PTSD and the American West


The American West has lots of abandoned buildings. By the American West, I don’t mean the western part of the United States. The western part of the United States has cities and towns, by The American West, I mean the parts in between. The iconic empty West where only cowboys and homesteaders live.

The abandoned buildings are remnants of somebody’s dream that they could carve a living out of a piece of marginal land. The settlement of the West and the dream of making a living on new land started before the Civil War – even Grant tried his hand at it in the 1850’s, facetiously calling the farm Hardscrabble, according to his wife, Julia – but, with the Railroads pushing west and The Homestead Act setting the stage, the pace picked up after the war.

In the Great Plains, most of these settlers were immigrant families from northern Europe. In the Nevada West, many of these immigrants were Basque. I wonder if many of these settlers were Civil War vets with PTSD. I know the Civil War was violent, unbelievable so compared to war now -although not compared to WWI or parts of WWII – and it is hard to believe that many of those battle wrecked veterans, especially Southerns, didn’t go West.

Driving out to the Smoke Creek with Claudia, however, I noticed that some of the abandoned homesteads are being reclaimed. I think that there are several reasons for this. Obviously, it is easier to Live off the grid than it ever has been before. Also, there are more people with two or three homes and one of them might be out in the boonies. But I think that there is another reason, one similar to the post Civil War period. We have been at war for the last decade and, today, there are more people with PTSD than 30 years ago.

I would be very surprised if the guy who lives in the house above also has an apartment in Manhattan. I would be much less surprised if he – or she, but probably he – was a veteran of, say  Fallujah, trying to get away from the chaos of modern America. Moreover, like today’s pot, today’s PTSD is much stronger, with, I think, a component of Moral Injury that WWII vets usually didn’t have.

That why Drone Pilots really do get PTSD even though they they are never in physical danger. Without the draft, the people fighting our wars are easier to hide – or worship from afar – making what what they are doing also easier to hide, but it is no easier for them to hide from themselves. I think that alot of people who have PTSD really have Moral Injures. Killing an unarmed little boy and his, equally unarmed, mother goes against all our moral teaching. The fact that many – if not most – of the Americans doing the killing are conservative Christians only aggravates that Moral Injury.


As I drive by an abandoned farm with a new conex replacing an abandoned barn, I think how tough it must be to try to make a living on land so far away from everything. Then, I think, maybe that is the point.







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