Timothy Findley's The Wars

Timothy Findley's The Wars
War has been a constant part of human history. It has greatly affected the lives of people around the world. These effects, however, are extremely detrimental. Soldiers must shoulder extreme stress on the battlefield. Those that cannot mentally overcome these challenges may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sadly, some resort to suicide to escape their insecurities. Soldiers, however, are not the only ones affected by wars; family members also experience mental hardships when their loved ones are sent to war. Timothy Findley accurately portrays the detrimental effects wars have on individuals in his masterpiece The Wars. Findley suggests that war can alter a person's behaviour negatively. Robert Ross, the protagonist of his novel The Wars, portrays symptoms of what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Findley writes:
His temper, you know, was terrible. Once when he thought he was alone and unobserved I saw him firing his gun in the woods at a young tree… Other times he would throw things down and break them on the ground… he had a great deal of violence inside and sometimes it emerged this way with a gesture and other times it showed in his expression when you found him sitting alone on the terrace or staring out a window.
(Findley 152-153)
War is having a growing effect on Robert; his exposure to violence is leaving him in an increasingly fragile state. His behaviour can be interpreted as being increasingly violent and can show his decreasing mental health. Robert's declining mental health may be due to lack of sleep. He said, "Sleep was dangerous…No matter what your mind said, your body didn't listen. Part of you always stayed awake…. Nobody dreams on a battle field. There isn't any sleep that long." (Findley 93) Robert said this while in a dugout near the trenches. During the night they can hear the "sound of distant rifle fire." (Findley 92) They are constantly subjected to the sound of war as well as its dangers. In fact, when the dugout was partially destroyed by artillery fire, Levitt becomes slightly mad. Robert observes in Levitt "an edge of craziness in his voice that sounded dangerous." (Findley 113) These young men changed as they experienced more of the war. Findley demonstrates how war greatly changes human behaviour.
Findley accurately portrays the effects of war on human behaviour. Today, soldiers can be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after exhibiting behaviour that is similar to the characters mentioned in the previous paragraph. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, "People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life." It can be developed when a person is exposed to "a traumatic, stressful event". In fact, "Military personnel in war zones frequently have serious reactions to their traumatic war experiences." Some reactions include "anxiety and panic", "irritability and anger", and "emotional numbing." Furthermore, disorders such as "alcohol abuse", "major depressive episodes", "drug abuse", and "social phobias" can be developed. PTSD is a huge problem because approximately "30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD." War brings many harmful changes to human behaviour that can lead to dangerous acts that affect one's physical and mental health. (National Center for PTSD)
Findley suggests that some soldiers may be driven to suicide by their experiences in war. One such character is Rodwell. Rodwell is extremely fond for animals and keeps them in his company even on the battlefield. He was eventually sent to the front lines and was forced to watch the killing of a cat by his fellow soldiers. Findley wrote, "Half and hour later, Rodwell wandered into No Man's Land and put a bullet through his ears." (Findley 135) Rodwell was traumatized by the behaviour of his fellow soldiers and could not overcome it mentally. Another example is Captain Taffler. He lost both his arms in the war and was brought to England for treatment. He tried to commit suicide by "rubbing his wounds to make the bleed. The stumps where his arms had been were raw and one of them was pumping blood in spurts across the floor." (Findley 152) Taffler tried to commit suicide so that he could escape from his painful existence. Findley is suggesting that the war drove these men into corners from which they could not escape. Eventually, they decided suicide is their only option left. They could no longer cope with their environment or with themselves.
Findley's depiction of suicide is accurate with the real world. Today, suicide among soldiers is a growing problem. According to Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman of the Hartford Courant, there is "an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves - accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths." Some of the reasons associated with suicide are that some "unstable troops are kept on the front lines while on potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, with little or no counseling or medical monitoring." In fact, "service members who committed suicide were experiencing serious psychological problems during deployment."(The Hartford Courant) According to The New Zealand Herald, Douglas Barber, an Iraq veteran, told the Coalition for Free Thought in Media in an interview that, " ‘Everybody in Iraq was going through suicide counselling because the stress was so high. It was at such a magnitude, such a high level, that it was unthinkable for anyone to imagine.' " Douglas is "one of numerous instances of Iraqi veterans who have taken their own lives since the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003." He returned home but started to "fall apart". Eventually he could no longer deal with his stress and committed suicide at his home in Alabama. (Buncombe) Like Rodwell, these soldiers suffered extreme mental stress and developed psychological problems that ultimately led to suicide.
Findley also depicts the negative effect of war on the family. Robert's mother, Mrs. Ross, is greatly affected by her son's choice to join the war overseas. She slowly grows distant from her family. She instead prefers the company of her friend Mrs. Davenport. An example of this is their visit to church:
This was too much for Mrs Ross. She stood up. Standing, she leaned down over Davenport's magenta hat and said: ‘I need you. Come.'…Mister Ross, Peggy and Stuart remained inside. Peggy had almost followed, but her father had restrained her. He was afraid for his wife but knew it was neither himself nor her children that she needed. (Findley 53-54)

In fact, Robert's absence is directly associated with Mrs. Ross's seclusion from the rest of her family. Findley writes, "All she wanted was to sit in the corner of the room and watch the door for Robert's return."(Findley 69) Furthermore, after receiving news that her son was "missing in action", she becomes blind. (Findley 179) She experiences extreme sadness that results in the loss of her sight. Findley portrays how a soldier's family can be deeply affected by war through his character Mrs. Ross.
In reality, the family members of soldiers sent to war can be negatively affected emotionally and mentally. According to Drs. Julia Whealin and Ilona Pivar of the National Center for PTSD, the impact of having a family member sent to war is great. "Emotions can run high during the deployment, and people can turn fear, anger, and other emotions against those they care for the most." This can lead to family troubles and "add strain to the family." Furthermore, a "period of sadness, loneliness, and tension begins at the time of departure; this can last several weeks or longer."(Whealin and Pivar) Family members of soldiers may experience many emotional problems; however, even when a loved one returns from the battlefield, problems may arise. According to the National Center for PTSD, a "returning war veteran may feel irritable and have difficulty communicating, which may make it hard to get along with him or her." Furthermore, members of the family "may feel hurt, alienated, or discouraged because the veteran has not been able to overcome the effects of the trauma. Family members may become angry or feel distant from the veteran." After returning home, soldiers may not be able to adjust to their former daily lives. This results in a change of social behaviour for the family.
That is why both on the battlefield and at home, soldiers directly affect their household. (National Center for PTSD)
Findley's novel is extremely accurate in depicting the detrimental effects of war. Although World War One and the Iraq war are of a different time, Findley demonstrates that the way war effects humans are the same. Although the term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder did not exist in the early 1900's, its characteristics were apparent in the soldiers. Findley portrays the effects of the disorder by developing the change in behaviour in characters such as Robert Ross and Levitt. He also depicts the mental anguish that many experience and how some cannot cope with the stress. Ultimately, suicide is what some choose. Not only does he powerfully convey the severity of such a decision, but does so in a way that reflects actual problems in armies. An excellent example of this is the current Iraq war. Findley also demonstrates understanding on how the family is affected by one of its members going to war. He accurately depicts the withdrawal of some members of the family from the rest using the character of Mrs. Ross. Findley's portrayal of the effects of war on both family and soldier is extremely accurate when compared to problems experienced by real soldiers and their families.
Overall, Findley's masterpiece The Wars deserves great merit. Not only does it portray the physical effects of war, but also the mental effects. He delves into the detrimental effects on the mental health of the soldiers as they are subjected to the horrors of war. Furthermore, he demonstrates how the soldiers are affected, and how they are ultimately changed. In doing so, he provides a clear strong message on how war is truly detrimental to human beings.

Timothy Findley's The Wars 8.3 of 10 on the basis of 1003 Review.