The Task of Returning Home
The Task of Returning Home
Coming home is a regular occurrence for people all around the world, and coming home for soldiers is a long-awaited event. Not many realize the difficulty of a soldier's task of adapting to civilian life. Even after much time and many vices used to cope, many soldiers never fully recover. Considered collectively, these three works display the way war trauma affects soldiers’ time needed to move on after returning home and how different vices can be used in the attempt to cope.
A soldier’s ability to return home is dependent on the trauma they had experienced, but it isn’t dependent on the amount of time they have been home for. Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway, highlights a soldier having difficulty fitting back into civilian life. In this short story, Krebs came home from war only a couple of months prior and his parents are becoming concerned about him because he seems to have no motivation. So his mother decides to speak with him, “‘Your father is worried, too,’ his mother went on. ‘He thinks you have lost your ambition, that you haven’t got a definite aim in life …. The boys are all settling down; they’ve all determined to get somewhere; you can see that boys like Charley Simmons are on their way to being a credit to the community’” (Hemingway pg.6). This illustrates how Krebs is having difficulty adjusting back to normal life. It is noticeable enough for his parents to grow worried for him and feel the need to talk with him about it. Krebs doesn’t take his mother’s thoughts to heart, he was still in the mindset from war and he claimed to her that he no longer loved anyone. This shows the significant amount of trauma that he had experienced and how his mindset continued to be similar to the one he carried in war even after being home for a couple of months. As a result of him being stuck in that headspace, he finds it difficult to fit back into civilian life. In a similar text, Vonnegut explains how soldiers, even years after the war, can be drowned out by their past trauma. This takes place years after the war while Billy is in school to be an optometrist. Though many people didn’t see it, he thought he was going crazy. He felt the need to take action, “Billy had committed himself in the middle of his final year at the Ilium School of Optometry. Nobody else suspected that he was going crazy. Everybody else thought that he looked fine. Now he was in the hospital. The doctors agreed: He was going crazy” (Vonnegut pg. 100). Even when all seemed well in Billy’s life he was still being affected by the war in his past and he couldn’t seem to escape it. No one had even noticed that he wasn’t well but even through all of his triumphs, he couldn’t shake the trauma he had experienced. Therefore, Billy had to admit himself to the hospital, and eventually, doctors agreed with his decision. Soldiers don’t easily get over trauma even with time, and this affects their home life and ability to move on in the future.
Throughout a soldier's task of returning home, many pick up different vices as coping mechanisms. These help them whether good or bad, to try and adapt back into civilian life. In Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers displays an honest depiction of a soldier’s rehabilitation back into society. As the main character, John Bartle describes a regular day, “I had deteriorated more than one might expect in the short time I’d been home. My only exercise was the two-mile round trip I made every afternoon to G.W.’s country store for a case of beer. I avoided roads, opting instead for the train tracks that passed by our house on the other side of a long, low berm” (Powers pg. 131). This confession given by John Bartle brings in two different coping mechanisms. One being the vice of addiction, more specifically alcoholism, and the other being avoidance. He mentions that his only time outside the house is to buy alcohol and that he buys one case of beer a day. He also avoids roads because highways trigger experiences from his time in the war. These are attempts by Bartles, to either forget or to avoid his time in the war. These vices are picked up by many soldiers, especially addiction. This is also mentioned in Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut, with Billy Pilgrim’s alcohol addiction even later in his life. Pilgrim mentions how he spends his nights, “I have this disease concerning alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses” (Vonnegut pg. 4). Billy Pilgrim also suffered from long-lasting alcohol addiction after his time in the war. This so-called disease he calls it is mentioned later in his life, even after his retirement. His breath smelling like mustard gas is a nod to the ever being memories he has of war no matter how hard he could try to forget them, even with the alcohol. Vices are common with soldiers attempting to fit themselves back into civilian life, no matter how long it has been since they have returned. These mechanisms are used to try and forget the trauma and cope with their experiences.
All of these three texts showcase the time needed for soldiers to recover and the way that soldiers cope with trauma. Whether the time being years or decades and the vices being addiction or avoidance. Many soldiers are left to depend on others or the little that they have left after returning from war. This extensive trauma they are given leads to the little resources given to soldiers once they return home. The opportunities they don’t have and the lack of aid given to them. For what they have gone through, they deserve all the help they need.