‘Remapping the Trauma of War’ looks at history of PTSD, refugee immigration

March 2, 2015

Eleanor Skelton
[email protected]

War is not isolated to a geographic location or time, argued a lecture on Feb. 26 titled “Remapping the Trauma of War.”

Professor Anna Secor and associate professor Patricia Ehrkamp from the geography department at the University of Kentucky presented their research of veterans and refugees historically and today.

Secor studies geopolitics and how relocation promotes inclusion and exclusion, and Ehrkamp studies state violence and the connection between topographical space and psyche. They began researching together after receiving a National Science Foundation grant.

Secor cited David Morris, who argued that “No other people is as disconnected from the brutality of war as the United States today.”

“Too often, war disappears from public memory and imagination.”

Psychologists first explored what became known as PTSD in the 1890s after railway accidents, when survivors reported mystery ailments referred to as “railway spine.”

Soldiers after World War I who suffered from trauma were viewed as weaker than others who reintegrated, but after World War II, research began to recognize that “every man has his breaking point.”

Later studies showed that PTSD could be implicated in any traumatic event.

Secor argued that the Iraq War is one example, reading a statement from Senator John Kerry in 2009: “Iraq today has become the now-forgotten war.”

Secor and Ehrkamp’s lecture focused on the idea that when a war is forgotten, veterans and refugees are also overlooked.

“The resettlement of refugees challenges the geopolitical imagination of spaces of war and peace being separate over space and time,” Secor said. “Refugees, much like veterans, move between safe and unsafe spaces as they seek shelter from violence.”

Secor cited the U.S. commissioner on refugees, who reported in June 2014 that global displacement topped 50 million for the first time since World War II.

Adjusting to regular life has complications because many refugees and veterans report psychological trauma such as PTSD symptoms.

The two presenters cited a 2005 article by Fassin and d’Halluin that explained: “A refugee’s body becomes ‘an inscription of truth, insofar as it bears witness to it for the institutions of their host country.’”