WARTORN: Powerful HBO Documentary Chronicles History of PTSD, Military Suicide

Wartorn 1861-2010
Film by Jon Alpert, Ellen Goosenberg Kent, Matthew O’Neill
HBO, June 2009

HBO documentary film chronicles PSTD and military suicide

Civil War doctors called it hysteria, melancholia and insanity. During the First World War it was known as shell-shock. By World War II, it became combat fatigue. Today, it is clinically known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a crippling anxiety that results from exposure to life-threatening situations such as combat.

With suicide rates among active military servicemen and veterans currently on the rise, the HBO special WARTORN 1861-2010 brings urgent attention to the invisible wounds of war. Drawing on personal stories of American soldiers whose lives and psyches were torn asunder by the horrors of battle and PTSD, the documentary chronicles the lingering effects of combat stress and post-traumatic stress on military personnel and their families throughout American history, from the Civil War through today’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Executive produced by James Gandolfini (HBO’s “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq”), WARTORN 1861-2010 is directed by Jon Alpert and Ellen Goosenberg Kent and produced by Alpert, Goosenberg Kent and Matthew O’Neill, the award-winning producers behind the HBO documentary “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq.” Alpert and O’Neill also produced and directed the HBO documentaries “Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery” and the Emmy®-winning “Baghdad ER.” The documentary is co-produced by Lori Shinseki.

The documentary shares stories through soldiers’ revealing letters and journals; photographs and combat footage; first-person interviews with veterans of WWII (who are speaking about their PTSD for the first time), the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom; and interviews with family members of soldiers with PTSD. Also included are insightful conversations between Gandolfini and top U.S. military personnel (General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army), enlisted men in Iraq, and medical experts working at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Gen. Chiarelli, who is working to reduce the rising suicide rate in the Army comments, “You’re fighting a culture that doesn’t believe that injuries you can’t see can be as serious as injuries that you can see.”

Bookended by haunting montages of emotionally battered American soldiers through the years, WARTORN 1861-2010 explores the very real wounds that occur as a result of combat stress, or PTSD.

HBO Documentary Films in association with Attaboy Films presents WARTORN 1861-2010. Directed by Jon Alpert and Ellen Goosenberg Kent; produced by Jon Alpert, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Matthew O’Neill; co-producer, Lori Shinseki; co-producer, archival segments, Caroline Waterlow; edited by Geof Bartz, A.C.E., Andrew Morreale, and Jay Sterrenberg; supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive produced by James Gandolfini and Sheila Nevins. (HBO)

ANGELO CRAPSEY: Gettysburg veteran left the Army Oct. 13, 1863. Less than a year later, he took his own life.

Angelo Crapsey, Civil War veteran

Angelo had one last battle with the Confederate army, but it was the biggest of them all: Gettysburg. Despite hard fighting on a rocky hill later known as Little Round Top, he again escaped unscathed and even expressed pride in how they had “routed” the Rebels and “drove them like sheep.” Within a week, high fever and dysentery did what bullets never had, and surgeons contacted John Crapsey to inform him that he had better hurry to his son’s side. Angelo defied death once more, but his soldiering days were over. On October 13, 1863, he officially left the army.

“His mind was weak,” Angelo’s stepmother, Lura Crapsey, recalled. “He hadn’t been home five minutes before I noticed that.” Descriptions of him that once had been “lively and cheerful” changed to “melancholy and sober.” An acquaintance remembered that “he seemed to be looking for the enemy, seemed to think that his clothes were unclean and was frequently raving and always seemed to be motioning with his hands. He never seemed to recognize me.” Another portrayed him as “sort of wild and wandering in his memories all the time.” A “perfect wreck in mind and body,” another claimed, and everyone concurred that war had left him “shattered.” On several occasions, he unexpectedly leaped to his feet, threw up his hands, and shouted, “I surrender!”

By the spring of 1864, Angelo’s depression had deepened beyond redemption. According to his stepmother, “He seemed to be set on taking his own life. He seemed to think that everybody and everything hated him. Once he said to me that even the grasshoppers hated him.” In “a crazed fit,” he leaped through the front window of the Lyman home, crashing on the porch amidst glass shards and tiny spears of wood, but escaping with minor bruises. When the phantom lice infestation became unbearable, he hacked at his arm with a scythe, but the weapon was too dull and rusty to accomplish its mission. Drinking poison only made him sick, so he next tried drowning. John Crapsey required the help of three others to pull his son out of the Allegheny River. On the afternoon of August 4, 1864, friends Angelo had known for years refused to allow him to accompany them on a group hunt. He went off by himself, sat against a tree, and put the barrel of a rifle into his mouth. He pushed the trigger with his toe and ended his pain with bloody efficiency.

The American Civil War cost the nation 620,000 lives. Angelo’s death is not included in that statistic, but he is a casualty of war as surely as if he had died in battle. (HBO/Dennis W. Brandt)

Watch clips from film, hear discussions with film makers and two parents who lost their sons to military PTSD-suicide:



One Response

  1. Reblogged this on The 8,000 Mile Sniper Shot and commented:
    Here’s an insight into the Military’s History of suicide.

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