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June 12, 1996

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character

Author Affiliations

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Springfield

JAMA. 1996;275(22):1769-1770. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530460073036

Here is a book that I would never have read outside this assignment. Yet, reading it has been a delightful and informative experience. Homer's Iliad tells the tragedy of the ancient Greek soldier Achilles in the Trojan War. In this book, Vietnam veterans have narrated their own tragedies. Twenty-two years after the last US ground combat battalion was withdrawn, more than 250 000 Vietnam combat veterans currently meet the full DSM-IV criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Achilles in Vietnam compares and contrasts two wars separated by 27 centuries.

Dr Shay is a Boston-area psychiatrist who works with Vietnam combat veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic. He is also on the faculty of Tufts University School of Medicine. His purpose in writing this book is "to put before the public an understanding of the specific nature of catastrophic war experiences that not only cause lifelong disabling psychiatric