Last night on Glee, one of the male leads announced he was going to enlist. Glee is as campy as it is liberal, so it was expected that hunky but nosey teacher Will Shooster would try to stop Finn from becoming another dead hero, like his father. I was expecting the typical “don’t do it son; it’s not worth it” speech. The twist they threw down was much more honest.
In the scene, Finn’s mother reveals that his dad didn’t die in the war after all. In some fine acting from Romy Rosemont, she says, “I don’t know if he did something or saw something or just lost his way but…he broke.”
It was just a matter of time before the fiction of today began increasingly to deal with the plight of traumatized veterans and their impact on society. Post WWI we had Virginia Woolf’s shell shocked vets, while much of E.E. Cummings poetry centered around his own struggle with life during wartime and we saw a slew of post-Vietnam characters in 80s movies. The same theme is returning to our stories as more soldiers return from Iraq and Aphganistan. More writers will know vets who’ve lost their way, or will hear of their stories from others and want to write about them. Drug addiction amongst veterans is always higher than the general population—it’s a population that’s not scared of the dangers and often much in need of “better living through chemistry.” Moreover, often their position overseas gives them easy access to drugs.This scene in Glee where we find out Finn’s father died of a drug overdose could just as easily have been written about Vietnam. Yet because drug addiction amongst soldiers is seldom talked about it makes me wonder if the writer behind this scene knew a veteran in this situation.
Either way, we’re going to see more of this. In 2000, a show about bootleggers wouldn’t have focused on returing veterans. Today Boardwalk Empire is so interwined with the story of psychotic WWI vets that it states them as the cause of the bootlegging gangsterism the show covers. What other shows are there that deal with PTSD and drug use among returning veterans? I’d like to ponder this more. The plight of the returning soldier says “War is hell” better than any flag-waving or flag-burning speech ever does.