Traumatized veterans returning from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are often diagnosed as suffering from a psychological disorder and prescribed a regimen of psychotherapy and psychiatric drugs. But why, asks psychologist Paula J. Caplan in this impassioned book, is it a mental illness to be devastated by war? What is a mentally healthy response to death, destruction, and moral horror? In When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home, Caplan argues that the standard treatment of therapy and drugs is often actually harmful. It adds to veterans' burdens by making them believe wrongly that they should have "gotten over it"; it isolates them behind the closed doors of the therapist's office; and it makes them rely on often harmful drugs. The numbers of traumatized veterans from past and present wars who continue to suffer demonstrate the ineffectiveness of this approach.
Sending anguished veterans off to talk to therapists, writes Caplan, conveys the message that the rest of us don't want to listen—or that we don't feel qualified to listen. As a result, the truth about war is kept under wraps. Most of us remain ignorant about what war is really like—and continue to allow our governments to go to war without much protest. Caplan proposes an alternative: that we welcome veterans back into our communities and listen to their stories, one-on-one. (She provides guidelines for conducting these conversations.) This would begin a long overdue national discussion about the realities of war, and it would start the healing process for our returning veterans.
--- from the publisher
“Caplan (The Myth of Women's Masochism) delivers a compelling argument that society has ‘psychiatrized’ these vets’ normal response to the horrors of war, with the result that many are not receiving effective care...she makes an important and welcome call for average citizens to take responsibility for our veterans.”
“This is a work of profound and astonishing humanity. A distinguished champion of public health, Paula Caplan shows that emotional trauma is often the normal and healthy response of soldiers to the brutalities of warfare. So what we need is not a narrow redefinition of the soldier’s experience as a medical ‘syndrome’ but rather an honest social healing process that treats the soldier with dignity and respect—and as a harbinger of hope for all of society."
—Jamin Raskin, Professor of Law, American University, and Maryland State Senator
“Finally we have an all-encompassing, meticulously researched, brilliantly thought-out, and marvelously written book about the effects of war on humans—and how all of us can help our veterans heal. Dr. Caplan cuts through the smoke of the institutional lies to the true nature of the emotional injuries sustained by these poor souls and offers a detailed and sensible path to healing. This brave and astonishing book stands as the classic, and the standard, for understanding the atrocities of war.”
—Samuel Shem, author of The Spirit of the Place and The House of God
“I am truly amazed by Caplan’s grasp of not only the psyche of the combat veteran but of the human heart and soul as a whole. There is no prosthesis for the amputated spirit, but Caplan certainly comes close to discovering just that through her extraordinary insight. Brilliant!”
—Michelle Wilmot, Women’s Outreach Coordinator for Vets4Vets
“Paula Caplan’s book is powerfully informative and creates an image of the importance of listening to our war veterans and the stories they have to share. This book provides an opportunity for their message to support life-enhancing and healing experiences.”
—David Collier, licensed psychologist/team leader, Salem (OR) Vet Center
“Paula Caplan’s important book is profoundly empathetic to the psychological needs of our soldiers. She is especially attuned to those needs in a political culture that shifts the burden of its pathology onto its soldiers. Dr. Caplan teaches that the most salutary treatment for both the culture and the soldiers is the necessary exposure of the truth of their experience. Continued denial deepens the trauma and enables its repetition.”
—Robert Shetterly, artist and author of Americans Who Tell the Truth
“If we, as citizens, want to do right by the young men and women who serve in our military and fight our wars, we can start by reading this profound and moving book. By the book’s end, you will be certain of one ‘therapeutic’ truth: A society that sends its young off to war needs to be ready to hear their stories when they return and know that ‘there is healing power in not only listening, but also in remembering what the speaker says.’”
—Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic and Mad in America
“The suffering of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, their families, and those whose lives they affect is likely to be the greatest mental health tragedy of at least the next decade. Dr. Caplan's passionate, eminently readable book makes a compelling case that this is about human pain, not mental illness. Dr. Caplan's critically reasoned review of the multiple dimensions of this crisis is both a call to action and a guidebook for how we can all do our part (still to be done for Vietnam vets) to welcome our American heroes home.”
—Paul Block, Director, Psychological Centers, Providence, RI
“Caplan peels away the layers of myth, denial, and cliché we've used to shield ourselves from our veterans' unmet needs and our unpaid debt to them. Veterans' own stories put a human face on this book's careful research and thoughtful analysis. This book is a must-read not just for those who care about our veterans but for anyone who has benefited from their sacrifices, which is to say all of us."
—Kenneth S. Pope, psychologist, ABPP, and co-author, Ethics in Psychotherapy and Counseling
“Rather than dealing with soldiers' post war pain through denial or the distancing, detachment, diagnosis, drugs, and dis-ease of professionals, Caplan advocates that we all contribute by listening when soldiers tell their stories, and she presents a clear and convincing case that we should not recoil from or deny the horrors of war. Refusing to recognize the experiences of soldiers contributes to the continuation of both war and the debilitating impact of war on returning warriors. Caplan employs prose, poetry, literature, logic, and empirical data to convince us of our power to contribute to a community that connects with and socially supports returning veterans. It is important for all of us, laypersons and professionals, to hear what Caplan has to say and to listen to the stories that veterans have to tell.”
—Maureen C. McHugh, Professor of Psychology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
“Some of the most tragic and lasting consequences of the U.S. military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq only begin after our troops return home to resume their lives. They bring back with them deeply-disturbing experiences and memories largely unknown and often unrecognized by family and community—turning these soldiers into outcasts even when greeted as heroes. Paula Caplan’s timely new book illuminates the inadequacies of current societal and mental health system responses, and explores promising alternatives for confronting the stigma and isolation experienced by so many of our combat veterans.”
—Roy J. Eidelson, Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility; President, Eidelson Consulting
About the Author
Paula J. Caplan, a clinical and research psychologist, is an Affiliate at Harvard University’s DuBois Institute and a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of The Myth of Women’s Masochism, They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal, and eight other books. Her articles, essays, and op-eds have appeared in both scholarly and popular publications.