Every stuffed friend is a characteristic of PTSD

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

A. A. Milne served as a lieutenant in the Great War, was wounded at the Somme, and then finished the war writing propaganda back in England. He went on to write an anti-war book, Peace with Honour, and may have suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder — mistaking buzzing bees for bullets and popping balloons for gunshots:

It’s been theorized by Dr. Sarah Shea that Milne wrote into each character of Winnie-the-Pooh a different psychological disorder. While only A. A. Milne could tell us for certain, Dr. Shea’s theory seems pointed in the right direction, but may be a little too impersonal. After all, the book was written specifically for one child, by name, and features the stuffed animals that the boy loved.

It’s more likely, in my opinion, that the stories were a way for Milne to explain his own post-traumatic stress to his six-year-old son. Every stuffed friend in the Hundred Acre Woods is a child-friendly representation of a characteristic of post-traumatic stress. Piglet is paranoia, Eeyore is depression, Tigger is impulsive behaviors, Rabbit is perfectionism-caused aggression, Owl is memory loss, and Kanga & Roo represent over-protection. This leaves Winnie, who Alan wrote in for himself as Christopher Robin’s guide through the Hundred Acre Woods — his father’s mind.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    WW I produced numerous great writers, WW II much fewer, and Korea and Nam hardly any. WW II also produced a number of good war films. “Twelve O’Clock High” is my favorite. WW I also produced a few good ones: “Dawn Patrol,” “Hell’s Angels.” But Viet Nam produced none. Every Nam film is too preachy and whiney.

    Of course, WW I seems to be the end point for Western literature and art. There followed many decades of decay.

  2. RLVC says:

    Bob: “But Viet Nam produced none.”


  3. Bruce Charlton says:

    Just to clarify, the original article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, is typical medical humour, for the Christmas season (when such jokey, pretend-science pieces traditionally get published) — not intended seriously. Pretty funny, I thought.

  4. Kirk says:

    You really have to do a compare/contrast with what A.A. Milne thought compared to what his actual son came away with from that experience. I read the son’s point of view, from where I no longer remember, and I left that piece considering A.A. Milne an utter ass of a father, someone who worked out his own issues through his son, and then publicized it all. Which left the son in a bad position, being known as this character his father made up in a book.

    My read on A.A. Milne is that he’s another one of that leftoid progressive ilk that spun up how great war was, got a taste of it, didn’t like it, and then turned anti-war with the same feeling of virtue he no doubt used before to speak of smiting the filthy Hun.

    This is the essential problem with most of these types, and I’m done with them. It’s like Ron Kovic–The ass was all rah-rah patriotic about fighting in Vietnam, being a long-service volunteer, and then once he got wounded and crippled, it’s “Oh, poor poor pitiful me, Uncle Sam done raped me of my youth and fitness…”. Reality? Scumbag was a professional soldier who should have known the realities of it all, and who made the choice to be where he was. Upon drawing fate’s short straw, he then discovers “morality”, and decides that his country fucked him over because they sent him off to war–Which he’d volunteered for. If I remember the details, he was on his second damn tour when he got hit…

    Friend of mine was a contemporaneous Vietnam veteran with Kovic. His take? “Dude bought a ticket on a carnival ride, and then got pissed when that ride broke…”.

    There is little in this universe of ours that is more hypocritical than the jingoistic jackass who goes off to war and then discovers that people get hurt and killed in wars. The problem with them is that they, in their newly-discovered morally scrupulous worldview, never come to understand that while war is always a horror, sometimes the alternative is far worse. Ask the Armenians if they’d have rather fought the Turk, or the Jews if they’d have liked to be able to put up a fight when the gauleiters came for them.

  5. Kgaard says:

    Bob, Apocalypse Now has got to be one of the greatest movies of all time, no?

  6. Kirk says:

    Kgaard… Yeah, but… No. Apocalypse Now is a retelling of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is set in the Belgian Congo under King Leopold.

    Literary crap actually from Vietnam? I’d hesitate to suggest anything, anything at all. Not from the soldier side of things, although I’ll admit to an ignorance of things from the Vietnamese perspective.

  7. Wang Wei Lin says:

    I highly recommend the 1917 movie. It’s the basic war story in the genre of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. The cinematography of the the continuous single scene from beginning to end is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Worth the 12 bucks for me since I go to theatres less than once a year.

  8. Bruce says:

    Literary crap actually from Vietnam? I don’t hesitate to recommend Joe Haldeman’s ‘War Year’ and his ’1968′. If you like science fiction I recommend his complete works. ‘The Forever War’, especially the novella the book was expanded from.

  9. Kirk says:

    I like Haldeman, a lot, but… He’s no Junger or Sassoon. And, his Vietnam-connected books are derivative tripe, compared to the output streaming from WWI.

    Now, this may well be a reflection of more erudite and educated people being thrust into the cauldron of war, but I cannot help but make the comparison. Haldeman is a whiny bitch who didn’t see shit, compared to most of the guys like Junger or Sassoon. Not that watching your entire generation immolated in the trenches is anything you can term edifying, but let’s be honest, here–Most of the Vietnam-era guys did not exactly experience hardship or loss, by comparison. Do a year in Vietnam? Even in the units with the highest rates of loss, that’s not shit compared to a day on the Somme. As well, the combat environment simply did not compare. Khe Sanh may have come close to the intensity of WWI, in terms of being under fire, but to try to say that Vietnam-era guys were anywhere near the same, with their one-year and done tours, and the poor schmuck on the Western Front who was there from 1914 until 1918 and war’s end? Nowhere near the same scale of thing.

    Of course, a good deal of that could be laid at the doors of their more literate peers having taken the exit marked “academic deferment”, but here we are: The literary merit of Gustav Hasford compared to say, Remarque? There is really no comparison. In WWI, the literate went to war. In Vietnam, the literate went to college. Are we missing anything, because of that?

    My personal take on the whole thing is that the asses who idealize war are as bad as the anti-war types. War isn’t a phenomenon of options, in all too many cases. Sure, you may have some romantic dolts who go off to fight them because “glory”, but the reality is that while there are wars of choice where the participants could have done other, far more intelligent things, there are also some wars where your options are sufficiently bad that you really have no other option than to fight.

    Like most professional career soldiers, I’m actually more of a pacifist than the general public would think; I’m entirely against war for “glory”, but I’ll cheerfully acknowledge that sometimes, the choices are pretty stark: Go to war, or suffer severe consequences. It’s like “police brutality”, in that you occasionally are better off opting to beat the ever-loving snot out of someone as a corrective, lest you be forced to shoot them later on, down the line. You lose sight of that fact, and you’ll eventually have to kill more people because of your touchy-feely BS than you would if you’d let the oversize cops you hired off their leashes occasionally to reinforce why challenging things can be a bad idea for those who want to disrupt public peace and quiet.

  10. Graham says:

    WW1 is certainly beyond living memory now, but it had a larger cultural impact in the Commonwealth countries, especially the UK, than in the US. Different histories before and since, different experience of that war itself. No foul in that, but it colours perspectives even now.

    Where every town in much of the US might have a war memorial that highlights the Civil War first, maybe the other wars later, every little town and city in Canada that existed then has a war memorial that probably first read 1914-1918. Few have Boer War memorials, since few Canadians went. Though Toronto has an impressive one.

    Britain still remembers the Great War. Especially the Somme. Ulster remembers their Division, almost all slaughtered on the first day. Newfoundland, a tiny colony that sent only a regiment, nonetheless remembers that most of them were killed that same day. Canada and Australia remember different battles, but similar memories.

    Many in Britain can still tell you that they suffered roughly 20,000 fatalities and about 60,000 total casualties on that first day at the Somme. No subsequent day was quite that bad, but then it didn’t have to be.

    It’s of course an exaggeration to say that an entire generation was wiped out or that their absence destroyed Britain’s future – plenty survived, social and economic roles were filled, life went on. But the poetic license of that sentiment did touch on some realities- many especially good young men were lost, others had their lives shortened, their potential warped, choices curtailed. Disproportionate numbers of women went unmarried, children went unmade, certain social classes suffered disproportionate numbers of dead, families were deprived of their posterity at all levels, and in numbers rarely seen.

  11. Kirk says:

    Graham, one thing that should be noted: The US has an entirely different sense of its history than anyone outside it can really comprehend.

    Here in the US, if you even know detailed history about your family or your town, you are labeled as weird by everyone around you. At most, people go back a generation or two, and then it ceases to be anything more than a cause for academic curiosity. Fifty-five people from your hometown went off to WWII, and only nine came back? Nobody knows, nobody really cares, and nobody thinks about it.

    Europe, by comparison? Can’t let go–I remember doing a foot march through the Hessian countryside outside Darmstadt, one fall day. We stopped in a small town, and took a break around the little square it was centered on. We got nothing but dirty looks from the locals, and I could not put my finger on why it felt so unwelcoming. Looked around, couldn’t figure it out. Later, once we were back off that exercise, I went to the military library on the neighboring kaserne, and asked the German librarian if she could help me… Turns out, yes–That little German town? The monument? It wasn’t to anything an American would ever expect, because it commemorated the Hessian unit from that little town that went off to fight in the Revolutionary War, and never came back. It was, apparently, most of that community’s young men, and it never recovered. They never forgot, never forgave–Over 200 years later, the anti-American feeling was still there, rooted in crap that went on well before most of my ancestors migrated here.

    You’re never, ever going to find something equivalent here in the US, except maybe from the Civil War. Most of that isn’t even well-remembered–You ask the average person about what happened in their town, and they won’t be able to answer, or name a casualty from the war. Most European countries, though? They remember, or seem to, from our perspective.

    There’s so much turbulence and mobility in American life that it’s almost inconceivable that your family might be living in the same town or even state that they were fifty years ago, let alone a hundred. This encourages a lot of disconnection with history, for good or ill.

    When I was a kid, I remember a distinct feeling of “This ain’t right…” when I found the memorial tablet from WWI for the town in a storage room of the high school, dust-covered and unmaintained. As best I could tell, it had been affixed at one time to a wall of the then-new school building, and then when they tore it down in the 1960s, nobody had any interest in putting it back up. They did put it into storage, and what else struck me was how few of the names on it still had a local connection. I took the tablet down into the library at the school, and looked up all the names in the local phone book–The majority no longer had a listing. Where there were a bunch of Jaarvinen’s on the tablet, maybe five or six, there were no longer any in the phone book. The tablet wound up with our history teacher, and I moved out of that town not too long after. I did get back in touch with her a few years later, and I asked what she’d done with the tablet–She’d made a project of it for one of her classes, and traced out what happened to the men whose names were on it. Very few of them remained local–The majority were gone within a generation of the war, moved on to different pastures.

    Americans are far more nomadic and transitory than Europeans really comprehend. That’s one reason why our sense of history and connection to it seem so vague–My maternal family started out in the 1600s as loggers, mill operators, and carpenters somewhere in New York, and then crossed the country with the timber industry, winding up in Eastern Oregon at the end of it all. I know that, but if you ask the majority of the people around me to describe even a general sense of what their families did back in the 1600s, they’re gonna look at you like you are mad. They don’t know, and they don’t care. Hell, go back just a few generations, and they’ll react the same way.

    Now, I will acknowledge that that is mostly a Western US thing–Some locales, yeah… People remember. But, when they do, it’s uncommon enough that you look at ‘em like they’re nuts.

  12. Graham says:

    Well, I was mainly riffing on, and in support of, your point about Vietnam versus the Somme.

    There’s certainly larger truth in your comment, though.

    I could only say these by way of expansion-

    I’m not sure the Europeans now have not become almost as detached from history, identity and place as Americans, or more. Not, perhaps, in the American way of being entirely mobile and self- or at least family-oriented, or all about personal ambition and life experience, but just from no longer thinking of history as positively or feeling connected. Derbyshire once did an interesting Iraq-war era piece on how Americans and Europeans didn’t understand each other’s patriotism. Americans’ was described as louder, as tying their country more to documents and ideas and commitments to certain kinds of action, Europeans’ was more about place, family, and custom. Or something like that. Once a major driver, now not.

    There was truth in it. Even now American sense of history looks from outside to be less about the mystic chords of memory than about the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Yet either way, Americans in a political argument sure seem to cite a lot of what they perceive as history in support of rival courses of action. Europeans, and Canadians, seem either ignorant of it or disinclined to value history unless as a means to feel guilty. Arguments are couched in such terms as to imply no past, only present and future.

    As to your description of American attitudes to the past in that less ideological sense, maybe so. That’s not unlike Canadian life, come to think. We also move around a lot, only in some provinces do many people speak really in terms of roots (as a native Torontonian, the first gen born there and who left, I don’t have roots; Maritimers, Newfoundlanders, Quebecers, they have roots; some rural Ontarians too]. Fewer people know much before their grandparents, and perhaps even then only if they knew them personally. Genealogy and local history are widely regarded as the provinces of a certain kind of library nerd.

    Still, that’s not so different now from the behaviours of my British relatives, so it makes me wonder all the more about other European peoples today.

    The other questions that strike me:

    How does this rootlessness vary around the US? It’s probably more common everywhere than it was 50 years ago, but has it in that time shaped places like New England or the South or even the Old Northwest to the same degree as say, California? Or Florida?

    How much has it grown in relatively recent times? Like us, you had a lot of migration to a western frontier, so it’s not exactly new, but has it always been as defining a feature of being American as it is now? In the 19th century, a lot of people seemed to go as groups, and maintain some kind of collective identity for a decent interval, or to set up their new states and counties with a view to replicating the way of life of the old. Or to belong to already identified religious or other subcultures.

    Sorry this isn’t as articulate as it might be- I’m struggling with terminology on this one.

  13. Graham says:

    One larger thought you reminded me of.

    Whenever certain big picture questions come up, I’ve increasingly learned to think of the United States as both the last bastion defending what I want to see in the world and the ultimate, deepest, most effective threat against it.

    I suppose it has always been so. I only realized it in middle age.

    It puts me in an interesting position in a country like Canada- I have issues with the American Dream, American Exceptionalism, American foreign policy, American Values [tm], like my compatriots, it’s just that my objections are to the sides of America they like and vice versa.

    Take nationalism, broadly defined, anything that values patriotism for one’s own country, prioritizes its survival and advancement and autonomy, no need to go Full Nazi here- I see America as the last Western country in which any version of that discourse was discussable openly, still viable not so long ago in other countries, even Europe, and the last country willing to speak in any other terms, even generous and liberal ones, that didn’t repeat mantras like Rules Based International Order.

    And it is. It’s also the ultimate underminer of the sovereignty of everyone else in political, commercial, legal and cultural terms.

    SO here, to some degree. The last Western country that openly cites it’s history as a reason to do things, the one culture most directly responsible for killing that idea off.

    Then again, it’s not entirely alien to the rest of us. By the standards of some regions, Britain, and even the rest of Europe, have had cultures and identities that flowed like water and peoples wandering all over the place.

  14. Bruce says:

    Kirk, you remind me of something Freeman Dyson said in his diaries- that Americans are so friendly because we are so isolated in time.

    As to Haldeman, I like him better than you, and recommend him without hesitation, but no, he’s not comparable to the best WWI writers. In two ways- one, no he’s not as good, and two, comparing his style to the best of WWI writers is comparing apples and oranges. To Haldeman, good writing is Hemingway’s flatted, taut melodramatic phrasing. Compared to the flowers of Storm of Steel or Blunden or TE Laurence he’s just not trying to do the same thing. Hemingway was reacting to bad WWI writers; compared to them Hem and Haldeman rule.

  15. Graham says:

    I felt last night like I should revise and extend.

    First, to note I’m still pretty net positive on the US.

    Second, to clarify. Where I come from on this is that I think of the progressive vision of America and the world as every bit as much quintessentially American as any other, and could not really have been produced anywhere else. Sure, Marxism is German, but the version of the future the American left is offering could have been compiled nowhere else. It mixes in stuff that could not have been concocted in the old world.

    Still onside with other aspects of the US.

    Bruce reminds me of something I thought of Americans as a kid. Everybody from retail personnel to people on the street were just that increment more friendly and outgoing than even in such a similar place as Canada. I visited Watkins Glen in New York circa 1981 with my parents and we met an old couple who started to chat. When my dad explained we were from Toronto, Canada, and how relatively close that was, I’m not sure the old man actually recognized the place. But he said, “We’re from Illinois. Welcome to America.”

    SO there’s always that side of things.

  16. Graham says:

    One of my former bosses wanted us to write official analyses in as close to a “Hemingwayesque” style as possible.

    He was a bit overdoing it but some of the lesson stuck.

  17. RLVC says:

    Graham: “Even now American sense of history looks from outside to be less about the mystic chords of memory than about the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

    That line (which will live in infamy) was penned by an immigrant in 1883 just as a huge wave of her low-rent brethren from Italy and the Pale of Settlement were beginning to break on American shores.


    But the chart looks looks more radical than it is, since the vast majority stayed in the cities and failed to penetrate the institutions, so as late as 1956 the Ivy League was still a recognizably Puritan institution, and as late as 1993 you could still trivially visit any one of many small towns and things were just… normal.

    Today, of course, there are Somalis in Minnesota, Muslims in Congress, the crown jewel of America is a banana republic, and the staunchest Virginian defenders of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms pledge their steadfast commitment to the pidgin communist moral order in the most egregious and embarrassing way.

    (The pidgin communist moral order is itself an embarrassment to the communist moral order. Give me one Trotsky before a million pidgin-communist invertebrates.)

  18. Perhaps too tangential, but Graham’s query regarding rootlessness brought to mind the amazing and excellent The Discovery of France by Graham Robb, which unveils the crazy patchwork of alien dialects, with their own cultural identities, that persisted throughout much of France even into 1890 or so — and argues that the idea of a unified cultural and geographical entity called “France” was so much hogwash until quite recently.

    Of course, I half suspect at this point that I learned of this book from Isegoria — searching for “Graham” or “France” is no help — in which case I’ll say “thanks,” as the book’s a really enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

  19. Isegoria says:

    I was certain that I’d mentioned The Discovery of France here, but I guess I merely added it to my to-read list.

  20. Graham says:

    “searching for “Graham” or “France” is no help”

    Words to live by.

  21. Graham says:

    Actually, I’ve always wondered if it’s possible to see every Isegoria post I’ve commented on through a search. It seems not possible. I tend to bookmark them selectively instead. It’s part and parcel of the worst personal information archiving strategy ever. My bookmarks, word documents with lists of pages, and files are a complete shambles. Sigh.

  22. Graham says:

    Another book in a similar vein is Britons: Forging the Nation by Linda Colley. Really excellent.

    These sorts of things teach important lessons about history and identity. Naturally, some take it a bit far.

    It’s similar, within its domain, to the important insight that just because something is “socially constructed” doesn’t actually make it not useful, or even not real. Everything outside physics, chemistry and biology is socially constructed.

    It’s tough to be of British ancestry and not know that it’s a superstructure over English, Scottish, Welsh and part Irish, each far older, that these identities themselves have deep structure even if more buried, or that the impulse toward unity among them by hook or crook has had a lot of drivers going back a millennium, just as the impulse to separate has had. It’s like “Europe”, in that regard. And all of them have had millions of people for whom they were real, just the same.

    With France, the impulse toward uniformity started with the kings [Tocqueville more or less taught his compatriots that it didn't start with the revolution] but accelerated with republicanism, an ideology of centralism and uniformity among other things.

    Tough to read of the Hundred Years War without remembering that whole regions didn’t think of themselves as French the same way the Ile de France did. The Gascons and Guienese thought themselves nations, by ethnicity, law and language. Sometimes so did the Provencal. The former remembered themselves as a separate kingdom with separate laws. And it was true enough, in part from once being Visigoth and Latin, not Frank and Latin, in part as a trifling artifact of the constant division of the Frankish crown.

    Without belaboring, which I am not equipped to do, one question that has always interested me is the chicken and egg aspect of this, and the role played by the extremely long centuries involved and the extremely low preservation of historical information over that time- when and how did the ethnic, linguistic and cultural distinctions precede, or instead follow and build on, the more legalistic divisions imposed by arbitrary rules of inheritance and feudal division?

    [I suspect that medievals weren't stupid and that these things were just as often conscious, self-serving choices. If Aquitaine was always a separate kingdom according to its learned greybeards, then it would be just for it to remain separate from Paris and linked to its trading partner and wine consumer England. It's not unlike how French lawyers of the same era deliberately, in all self-awareness, invented the idea that the Salic Law barred succession in female line to the French Crown, and then proclaimed it part of the eternal and unchangeable constitutional law of France. And English lawyers in turn called them on this BS and invented their own. Good times.]

    That and, of course, France and England in particular managed to get enough common identity together to self-identify as such right down to the common man level during the course of the Hundred Years War. So the persistence of regional culture and dialect isn’t exactly a spear through the heart of national identity as a concept, any more than it would be today.

    FOr clarification, I’m currently reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company on Project Gutenberg, and just completed its prequel, Sir Nigel. Good, flowing writing full of references to things like “stout Gascons”. So really living the glory of the Aquitaine here.

  23. Isegoria says:

    I believe a simple search on “Graham” should do the trick — with a few false positives thrown in, to keep you on your toes.

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