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Open Features: The Trials Of Adrian Wheeler

"Now that it’s official—the war in Iraq is about to come to an end, at least for American soldiers—I have resurrected something I wrote this past Memorial day. When I wrote this piece, my thoughts were directed not to those soldiers who died in battle, but to those young men and women who came back (and are continuing to come back) from Iraq and Afghanistan—only to discover a battlefield far more relentless and infinitely more lonely,'' writes Steve Shear in this brilliant article about the true, and on-going, horrors of warfare.

I am speaking about all those recent warriors who do battle every day in their mind’s eye, seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling the loss of a limb, their own or a buddy’s—or who in their sleep continuously experience the last five minutes of a buddy’s life. There’s no special day just for them. There’s no Veterans with PTSD day.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is what they call it now. In the past it was battle fatigue and before that shell shock, but a rose by any other name is just as devastating I learned when I started the research on my recently published novel, The Trials of Adrian Wheeler.

When this country dropped its first bomb on Baghdad in March, 2003, I was so upset I produced what I still consider my best work of art, a painting I entitled The Sisters of Baghdad. Shortly thereafter I wrote a poem, The Bombing of Baghdad. Both can be found at my website: www.steveshear.net. Around that time, I remember getting a haircut and ranting to my barber, Harold, about how terrible the decision to go to war was. My barber was ultraconservative—and a hawk, although I didn’t know it at the time. His bald head (wouldn’t you know it) turned red, his eyes bulged and his lips began to quiver. My only thought at the time was to blurt out: “HAROLD, PUT DOWN THE SCISSORS!” Fortunately, I am still alive and Harold is still cutting hair, I assume.

It took years for the real fallout from that war to dribble from our television sets and newspaper into the living rooms of America causing me to revisit those feelings of anger over Iraq, as I read about all the young people coming back without jobs, sometimes without houses—and disabled. It was within that context, both emotionally and factually, that I decided to write about one of them, or shall I say my imagined amalgamation of them all.

I wanted to write about a young soldier who came back seriously wounded physically (In Adrian’s case, an amputee) and mentally (with serious PTSD)—and vicariously through him I wanted to see and feel how difficult it would be to become whole again—if that was even possible, and to understand his issues without getting too psychological (for myself and the reader). I wanted to consider two additional issues in particular (among others), namely: (1) why Adrian enlisted and what regrets he (and others like him) might have had; and (2) the illegality of the war itself and the fact that its chief architects have been missing from action with no bounty on their heads all these years—three issues altogether, disablement and serious PTSD, enlistment regrets, and our Government’s role in the death and injury of too many people to count.

I am here to raise these issues as topics of conversation, not to solve them—not even to take any particular side, as I didn’t in my novel since I didn’t narrate it. Adrian and the others spoke for themselves. And yes, I am hoping the people reading these words will pick up The Trials of Adrian Wheeler to see how Adrian (and the other characters) dealt with the issues at hand. We might then be back to discuss his views—their views. To that end, I can be reached at steveshear@gmail.com. Also, a synopsis and the first three chapters of Adrian can be found at my website. I am happy to say that Adrian has been optioned as a movie by a production studio in Los Angeles, Filmed Imagination, and one of its screenwriters has recently finished the first draft of the screenplay.

Disablement and serious PTSD

In any given week, if you’ve read enough newspapers (either on-line or in-hand depending on your age), you will no doubt read a story about some Iraq or Afghan veteran in desperate need of therapy for post-traumatic stress. I began considering that question when I started Adrian over three years ago. At the time I Googled Iraq veterans with PTSD and learned how little was being done for our war heroes. Therapy of that type took too much time (years according to conventional wisdom) and there were too many cases. That’s when I learned about EMDR which I will get to in a moment. For now, let me just say that I once again Googled the same issue (over three years later) but with a slightly different focus: Are veterans being properly treated for PTSD. These were the leads on the first five hits:

* Treatment of PTSD may be killing veterans

* New Study: Two-Thirds of Veterans with PTSD Not Being Treated

* A Number of Veterans Are Not Being Treated for PTSD

* Specific Formula For PTSD – Does it exist.

* Women Veterans Dissatisfied with … Sexual Trauma Screening

Not much has changed apparently—or has it. Proponents of EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, pioneered by Dr. Francine Shapiro, founder of the EMDR Institute in Watsonville, California, argue that EMDR reduces significantly the amount of time it takes to “cure” a patient. However, a therapist I interviewed at length, a professional who spent his career in NYC treating first responders with PTSD, was not convinced. “Some have claimed they get results in as little as three months,” he told me. But he didn’t believe it—it takes at least two years in many cases, he argued. Think about it. If every VA took two years to “cure” an incoming Vet having symptoms of PTSD, it’s no wonder two-thirds are not being treated. EMDR is said to integrate elements of cognitive therapy (and other therapies) and it also uses the unique element of bilateral stimulation (e.g. eye movement, tones, and/or tapping). Imagine the therapist sitting across from the patient moving his hand back and forth as the patient’s eyes follow it. Or in the case of Adrian Wheeler during his therapy sessions with Rabinowitz (his VA therapist), imagine him following a blue light (bonny-Blue) bouncing back and forth across his vision as Ringo Starr beats across his eardrums.

When it comes to soldiers coming home with PTSD, the question is: Why can’t we do better? No one seems to give a second thought about paying for our wars. So why not pay for their casualties?

Enlistment Regrets

No doubt just about every veteran coming back from war with serious PTSD or other disabling conditions has some regrets for having enlisted in the first place. But that’s not the question I’m raising here. What about those veterans who were “under the influence …” when they enlisted. Imagine coming back in that condition, knowing you shouldn’t have gone in the first place, didn’t really want to go—but you went anyway—or circumstances were such that there was really no other viable option (or so you thought).

At this point, you are probably asking yourself what is this guy smoking (speaking of being under the influence); who is he talking about. Well, in the Sixties we had no choice. We were drafted into service. The only regrets we might have had then had to do with our inability to beat the draft or our decision not to head for the border up north. So, we’re not talking about Vietnam veterans here. We are also not talking about those youngsters who have always dreamed of serving their country in uniform. We are talking about the young kids like Adrian Wheeler who happened to have a macho father thrilled to carry an M16 or a brother who was just like his father. I guarantee you, there are lots of Iraq and Afghan soldiers who are there, or were there, simply because it was part of the family heritage to wear a uniform and fight for our country. They were under the influence of a father and/or big brother—but had no more reason to be carrying their own M16 then that, and shouldn’t have been there. Now that’s regret when they come back disabled—or shell shocked. And there are other influences, more subtle ones, like knowing that getting a job with at most a high school degree, or without one, is going be difficult, if not impossible. What better place than the United States Marines—a regular paycheck plus room and board. Or maybe the idea of getting good technical training without having to pay tuition is so appealing, nothing else matters. How many soldiers enlisted because the armed forces or the street (without a job) were the only reasonable options?

So the question is this? How many of those young soldiers coming back with lost limbs, bad knees and PTSD have similar regrets? How many of them should have never enlisted. How many were under the influence?

But What about the Iraq war itself?

I’ve saved the best for last, even though logically it should have gone first. After all, without the Iraq war we wouldn’t be discussing soldiers coming home with either PTSD or regrets—at least not from there, I wouldn’t have written The Trials of Adrian Wheeler, and you wouldn’t be reading my ranting (assuming you are). At this point you might be saying, “We would still have soldiers coming home from Afghanistan?” Maybe and maybe not, but that segue ways me into the very discussion I wish to have here. Considering 9/11, I believe most everyone will agree that fighting in Afghanistan would have been (and possibly still is?????) a just cause. But what about Iraq? And what about being in Afghanistan so long?

Before beginning The Trials of Adrian Wheeler I read The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi. For all of you who don’t recognized the name, Bugliosi was the prosecutor in the Charles Manson murder trial and he authored Helter Skelter, among other excellent books. In a nutshell, Bugliosi’s premise was this: George W. Bush and others (Cheney et al) conspired to take our country to war with Saddam Hussein based on two assertions he and the others knew were lies at the time (according to Bugliosi). First, they claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and therefore was an eminent threat to the security of our country, knowing the claim to be true. Second, they claimed that Al Qaeda (those responsible for 9/11) and Saddam were working together at the time of 9/11, which they also knew not to be true, again according to Bugliosi. How does that amount to murder on President Bush’s part, at least as far as Mr. Bugliosi is concerned? That I’m afraid is a long story that requires reading Mr. Bugliosi’s book or The Trials of Adrian Wheeler for the answer.

So, the question is this. Did our Government merely promote the wrong war or is Vincent Bugliosi right? Should someone(s) pay for an illegal war whose inception was based on deception?

A Very Brief Synopsis of Adrian

The Trials of Adrian Wheeler is a true-to-life account of a young man’s ascent to manhood as he finds himself at the center of the most important court-martial trial of the Iraqi/Afghan wars while battling PTSD and the other demons lurking within the shadows of his injured recollection; all this as he fights to win back beautiful Rachael Levi; as he struggles to break away from a bigoted, overbearing father; and as he strives to keep his sister’s HIV from progressing.

Private Adrian Wheeler returns from Baghdad with an artificial knee and no left arm, ever mindful of a tormented past and even bleaker future. His brother, John Mike, didn’t return at all. Both participated in a reconnaissance mission that tragically failed one chilly morning in February, a mission in which innocent women and children died along with John Mike and other combatants. As the sole survivor (or so he thinks), Adrian carries the details of that trauma deep within his subconscious, and drinks himself half to death in hopes of hiding from the boogymen who come late at night. His domineering father is one such visitor, a retired Vietnam veteran who bullied Adrian into joining the Marines in the first place, and another is Rachael, his girl since first grade. In his mental state and physical condition, he does everything he can to avoid her—and any possible sexual encounters.

Just when he begins to take control of his life, Adrian is charged with the murder of all those women and children. During the last fifty pages of this novel, the highest profile court-martial trial of the Iraq war is played out on the international stage and, most important, in Adrian’s home town where he is loved by some and vilified by others. His only hope is to get beyond his trauma and the terrible secret that lies deep within the cellar of his psyche, and remember exactly what happened that chilly morning in February. Fortunately, he has the expert help of Rabinowitz, a psychotherapist specializing in PTSD, and Angelo Benedetti, a renowned court-martial defense lawyer.


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