On Jonathan Shay:
p. 4 -- I shall argue throughout this book that healing from trauma depends upon communalization of
the trauma – being able safely to tell the story to someone who is listening and who can be trusted to
retell it truthfully to others in the community. So before analyzing , before classifying, before thinking,
before trying to do anything – we should listen…
p. 5 -- ”Just listen!” say the veterans when telling mental health professionals what they need to know
to work with them, an d I believe that is their wish for the general public as well. Passages of narrative
here contain the particularity of individual men’s experiences, bearing a different order of
meaningfulness than any categories they might be put into. In the words of one veteran, these stories
are “sacred stuff.”
No single English word takes in the whole sweep of a culture’s definition of right and wrong; we use
terms such as moral order, convention, normative expectations, ethics, and commonly understood
social values. The ancient Greek word that Homer used, themis, encompasses all these meanings. A
word of this sciope is needed for the betrayals experienced by Vietnam combat veterans. In this book I
shall use the phrase “what’s right” as an equivalent o f themis.
We must all strive to be a trustworthy audience for victims of abuse of power. I like to think that
Aristotle had something like this in mind when he made tragedy the centerpiece of education for
citizens in a democracy….Just as trauma testimony is always a political act, retelling trauma narrative is
likewise political. Judith Lewis Herman has persuasively connected the capacity to hear, believe, and
retell with a supportive sociopolitical movement.
I have been politicized by this work and now see that treatment must be morally engaged – that trauma
can never be apolitical…an affectively neutral position will defeat healing…I cannot escape the suspicion
that what we do as mental health professionals is not as good as the healing that in other cultures has
been rooted in the native soil of the returning soldier’s community…
We must create our own new models of healing which emphasize communalization of the trauma.
Combat veterans and American citizenry should meet together face to face in daylight, and listen, and
watch and weep, just as citizen-soldiers of ancient Athens did in the theater at the foot of the Acropolis.
We need a modern equivalent of Athenian tragedy. Tragedy brings us to cherish our mortality, to savor
and embrace it. Tragedy inclines us to prefer attachment to fragile mortals whom we love, like Odysseus
returning from war to his aging wife, Penelope, and to refuse promised immortality. (Odyssey 5 : 209).
From “Greek tragedies offer modern lessons on war’s pain” Chelsea J. Carter August 14, 2008 Associated
“Theatre of War,” a performance of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes was part of a three-day combat
stress control conference hosted by the Marine Corps that addresses post-traumatic stress disorder,
anxiety, and depression brought on by combat.
“I don’t know if the readings are going to get anyone to admit they have a problem. My goal is to open
up a space for dialogue,” said Bryan Doerries who directed and translated the ancient plays.
Doerries was inspired to produce the performance by Dr. Jonathan Shay, author of the psychology book
“Achilles in Vietnam,” who took the position that Greeks used theatre as a way to reintroduce combat
veterans into society through the plays of Sophocles and others.
“The Anguish of War for Today’s Soldiers, Explored by Sophocles” Patrick Healy NYT November 12, 2009
Now officials at the Defense Department are turning to the Greeks to explore the psychic impact of war.
The Pentagon has provided $3.7 million for an independent production company, Theater of War, to
visit 50 miltary sites through at least next summer and stage readings from two plays by Sophocles,
“Ajax” and “Philoctetes,” for service members.
“These plays are part of a 2,500 year history of mental and emotional pain for soldiers that run up to the
present day,” said David Strathairn. Director Doerries described the effort as a public health project to
help service members and relatives overcome stigmas about psychological injuries by showing that
some of the bravest heroes suffered mentally from battle.
“Through theatre we’re trying to offer some ideas an experiences for our troops and veterans to think
about when they don’t feel comfortable opening up about their private thoughts,” said Mr.
Doerries…”Sophocles was himself a general, and Athens during his time was at war for decades. These
two plays were seen by thousands of citizen –soldiers. By performing these scenes, we’re hoping that
our modern-day soldiers will see their difficulties in a larger historical context, and perhaps feel less
General Loree Sutton, an Army psychiatrist and director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for
Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury told the audience after the performance that Theatre of
War was an important vehicle for “sharing pain and the promise of learning and growing and healing.
We knew that never in the history of our republic have we placed so much on the shoulders of so few on
behalf of so many,” she said.
Sgt. First Class Tony Gonzalez described his own pain after his platoon captain was killed and he went to
pay respects to the man’s wife, also a friend and a member of the military. And he praised the use of
theatre to help put a spotlight on trauma. “I’ve been Ajax,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Ajax.”