The "Marlboro Marine," Trauma, and the FEAR Project

November 11th, 2007

A counselor friend once told me you can only go as far with someone as you’ve been yourself. Cognitively, this makes sense, but how does this feel?

I struggle with how to communicate what trauma does to the mind. I do not have my own story, but I’m beginning to grasp what if feels like to have something buried deep within so dominating it is all one can do to suppress it; to let it out could be catastrophic. This piece produced by Mediastorm for the LA Times tells a very heartfelt story of how crippling Post Traumatic Stress can be for an Iraq war veteran. I think you will remember his iconic photograph.

My only real criticism of the media is that while it raises awareness and empathy through the narrative, it doesn’t do much for “processing,” that all important part of addressing how this makes you, the viewer, feel. Mr. Sinco’s epilogue, along with Mr. Miller’s introspect, provide something of a “process” but nothing quite like a post-viewing discussion can do. What does this evoke for you? What do you want to do with that? Although, I know, this is a one-way relationship viewed on screen.

FEAR Project media is similarly plagued; it is content which can be very one-way. However, as the non profit has developed its “services” we have found a greater need for “processing” and facilitated discussion for we are trying to get people to change their behavior. Like this idea: If a woman goes to a party, flirts, drinks, gets drunk, and has unwanted sex, was she raped? Was it partly her fault? The answers are yes, she was raped, and no, it is not her fault. But you would be surprised at the answers I’ve heard.

Without repeating the full mission, what we are trying to do is get people talking about sexual violence. But we walk a fine line; are we impact-full enough, or too much so? People have traumatic responses to our work. At a recent meeting we had a room full of experts–literally–talking about trauma. But we never took the time to talk about how, that day, the discussion and our new media affected us. It is ironic and concerning for I question how we will manage this when we are working with the public, especially with our expanding pool of speakers.

This LA Times media clip is well-timed for Veterans Day; Mr. Miller’s portrait is iconic, we are still at war, and it makes a nice “package.” But at its core, this is a story about trauma. Below are some quotes from Mr. Miller and Mr. Sinco which I found particularly pertinent and remind me how similarly rape and war can affect people. The stories are unique, but they both traumatize.

Link to the LA Times:

Mr. Miller:
“Any day above ground is a good day. There is no promise of tomorrow.

“Most people want to help a returning vet by celebrating them coming home. The question that needs to be asked instead of ‘Hey can I throw you a party, can I buy you a beer?’ The question that needs to be asked is ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do to help?’

“After Fallouja, I didn’t know how to react and I more or less just put it in the back of my mind and acted like it never happened. Even right now my eyes are starting to hurt just talking about this.

“There was so much counseling that had to be done for myself that I really couldn’t deal with mine and Jessica’s problems on top of it. I didn’t feel that Jessica deserved to go through that with me. I felt that it was something that I brought on myself and that was my weight to carry, not hers. And before I put her through that, I’d rather be without her.

“To look back at it now I just think about holding a rifle and firing at another human being. It’s gut wrenching as well as brain wrecking. How do you justify, regardless of what your causes are or their causes are. How I feel about the war today can be summed up in one question. The same question that can be asked about Vietnam. What have we gained as a country? What have we actually accomplished except for the loss of some damn fine people? People willing to give their life for the country that we have, for this nation, for the freedom that we have.”

Photographer Luis Sinco reflected in the epilogue:
“I saw that look in Blake’s face and I know that is the same look I had on my face.

“I think, simply, the difference between me and Blake is I never had to kill another human being. I believe that is what he is fighting with.

“He’s done some horrible things and he has to come to terms with that. So I hold out hope for him and try to be there for him whenever I can, but he has to take some steps. He has to take some steps and make up his own mind that he wants to live more than the life he is living at the moment.”

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