How does "Soldier's Home" relate to contemporary crises or conditions we face today?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It could be argued that the protagonist in Hemingway's short story "Soldier's Home" suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His experience in the trenches of World I has changed Harold Krebs. He comes home and is at first unable to talk about the war and then, when he does, no one wants to hear it. He has become figuratively paralyzed and finds it difficult to act. He says he wouldn't mind going out with a girl but doesn't want to go through the trouble of actually talking. Hemingway writes,

It was exciting. But he would not go through all the talking. He did not want one badly enough. He liked to look at them all, though. It was not worth it.

He also clashes with his mother over getting a job and when she asks him to pray with her, he refuses. He has become lost in a familiar world and the title of the story is ironic.

There are no studies about the overall mental condition of returning World War I veterans, but, judging by several of Hemingway's characters, novels like All Quiet on the Western Front, and the war poetry of Rupert Brooke, Siegfried  Sassoon and Herbert Asquith, we may assume that assimilation back into society was difficult for those who had witnessed the horrors of what might be considered the first modern war, replete with machine guns, tanks and airplanes.   

Likewise, tens of thousands of recent returning veterans have gone through the same experience. A war in Vietnam and two wars in Iraq have caused health officials to coin the term PTSD. Troops who suffer from PTSD have suffered some extreme emotional trauma triggered by witnessing or living through a terrifying event.

In Vietnam, troops were traumatized by jungle warfare and being attacked by an enemy they often could not see. In Iraq many of our troops were wounded by remote explosives from an enemy they never saw. Unfortunately, statistics released by the Wounded Warrior Homes website (see link) estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. According to some sources (see link), tens of thousands of returning World War I British troops who spent up to four years in the trenches committed suicide after the war, and many more were committed to mental institutions. 

While Harold Krebs doesn't commit suicide, the reader may feel that his emotional state is far from normal and his life forever affected by his experiences in the war. Today, in America, we have tens of thousands of veterans who can certainly relate to Hemingway's story.

 

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