die alone. This is the consequence of the "individual replacement system" started in World War I, continued in WW II, Korea and Vietnam. We need to change this "individual replacement system" in the military to a "unit replacement system". We need to recognize the need for cohesion and community and, therefore, maintenance of trust throughout the military, right into combat. And then keep them together right out the other side. This is the single most important need for reform to prevent psychological and moral injury in the military."
Every parent with kids who may end up serving will want to read this argument for reform. Our country is mis-using our children and needs to change the military's stupidity. READ THIS BOOK to save your child. We are probably going to live with some level of warfare for the next few decades and we need a military reform.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb2c8999c) out of 5 stars a great book on psychological problems in general Nov. 28 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The one problem I had with "Achilles in Vietnam" was that it did not seem to offer much in the way of solutions. "Odysseus in America" provides the answers to the ugly problems outlined in the first book. I'm not sure exactly what Dr. Shay intended but these books are relevant for far more than combat PTSD. They are very helpful for an overall understanding of "moral injury" and "psychological injury", to use terms he seems to have invented.
I think all therapists should read these books. They are very useful to understanding child abuse also. If you are working on your problems from child abuse or other psychologically traumatic incidents, they are very good.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb2c89ba0) out of 5 stars Support our troops . . . Nov. 3 2006
By Ronald Scheer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Shay's decades of work with Vietnam veterans, as described and explained in this book, helped formalize the syndrome of behavior that came to be known as post traumatic stress disorder. It afflicts soldiers living in mortal danger for long periods of time, leaving them afterwards in a near-permanent state of hyper-vigilance. They have suffered what Shay characterizes as a moral injury, which like other disabling war injuries prevents them from returning fully to civilian life. He calls it a moral injury because what has been injured is the ability to trust - even those closest and dearest - and living in the civilian world is impossible without it.

The ancients, Shay argues, understood the psychological dangers of combat for those who fight, survive, and return home. The combination of both cunning (necessary for survival) and the predictable errors in judgment among those who both give and take orders are reflected in the character of Odysseus, who returns with his men from the Trojan War in Homer's "The Odyssey." There is, Shay asserts, good reason why his name means literally, "he who makes trouble for others." The loss of all of his men and then the bloodbath that follows his arrival in Ithaca, as he eliminates Penelope's suitors, illustrate how violence and death follow him long after the war is over.

The fault lies not in individual men, Shay argues, but in a kind of military command that treats them as replaceable parts of a large fighting machine, instead of as groups of soldiers who train and fight together and then are demobilized together. The communal aspect of this supportive group process helps men and women make the return safely and helps them overcome the aftermath of war's traumatizing impact. Again and again, Shay argues that it is our responsibility as citizens to be sure that those who have risked their lives to serve in the armed forces are provided in turn with the vital services they need to re-enter the world they left behind and to live once again at peace with themselves and others. His argument gives new and urgent meaning to the phrase "Support Our Troops."
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb2c89ef4) out of 5 stars Required Reading for CLR-25 Officers returning from Iraq Jan. 21 2006
By Nick Chalko - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book was chosen as required reading for Combat Logistics Regiment-25 Officers returning from Iraq. The following is my personal comments and do not necesarliy reflect the view of CLR-25, the United States Marine Corps or the United States Government.

Dr. Shay M.D uses the story of Odysseus 10 year trip home from the Trojan War as an allegory for Vietnam Veterans return home. It is interesting reading with lots of good "war stories" to keep the pace lively. However the book can be quite academic at times. The allegory is very plain. Odysseus is a soldier having trouble getting home and adjusting. Some Vietnam Veterans had trouble adjusting.

Dr Shay defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as persistence of valid adaptations to danger into a time of safety afterward. In other words the Veteran with PTSD that freak's out in crowds is doing so because "crowds draw mortar fire". He lists some of the skills that combat veterans learn are:
* Control of fear
* Cunning, the arts of deception, the arts of the "mind f--k."
* Control of violence against members of their own group.
* The capacity to respond skillfully and instantly with violent, lethal force.
* Vigilance, perpetual mobilization for danger.
* Regarding fixed rules as possible threats to their own and their comrade's survival.
* Regarding fixed "rules of war" as possible advantages to be gained over the enemy.
* Suppression of compassion, horror, guilt, tenderness, grief, disgust.
* The capacity to lie fluently and convincingly.
* Physical strength, quickness, endurance, stealth.
* Skill at locating and grabbing needed supplies whether officially provided or not.
* Skill in the use of a variety of lethal weapons.
* Skill in adapting to harsh physical conditions.
With the expectation of physical fitness all of these can cause problems in civilian life.

The book is completely Vietnam biased, which is to be expected, because all of Dr Shay's patients are Vietnam Veterans. However the book contains a strong bias that he shares from his patients views. In particular there was an overall opinion that officers were incompetent and not to be trusted. It is noteworthy that none of his patients were officers.

The solutions that he recommends are hardly novel. Cohesion, Leadership, and Training. He makes a strong case that the individual rotation method used in Vietnam left a returning veteran alone to deal with his demons without the support. However he does come to a conclusion that I am sure surprised him given what seems to be his natural "anti-war' tendencies and hopes that war can be abolished. In the end he comes to the conclusion that it is a moral responsibility for Officers to train themselves and their men to the highest level possible, because the quicker the war, the fewer the physical casualties, the fewer the psychological traumas.

Personally I did draw some conclusions from the book. First, survivors are superstitious. Second, reservists should deploy as a unit in company or larger size.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xb2c89fe4) out of 5 stars Should be required reading for all NCOs and family support Sept. 1 2008
By Eddie S. Black - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is wonderful. Coming back from Iraq my girlfriend could only quietly accept my sudden anger at 'little old ladies' who got too close to me with their shopping carts in the megamall. But with her quiet acceptance on so many things changed about me, there were still small fights between us when I could not go out with her friends (who I felt were shallow and petty... Odysseus' attitude toward the rich civilians) or why I hated to drive downtown, and how our sex life was really going through the motions and so on and so forth. So many things in this book are mirrored in my own life and the lives of friends who have come back with me. So many of our behaviors and attitudes and great anger are accepted at first by friends and loved ones but they grow tired of us quickly and do not understand why we cannot change back into the people we were before the war.

Every NCO is charged with taking care of his/her men. NCOs mentor and guide the troops under their care. Read this book and talk to your troops. Read this book and talk to your families. Every deploying unit should buy this book and give it to the spouses left behind, that they can read it while the deployment lasts, that they can talk about it and be ready for the changed men and women we will be after coming back home.

We cannot entertain ourselves and distract ourselves from the fact that our troops are coming back changed. The hard-won lessons learned from world wars 1 and 2 in the care of combat stress were utterly forgotten in treating those coming back from Vietnam and a nation said 'never again'. Yet those hard won lessons on what combat stress are and how to deal with it were, again, thrown out and we are having to learn it all again. Thank you to the veterans of past wars, my heroes, who have stepped up with their stories to welcome me back and to guide me back through my own homecoming.

SSG Black, Oregon Army National Guard 2004-2010, USMC 1989-1994


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