The Michael Slate Show, June 10, 2016

Jerry Lembcke on "PTSD"

First, we hear an interview with Jerry Lembcke on his latest book, PTSD: Diagnosis and Identity in Post-empire America. The question of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was first formulated following the Vietnam War, is still as current and controversial as ever. Stories of soldiers suffering from PTSD dominate news coverage of the return from wars in the Middle East.

The heroic actions of GIs and veterans in opposition to US wars has been a powerful part of anti-war struggles since the Vietnam War. Jerry Lembcke shows how the medical discourse of PTSD provided a psychological alternative to the political interpretations of veterans’ opposition to the war— psychiatrists said veteran dissent was cathartic, a form of acting-out – and all this was a way to try to blunt the impact of veterans' resistance. 

The criminal and immoral nature of recent wars, from Vietnam through Iraq and Afghanistan, leaves Americans searching for meaning in those conflicts and being told to find it in loss and sacrifice – of American soldiers. This is a dangerous end-of-empire narrative that needs to be engaged, Lembcke points out, lest it provide the rationale for more war.

Jerry Lembcke

Jerry Lembcke

Jerry Lembcke is Associate professor emeritus of sociology at Holy Cross College, and the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.

Debtors' Prisons

Benton County Jail

Benton County Jail

We also speak with ACLU staff attorney Nusrat Choudhury, and Prachi Dave, staff attorney of the ACLU, Washington State, about the struggle against modern-day debtors' prisons. The ACLU, along with the Terrell Marshall Law Group fof Seattle, recently settled a lawsuit against Benton County, Washington, over the practice of jailing people for unpaid fines and court costs, or forcing them to “work off” the fines, chain gang style, on county work crews doing landscaping, janitorial jobs and other substantial duties. Attorneys found that in one six-month period, there were 320 prisoners doing time because they were too poor to pay fines. And when the lawsuit was settled, it meant that 1700 people who were facing jail would not have to face having their lives upended. 

Benton County is far from the only place that this happens. Nusrat Choudhury recently pointed out that “Across the country, counties and cities seeking revenue are using jail and forced labor to coerce poor people to pay fines and fees they cannot afford.” 

For more information, check out the ACLU, or the ACLU of Washington State