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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Rambo: First Blood

Updated on December 23, 2012

In English, we had to do a speech on a novel we read. There were five topics we could choose from. I chose to talk about an issue in the novel that relates to real life. My book was Rambo: First Blood and the issue was post traumatic stree disorder.

The Speech

Today, I will be talking to you about post traumatic stress disorder within the novel First Blood by David Morrell.

First Blood is about John Rambo, a former United States Special Forces soldier who fought in Vietnam and earned the Congressional Medal of Honour. However his experiences in Vietnam still haunt him. One day, he went to visit an old friend in a sleepy town in Washington. Although upon arrival, he was guided out of town by the sheriff, William Teasel, who insults Rambo. Little does Teasel know about what Rambo has gone through especially the fact he was the only surviving member of his unit and ex-Green beret. Rambo does not follow the orders to leave town and is then arrested. As he was at the county jail he escaped. He goes on a rampage in the forest whilst trying to avoid the sheriffs trying to kill him. Then as Rambo’s commanding officer, Colonel Sam Trautman, has the job of saving the sheriff department and Rambo.

The novel First Blood is largely revolved around the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. On average, 18 American veterans kill themselves. In November 2011, a U.S soldier went on a rampage at Fort Hood Army Base, killing 12 people and injuring around 30. It was believed that he had post-traumatic stress disorder. In the past year, diagnosed ptsd cases have jumped 50% and this is only the diagnosed. 20% of the soldiers who have been deployed in the last 6 years have developed PTSD- this is over 300,000! At the moment, there are 132, 457 troops from forty two countries in Afghanistan. There are 2000 Australian soldiers and around 900,000 American soldiers. Prior to these troops being in Afghanistan, there was and still is the Iraq War. There was the Gulf war and there was the Vietnam war.

These soldiers have fought in some of the most gruelling wars in history. They’ve been shot at, nearly blown up and seen their mates die. They’ve seen and experienced things that no-one should ever think of let only see. When they return home from the front line, they want everything to go back to being civilized. Unfortunately, for 1 in every 8 soldier and John Rambo, this was not the case.

Post Traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is suffered by people who have experienced a traumatic event in which they have responded in fear, caused helplessness and horror. The cause of the disorder is not known. PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. There are psychological, social, genetic and physical factors that are involved. PTSD affects the stress hormones and chemicals they carry through the nerves.

There are two types of post traumatic stress disorder, acute ptsd and chronic ptsd. Acute post traumatic... is when a person gets treatment for it in the first six months. Chronic PTSD is when there is no treatment for over six months. People who have chronic PTSD will never get over it. In most cases of chronic PTSD, the person would not know what the symptoms were until it was too late. There is still no scientific answer as to why post traumatic stress disorder affects some but not others .

There are over twenty symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and they’re separated into three brackets: re-living the event, avoidance and feelings. I have written all of them on the powerpoint if you wish to read but I will focus on the symptoms that Rambo had after his experiences in the Vietnam War.

Re-living the event disturbs day to day activity. These can include flashbacks of the event. In the novel’s case, Rambo suffers from these flashbacks which are triggered by everyday things. When he first arrives at the police station, the window reminded him of when he was a POW, stuck underground with bamboo sticks crossed in the same pattern as the window had. The north Vietnamese soldiers would throw dirt in his face, cackle wildly whilst Rambo was tied up. Another flashback Rambo has was when an officer put him in the chokehold. It reminded him of when he got tied up and beaten. To make matters worse, the officers pulled out a razor to shave and cut his hair. The razor reminded him of getting slashed whilst being tied up.

In a real-life soldier’s case, they could check a folder and put it in their bag and it reminds them of checking their M1 rifles side app. As they walk out the door, they have a flashback of being in Afghanistan, Iraq or even Vietnam, about to walk out into the line of fire. The tiniest things spark most painful of memories over and over again.

The next bracket is avoidance. Soldiers who have PTSD may suffer from emotional numbness which is where they are unable to feel any emotion. When you read the author’s description of Rambo, it shows that he has an emotionless attitude and doesn’t really care where he ends up. A normal soldier may just feel very sad or very angry all the time. A lot of soldiers suffer emotional numbness because they are trained that way for combat and they lead into civilian life. PTSD can cause sufferers to avoid places, people and doing things. It tends to isolate them.

People, especially with PTSD, find themselves detached from the surrounding world. They’re uncomfortable and believe that people who weren’t there don’t understand what they went through. They think you have to be there at the exact time and place to understand anything. In Rambo’s case, at the airport when he returns from Vietnam, there were anti-war protesters calling them vile names including baby killers. In a real soldier’s case, it is the exact same kind of thing.
This can also affect the social aspects. Rambo lost his job at the mechanic he worked at. This lead him to becoming a drifter which is where the whole story began.

The third bracket is the feelings. This includes anger and constant look out for danger. This is what the novel is largely based around. Throughout the novel, Rambo is always very aware of his surroundings and makes sure he can use something to defend himself. He is not actually angry if no-one does anything to him. The book is mostly about revenge and Rambo states that the cops drew first blood and he just fought back. He indicates that the police pushed him too far. All he wanted was to get something to eat but he ended up killing a few officers, injuring a lot, steals an Army jeep, blows up a few police cars, a petrol station, a car yard, powerlines and half the town. And he also shot out the police station. All because he wanted to get something to eat. This is how mentally unstable someone may get from PTSD.

The major problem with Post traumatic stress disorder is that there is a severe lack of knowledge of it especially in the army. There have been hundreds of cases where soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder have been considered liars and cowards. This is because the military, authorities and government don’t think of post traumatic stress disorder. In most cases, they send troops with PTSD back on tour as they think they were trying to go AWOL or stop-loss. It can also make people turn to alcohol and drugs.

I believe that First Blood covers the topic of post traumatic stress disorder very well, as a matter of fact, it is considered one of , if not the best, novel about post traumatic stress disorder. It’s ability to capture the precise detail of the actions with someone suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. It begins with a non-threatening, low functioning, ex-Green Beret, Vietnam veteran, who walks into a town to get something to eat. He is pushed too far by the sheriff. And the trauma in which the service had on his brain took its toll, his torture, the horrible things he experienced, kicks in and he becomes a pure machine of survival and rage. It’s what he was trained for.

Just from looking at the comments on the novel, there were a lot from veteran soldiers. They all said the same thing when they read it. They all thought, “that’s exactly how I feel.” The precise detail captured in this book really sets off the tone and reality of post traumatic stress disorder. The ending of the novel really shows the honour and integrity of the main protagonist through the toughest of times.

Since his first sight of tribesmen mutilating a body in the jungle, he’d been afraid of what would happen to his own body when he died. As if his body would still have some nerve responses, he had imagined with chilling repulsion what it would be like having the blood drained from his veins, embalming fluid pumped in, his central organs removed, his chest cavity treated with preservatives. He had imagined what it would be like having the undertaker sew his lips together and eyelids down and he had been sickened. This extract shows that even in death, the nightmares and flashbacks still haunt someone with post traumatic stress disorder.

He took the final stick of dynamite from his pocket, opened the softly packed box of fuses and exploders , slipped one set of the into the stick, then arranged the stick. He hesitated to light the fuse. This damn business about God, complicating things. It was suicide he was about, and that would send him to hell forever. If he believed. But he did not, and he lived with the idea of suicide for a long time. This extract is an example that even the toughest and most trained soldiers, have thought about suicide and some have actually gone through it.

I suggest that if you have seen the movie already, it is no point in reading the book, to be honest, because you are going to get a lot more confused like I did. The ending is completely different. So, to those who haven’t seen the Rambo movie, read the book for an invigorating dose of thrill, violence, reality and a lot of Rambo style action.


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