Theme of Veterans Reintegration into Society in Ernest Hemingway's "Soldier's Home"


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Ernest Hemmingway’s Soldier’s Home illustrates how a World War I veteran deals with reintegration into society. Soldiers Home is a prime example of how a young man aspirations in life are altered by war. Most soldiers current and past have seen how their return from war is problematic and challenging. As a current deployed U.S. Army soldier, I appreciate, admire, and respect the personal strife of the soldiers before me. My fellow brothers and sisters in arms have laid the groundwork with their blood, sweat, and tears for veteran benefits and assistance programs which now all American servicemen and women will receive.

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After the War, soldiers were not offered benefits to attend schools for higher education. In compression, today’s soldiers have a vast amount of options like the GI Bill and Tuition Assistance (TA), which provide a generous amount of financial assistance / benefits. The benefits package for returning soldiers in 1919 consisted mainly of a sixty dollar cash bonus, paid to each soldier upon honorable discharge, a travel allowance of five cents per mile for the train ride home, and, if applicable, a small pension designed to offset any wages that might be lost due to a missing limb or some similarly severe wound (Trout). Also, “there was nothing in the way of financial support for attending college or receiving job training, nor were there any low-cost home loans (Trout).

With all these extravagant benefits towards the education of our troops, what were they going to be able to accomplish? Their future was limited because with no jobs to be provided or even obtainable, these people including Krebs have nothing to live for or pursue. Clear examples from Hemmingway’s Soldiers Home Krebs stayed at home and lived with his parents and would occasionally walk down town to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the front porch until he became bored, and then walking down through the town to spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room (Hemmingway 188). This is a state of depression that Krebs displayed, due to the lack of opportunities lost from the government failures to help out their own comrades.

A dismal job market offers little salvation to Krebs and other soldiers, which only added to his current distress. Once Krebs had returned home, he didn’t have a job and just stayed at home thus putting him into a downward spiral of self loathing. Krebs was enabled by his mother for which she provided anything he may need, others were not as fortunate as him. In Krebs’s Oklahoma, one of the most decorated Native American veterans of the conflict, Joseph Oklahombi, spent the 1920s alcoholic and destitute, his decade-long period of unemployment interrupted only by a short-lived, two-dollar-a-day job loading lumber (Trout). Most disabled veterans demanded that the federal government reciprocate by retraining them into positions as skilled laborers even if they had worked in unskilled jobs before entering the military (Gelber). Gelber also stated the Federal Board of Vocational Education (FBVE) promised to enable wounded veterans to return to their prewar occupations or to qualify for new jobs.

It appeared the federal government was not doing anything to assist all of its World War I Veterans. The American Legion answered the call for Veteran assistance in this time period of American History. They made a huge impact on the push for the soldiers benefits and to increase the ways of life. This included a monetary contribution or assistance with medical benefits. The Legion initiated a campaign to secure additional bonus dollars for men who had served in the Great War. The campaign finally succeeded, but not until approximately 27,000 bonus supporters, some dressed in the now tattered uniforms that the government had awarded them in 1919, were rousted from their tent city near the Capital Building by tear-gas wielding troops under the command of Douglas MacArthur (Trout). The tragedy of the situation is the simple fact that soldiers were forced to rely on independent sources for assistance instead of their own government.

Veterans returning home from the war with missing limbs and a life full of misery due to the traumatic events of war. Soldiers with missing limbs were patched up by the nurses, while the government intended to repay its debt to soldiers disabled during the war by providing free vocational reeducation (Gelber). Trout stated Out of the twenty-nine American combat divisions that saw action on the Western Front (each containing, at full strength, approximately 27,000 men). The Second suffered the highest number of casualties with approximately 18,000 wounded and 5,000 killed. They also received the highest number of replacements, more than 35,000 men. The government tried to settle debts with the wounded soldiers. Their plan was small pension designed to offset any wages that might be lost due to a missing limb or some similarly severe wound (Trout). Even with these generous gestures, there were no significant medical benefits offered.

There were other soldiers from that war whose mental state was altered due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Mayo Clinic definition of PTSD is, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event” either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Other symptoms that came with PTSD were uncontrollable diarrhea to unrelenting anxiety (Bourke). Many of the returning soldiers from World War I including Harold Krebs suffered from this mental disease.

PTSD can have negative effects on how a person interacts with society. Professor Jones and Professor Wessely are quoted on the effects of PTSD these features lead to avoidance and impaired social interaction. Krebs social interaction with other people, especially women in his small town community, is an example of avoidance. He did not have the motivation to chase women and most likely make new friends. He chose to watch them from the side lines. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have the desire for a nice good looking girl he could lay down next to at night. In his mind the work and time needed to get hitched outweighs the pay out.

It’s reasonable to assume that before he enlisted and went to fight the Germans he was just like every other male, looking for some action. The story does mention that he had a picture of himself with a fellow marine and two local girls, but there is no indication given to the nature of this relationship. Judging from how tight his uniform fit it was taken after he had already become a seasoned fighter and was on some rest and relaxation. His ability to open up and have a sensual connection was impossible; the relationship was a simply a physical one. When he spoke about foreign women all he had to say was that it was much easier and wished that American girls were the same. He had lost his ability to believe in love and desire love.

Krebs lack of expressing love also extended to his immediate family. One case was with his sister and not telling her he would be at her game to support her. This could have been just the nature of relationships between siblings in the Krebs family. A big indicator of his altered emotional state was a conversation with his mother. When his mother asked him if he loved her all he had to say was, I don’t love anybody (Hemingway 191). In this one instance he displayed a trait of PTSD discussed by Professor Jones and Professor Wessely, impaired social interaction. Shutting himself out to those types of feelings could stem from losing friends in combat.

Personal reflection from this story has allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for the current benefits programs available as a United States serviceman. Soldiers have a greater opportunity to better themselves outside of the military if desired. Hemmingway’s story gives us a peak into the past of American society, which allows for a deeper appreciation of the veterans programs available. Today’s benefit programs include state and federal college tuition reimbursement, Hiring a Heroes for job placement, professional counseling, and self help programs. U.S. veterans have the ability, resources, and the government backing to fulfill their aspirations due to the sacrifices of those who have come before them, for this I am truly honored.

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