Movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Hurt Locker” have ingrained images of war into our heads. The violence, the feeling of constantly being on edge. However authentically Hollywood might portray the horrors of war, nothing can compare to the real stories from the soldiers who have actually lived through it.
A Civil War soldier driven to suicide upon his return home after years on the battlefield. World War II veterans opening up about their nightmares for the first time. A marine so scarred by his time in Iraq that, drunk and confused, he assaulted a Middle Eastern taxi driver.
Unlike audiences watching a movie, these men couldn’t just avert their eyes during the frightening parts. They saw everything, and they remember it every day. These men all suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, and try as they might, they can’t escape the terror they experienced that haunts them every day. They are just a few of the subjects in “Wartorn 1861-2010,” a new HBO documentary about PTSD from the Civil War through the Iraq War that premieres this Veteran’s Day.
Executive produced by “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini, “Wartorn 1861 — 2010” details how soldiers across generations have dealt with PTSD. To tell the story of Angelo Crapsey, the filmmakers rely on letters he wrote to friends and family back home during the Civil War, a time when PTSD was known simply as “hysteria.”
Army veteran Chris Scheuerman speaks for his son Jason, who didn’t live to tell of his own experiences with PTSD. The 20-year-old North Carolina native indicated in therapy sessions that he felt depressed, guilty and had thoughts of suicide. But when his therapist and commanding officers brushed off his concerns, he shot himself. Chris, once a dedicated military man, has devoted his life since that day to raising awareness about PTSD and seeking answers from the Army as to why no one helped his son.
Marine combat illustrator Akinsanya Kambon shares some of his drawings from the Vietnam War, including the gut-wrenching image of a soldier dangling from a tree, whose legs and lower torso have been blown clean off his body.
At the heart of the documentary is the idea that when a person sees war, it is inevitable they won’t return home exactly the same person as when they left. And after hearing the gruesome sights these soldiers saw and the intense emotions they felt, it’s easy to see why.
“Wartorn 1861 — 2010” is a difficult film to watch, but it’s effective for that very reason. The filmmakers don’t shy away from the inescapable emotional distress soldiers with PTSD feel. It’s an engaging and honest look at a very prevalent, life-shattering disorder, and the filmmakers do an impeccable job of making the audience feel it too.
When I saw Kambon’s illustration, the wide-eyed terror still on the soldier’s face as his destroyed body hung from that tree, all I could think about was how horrified I felt to see such a sight, and how that horror must be amplified a thousand times for someone who actually witnessed such an atrocity in person. These soldiers’ stories really got under my skin, but because of that, I feel like I have a better understanding of the emotional ramifications of war than I ever did before.
“Wartorn 1861 — 2010,” just one more example of the superior quality of HBO’s productions, premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday. Visit www.hbo.com to learn more about the film and find out about later airings.
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