By Doug Bradley, NAMI HelpLine Coordinator
The Blue Cascade: A Memoir of Life After War
Grand Central Publishing (2012), $26.99
Offering a look at the horrors of war and its aftermath, Mike Scotti’s The Blue Cascade: A Memoir of Life After War (Grand Central Publishing) comes at an important time in our nation’s history. At a time when many members of the armed forces returning are experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the military and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) are struggling to find effective treatments for many of these people.
The author, who served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan and Iraq, details his upbringing, his enlistment, his college life, and his subsequent commissioning as a lieutenant in the Marines. He was in the service on September 11, 2001 and soon after went to Afghanistan. After that, he had a second tour of duty in Iraq. Although he knew he had lost his innocence during combat, he became aware that the war had followed him home. Memories of the fear, brutality, and the indiscriminate cruelty of the war, while sometimes manageable, sometimes resulted in rage and heavy drinking. Also frustrating was the inability of most Americans, including service members who had not been in combat, to understand what he had been through. He, like many veterans, felt alone in a strange world they no longer recognized.
Nonetheless, Mike Scotti, who is bright and has a supportive family, attended business school. His schooling and work ethic enabled him to get a job at a major New York investment bank where he did well. Even so, he felt that compared to his combat experience, the culture of finance seemed trivial. He knew banking was important economically, but he felt like an outsider in many ways. While investment firms gave lavish parties, Scotti would think about wounded veterans couldn’t pay their mortgages or who couldn’t afford transportation to their nearest VA hospital for rehab. Finally, he had enough and left his job.
While in Iraq, the author took many pictures of and filmed much of what he saw. The recordings included the gruesome reality of what war does to the human body. During his time in New York City he had a chance encounter with a filmmaker whom he learned to trust. The author eventually gave this man access to his film to and began collaborating on a documentary called Severe Clear. In making this film, Scotti had to describe what was happening on screen to the film team. While they were initially shocked, they gradually gained some insight into what he had gone through. Scotti called this period of recounting the war “The Purge.” While painful at first, talking about his worst experiences eventually released the war’s hold on him. The memories became less intense and he stopped binge drinking. Scotti finally realized it was “OK not to be OK” and that being strong meant allowing oneself to be vulnerable.
Scotti is grateful for the understanding of the film team, which listened without judging him or what he had done. He wishes others could listen with such empathy, which would break down the stigma of talking about what they went through in war. This stigma, he believes, is what is keeping veterans from discussing their experiences and healing. Only by talking with people who have experienced war, or with people who are genuinely interested and don’t claim to know war is like, will veterans be able to purge their demons. The VA should take note of this approach, especially with the increases in military suicides. This method may not solve all PTSD issues, and memories of war may never disappear, but it would provide something lacking in current care.