James Gandolfini TV special shows war veterans are often 'Wartorn' and their PTSD is brushed aside | NY Daily News

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James Gandolfini TV special shows war veterans are often 'Wartorn' and their PTSD is brushed aside | NY Daily News

"Wartorn," a compelling examination of how combat can cripple the lives of those who survive physically intact, will trouble some viewers. It should.

What we today call posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), executive producer James Gandolfini explains, is really just a more formal medical-sounding term for what over the last 150 years has been called shell shock, combat fatigue or just hysteria.

More often, "Wartorn" points out, it's been called nothing at all. It's been ignored - buried inside by those who suffer from it and brushed aside by those who find the subject uncomfortable.

America, particularly male America, has always been a "buck up and shake it off" kind of culture. The idea that some intangible set of experiences or memories could disrupt a person's subsequent life can make that person seem weak or undisciplined.

"Wartorn" firmly rejects this notion, suggesting denial over time may only compound the debilitation.

Almost everyone knows vets from World War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Gulf who don't want to talk about it. Those on the outside usually take this as admirable stoicism, a sign of doing what had to be done and moving on.

"Wartorn" argues, convincingly, that some veterans can't do that. Whatever they did or saw has changed their lives, perhaps crippled them.

The manifestation can be physical, like screaming nightmares. Equally insidious, it can affect trust and relationships.

"Wartorn" starts with the Civil War, which wasn't the beginning of the problem, but gives us a riveting example through a series of letters written by a Pennsylvania soldier named Angelo Cropsey.

Angelo enlisted in the Union Army in April 1861. He joined to help save his country, he wrote. For the next 3-1/2 years, he reported on what he saw in battles he miraculously survived.

When he was discharged, he had become paranoid and violent. His family found him increasingly difficult to control or deal with, an issue that was resolved when he shot himself in the head.

Gandolfini conducts many of the interviews here, and one is with Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, whose mission is reducing the troubling rate of suicides in the military.

The whole military culture, says Chiarelli, doesn't see the problem or refuses to recognize psychological injury as legitimate - even though denial, he argues, is neither the most humane nor the most effective response.

Doubtless there always will be some of the Gen. Patton mentality, that a soldier with no physical wounds must be "yellow" if he or she can't just shake it off.

"Wartorn" argues, powerfully, that blaming the victim is not our finest hour.

Rating: ****