There's a War On

Being young in a dynamic city with days full of things to do, I rarely stop and read the front section of the Times from cover to cover anymore, something I used to enjoy every morning in high school.  Even worse, I sometimes forget that our country is at war.  

One evening last spring, as I was making my way home for Easter, I decided to pick up an issue of Rolling Stone to occupy me as my flight out of JFK was delayed.  I stumbled upon Jenny Eliscu's piece entitled "The Troubled Homecoming of the Marlboro Marine."  Before then, I followed the war as it was developing in Iraq, but I hadn't contemplated things like Stop Loss or PTSD.  I became quite angry as I read the story of Blake Miller, a man who has become something of an icon for striking up a cigarette during a brief respite at the battle of Fallujah.  The distant, forlorn look in Miller's eyes, Eliscu writes, has been misconstrued by the American public as a triumphant gaze.  Miller came home burdened by what he was forced to do in Iraq, and he now occupies his time in a motorcycle club, drinking, and smoking packs of cigarettes a day, having given up on his counseling for PTSD.

As I read Woolf's portrayal of the shell-shocked Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway, I was reminded of the Marlboro Marine.  Although Miller has to deal with the red tape of the VA, I suppose he is fortunate that he has some means of obtaining medication or therapy.  This isn't the case for Septimus.  In my reading, I found an oscillation in the narrator's depiction of the relationship between Septimus and Lucrezia, which I do not believe is sympathetic to Septimus' plight.  He comes across as insane, though "Dr. Holmes said there was nothing the matter with him," while Lucrezia's melancholy in England seems justified because of his psychosis (65).

"Every one has friends who were killed in the war.  Every one gives up something when they marry.  She had given up her home.  She had come to live here, in this awful city.  But Septimus let himself think about horrible things, as she could too, if she tried.  He had grown stranger and stranger."

This passage illustrates the lack of understanding of the emotional burdens that soldiers carry.  To Lucrezia, Septimus "let himself" be haunted by the memory of the war, and of his dead comrade, Evans.  In spite of her Italian heritage, Lucrezia ironically comes across as quite British in her perspective; she is stoic and pragmatic.  It is as if she says to Septimus, "Buck up.  This is an ordeal we've all been through."  She too could "think about horrible things," but she knows that this mindset is fruitless.  Perhaps this is why she finds Septimus odd; in her view, he freely gives himself over to his delusions.

I don't blame Lucrezia for her view of Septimus.  In fact, because she experienced the war as closely as he did, I see her as strong, courageous, and admirable.  Her feeling of "suffering" is justified, I think, by her ignorance of the real psychological trauma in her husband (64).  Yet, because of the times in which we live, I couldn't help but read Septimus in a more sympathetic light, not "strange," but damaged.  His delusions are understandable and heartbreaking.  The fictional Septimus, or the real-life Blake Miller ought to remind us that, for those involved, a war doesn't really end with a ceasefire.