Professional News
Families Have Long Borne War's Consequences
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 5 page 8-8

The relationship between soldiers returning from war and their families has been fraught with conflict, anxiety, and miscommunication for millennia, as demonstrated in "Ajax," the Greek play by Sophocles.

Spouses in ancient Greece and modern America give up trying to communicate. In an incident set during the Trojan War, Tecmessa tries to restrain her husband, Ajax, as he sets out on his deadly mission to kill the fellow officers who have shamed him. He tells her to be silent, and she backs off. "I've heard him say that before, and I know what it means, so I quit asking questions," she says later.

Sherry Hall understands Tecmessa's feelings. Her husband, Maj. Jeffrey Hall, returned from 10 months in Iraq in 2005. Anger and depression grew for three years. His wife could find no way to convince him to seek help. She, like Tecmessa and the wives of many soldiers today, felt shut out from their spouses' experience.

Fear of physical harm can haunt relationships, as well. Ajax wants to see his son, but Tecmessa worries about the boy's safety and hides him from his father. That can remind some of several highly publicized incidents at Fort Bragg, N.C., involving soldiers who returned from war and killed family members.

Yet spouses do not lack insight. "Tecmessa perceives the meaning of chaos," said Army psychiatrist Col. Ryo S. Chun, M.C., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, after a performance of "Theater of War." She has interviewed hundreds of military families since the September 11 attacks and said the plays reverberate with what she's heard from children and families.

"We learn through Tecmessa how Ajax is suffering," said Chun. "He's a broken man. She knows he'll be devastated when he comes back to his senses. When he silences her, she begs him to get help from his friends."

"There was a time when I didn't want to quit, but I didn't want to continue either," Hall told the audience after the Walter Reed performance.

Hall thought of Ajax's words: to "live honorably or die an honorable death." Eventually he was ready to kill himself but was restrained by the fear that his daughter would see him dead as he had seen others in Iraq.

Although Ajax's shipmates could not dissuade him from suicide, Hall's fellow officers were more fortunate. They ordered him into treatment at Walter Reed, treatment which he credits for saving his life and his career and keeping his family together. blacksquare

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