Last week journalist and academic Sharon Mascall-Dare put on a panel discussion about reporting the trauma of war as part of a forum called The Traces of War. While the discussion focused on how journalists should handle themselves and the stories of war an interesting footnote was raised about the ANZAC centenary.
2014 will mark 100 years of the Gallipoli landing. It was where the ANZAC legend was born. In this time of ‘celebration’ will journalists be interested in talking about the impact and trauma of war?
Of course as I have written many times that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the trauma of war are very important stories to capture. But when we as a country are obsessed with the ANZAC legend and what it stands for, are we willing to hold a mirror up and really see the outcomes of war?
Over the decades PTSD has been described as shell shock or combat stress. At first it was frowned upon and seeking treatment was a form of desertion. The stigma surrounding it taught generations of men not to discuss the impact of war on their mental health.
When I interviewed veterans for the Australians At War Film Archive I found it was the Vietnam Veterans who were the first to really speak out about the trauma of war. They were not ashamed to talk about the nightmares, cold sweats and permanent scar it left on them.
This for me was the first generation of war Veterans to share these stories without fear of prejudice. Often I found World War 2 veterans who had suffered were still, close to 60 years later reluctant to talk about the psychological impact it had made.
When young Australians gather at Gallipoli next year or put on their family medals to march I wonder if they will be thinking about what their family went through?
We as a society are a lot more comfortable talking about war, PTSD and mental illness. But when we come to such a momentous occasion as the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing are we willing to have that conversation again?
NB: The panel consisted of Brigadier Tim Hanna, President of the State Branch of the RSL in SA & NT, Professor Matthew Ricketson, Director of DART Asia-Pacific, Gail MacDonnell, Australian Families of the Military Research Foundation and Associate Professor Susan Neuhaus of the University of Adelaide.