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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Veteran adjustment, then and now

I brought a Netflix DVD of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) on this trip to the UK. After I figured out how to defeat the rights management software that tried to prevent me from watching a USA-only DVD while in Europe, I was moved by the film and its message.

Winner of 7 Oscars, TBYOOL shows the difficulties of three World War II veterans reentering society. Although its acting and production are first-rate, the film is driven by the poignant script co-written by MacKinlay Kantor who later won a Pulitzer for his novel Andersonville about a POW camp in the Civil War. Having read Andersonville in high school, I knew his ability to create vivid characters in a historical context and how to paint an unpleasant picture in words.

Some of the challenges faced by the vets in this film are disability, emotional trauma from memories of combat (today's "PTSD"), alcoholism, lack of civilian employment, and altered family circumstances. The film is very much set in 1946, but the fundamental issues apply to vets today.

TBYOOL ends on an optimistic note as one would have expected, but the first half is hard to watch because it's so painful and so obviously true. About 1 in every 1,000 Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Are we doing enough for them? My gut says we are not, and I'm not comfortable with that -- although I don't know what constructive suggestions to offer.