Author breaks soldiers’ silence

Ted Barris is the author of 15 non-fiction books and is a full-time professor of journalism at Centennial College’s East York campus.

The five-time best-selling author’s latest book, Breaking the Silence, explores how veterans usher themselves back into society after experiencing the trauma that comes with being in war.

On Remembrance Day, veterans quietly pay homage to their friends who didn’t come back. But, Barris says, when the Last Post is sounded and the last wreath is laid, they disappear into the crowd, go home and return to the silence they’ve observed since their wartime experience.

On Nov. 11, “it’s like they’re king for a day,” Barris said. “But what about November the 12th or December the 6th when those guys are still feeling the effects of what they went through all these years later but it isn’t their day to be noticed?”

Barris said one reason veterans don’t open up about their struggles is that they don’t want their families to worry about them. He also said it’s because they want to go back to life as it was before the experience of war.

“They don’t want their families to see them cry. They don’t want their families to recognize vulnerability or trauma,” Barris said.

“There is a certain mask that they prefer to have to live behind. And as damaging as it is to them to hold that in and as damaging it is to their family not to be able to penetrate it, it’s there.”

Barris said his book seeks to help the younger generation — who can’t relate to war — understand the sacrifice veterans have made.

“Even with bodies coming back from Afghanistan almost every week, for most Canadians it’s a real disconnect, because it’s so far away and it’s far away in time. The connective tissue isn’t there,” Barris said.

“In a way this book is connective tissue. It’s an umbilical cord between the younger generation and something that happened 60 years ago. The veterans in Afghanistan are coming back home now and are all experiencing trauma.”

In a time when mental illnesses were even more taboo than today, veterans from past wars dealt with their trauma differently.

During and after the First World War, Barris said, some soldiers and veterans “realized they were oversensitive about noises, trigger-happy emotionally. They had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but they didn’t know what it was then. They called it ‘shellshock’. They would see the evidence of it for many years after the Great War. It was the same after the Second World War.”

Veterans coming back from Afghanistan do know what PTSD is and are more knowledgeable about how to deal with it, Barris said. But their struggle with it is still the same.

While Barris said he has always found war horrific and believes there are safer ways to deal with differences between peoples, he respects the veterans for what they’ve done and the reason they go.

While Barris said he doesn’t consider himself a war historian, he said his books are helpful to people who want to understand what it’s like to be a veteran.

“When they want to know about the little guy, they come to me,” Barris said. “Like with my other books, I try to create anecdotes in this book because the more you can see an individual’s struggle with all this, the more they can relate to it.”