After the Civil War more than half of the patients in mental institutions were veterans. In 1980 post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) became an accepted diagnosis for veterans with psychological wounds. Based on personal accounts of American soldiers whose physical and mental health was torn asunder by the shock and fear of bloodshed and PTSD, the documentary narrates the chronic effects of battle agony and post-traumatic anxiety on military personnel and people close to them throughout American history... from the Civil War through today's modern warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's a lot of confusion about post-traumatic stress. What are some of the physical manifestations? Well, the hallmark symptoms are the agitation and being keyed up and on edge. And the problem with PTSD is that those symptoms don't go away when soldiers come back home. It's almost like a seizure where they don't have control, they don't know when it's going to happen, and they have to constantly plan so that if it does happen, they're in a place where they can recover.
So what about the people that don't get it? Is there anybody that you can honestly say was in a great deal of intense combat situations and comes back completely fine? Those folks are pretty rare. There's that mythology of the warrior that the only thing you should feel when you shoot an insurgent is recoil. But in fact, nobody is really unscathed unless you really have no compassion for human life. If you have a total disregard maybe the only thing you feel is recoil. Everybody else carries something with them.
In August 1943, General Patton slapped a young soldier who was hospitalized with nervous exhaustion. He was reported to have said:
I won't have the hospitals cluttered up with these sons of bitches who haven't got the guts to fight. Send that yellow son of a bitch back to the front line.