As I’ve said here I’ve been reading a lot about post World War I, especially in Germany. There’s a lot on the surface that’s different between that time and today, but other things are remarkably similar. In particular, I’ve been struck about how little has changed in terms of trying to reintegrate people, especially young people, who’ve been sent to a war back into peacetime life.
In some ways reading Three Comrades or The Road Back can be eerily like reading the Washington Post. Returning soldiers seem to be looking for a type of comradeship that appears to be unique to war, or at least to times of extreme danger and stress. They also see most of what you have to do to be successful, or even exist, in the peacetime world, as pointless. While a lot of it no doubt is, it’s hard to get through life with that attitude.
On the side of the people who’ve never served in a war zone, there is a lot of surface respect paid to veterans, but essentially people want to move on and don’t understand why the veterans can’t or won’t.
All of this is probably exacerbated when economic times are not good. In post World War I Germany they were very bad indeed. In addition the number of returning veterans was larger and they had on average spent a longer and more horrific time in the war zone. This was fuel to the fire of the large scale political unrest between the bolshevik and far right wing extremists, which ultimately led to the Third Reich and the almost total destruction of Germany.
While conditions here aren’t as bad and the proportion of people involved in the war is smaller, it can’t be a healthy thing. Everybody fights over who supports the veterans more but the reality seems to be that it’s hard to reintegrate into normal life after that kind of experience, especially when it’s so hard to find something fulfilling to do with your life. It can’t be a good thing for society. In any event, I can recommend reading the books I mentioned in the first paragraph. People who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.