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In this strikingly original and groundbreaking book, Dr. Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer's Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the Iliad was written twenty-seven centuries ago it has much to teach about combat trauma, as do the more recent, compelling voices and experiences of Vietnam vets.
In his acclaimed book Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Jonathan Shay used the Iliad as a prism through which to examine how ancient and modern wars have battered the psychology of the men who fight. Now he turns his attention to the Odyssey, Homer's classic story of a soldier's homecoming, to illuminate the real problems faced by combat veterans reentering civilian society. Drawing on his years of experience working with Vietnam veterans, Shay illustrates how the Odyssey can be read as a metaphor for the pitfalls that trap many veterans on the road back to civilian life. He also explains how veterans recover, and advocates changes to American military practice that will protect future servicemen and servicewomen while increasing their fighting power. The Odyssey, Shay argues, offers explicit portrayals of behavior common among returning soldiers in our own culture -- danger-seeking, womanizing, explosive violence, drug abuse, visitation by the dead, obsession, vagrancy, and homelessness. Supporting his reading with examples from his fifteen-year practice treating Vietnam combat veterans, Shay shows how Odysseus's mistrustfulness, his lies, and his constant need to conceal his thoughts and emotions foreshadow the experiences of many of today's veterans. Throughout, Homer strengthens our understanding of what a combat veteran must overcome to return to and flourish in civilian life, just as the heartbreaking stories of the veterans Shay treats give us a new understanding of one of the world's greatest classics. With a foreword by Vietnam veteran U.S. Senators John McCain and Max Cleland, representing bipartisan support for what Dr. Shay is trying to accomplish, Odysseus in America is an impassioned and cogent plea to renovate American military institutions -- and a brilliant rereading of Homer's epic.