The Vietnam War took place between 1959 & 1975 and “anyone who survived Vietnam seemed to regard it as something personal and embarrassing” (Mason 67). This war is the only war of its passing that is still affecting people today, the last two generations know it by heart and it has shaped some more than others. There are several well documented side effects of this particular war including: post-traumatic stress disorder, but also major depression which can very often be closely associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, there’s also substance abuse, ADHD, sleep disorders, and bi polar disorder. Alongside this array of mental disorders is having to deal with the Identification of the illness which can be extremely difficult as well. The survivors of the Vietnam war are by some sort of social understanding excluded from societies standards, people don’t hold them to the full level of accountability for their actions and they are therefore “free but damaged” (Mason 225). In the novel In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason, Emmet suffers from the psychological burdens of the Vietnam War; identified as post-traumatic stress disorder, he tries to self-medicate with his substance abuse, he is chronically unemployed, and the inability to mature.
Emmett’s substance abuse is another sign of his physiological issues. At sever different points in the novel he’s drinking and smoking his “sweet stuff”, often times “Veterans who return home and are having difficulty adjusting often use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. They are often not willing to admit that they are having trouble and will make efforts to ease their symptoms and many veterans will use alcohol to relax.” (veteranfamiliesunited 3). Among veterans alcohol abuse is closely associated with combat exposure and is brought about by feeling the need to alleviate the problems and escape. Although Bobbie Ann Mason does not say that Emmett is using to the degree of being belligerent and unruly, it is still a signal of Emmett’s need for assistance. With that said “excessive and prolonged use of depressants or stimulants begin to add to the existing problems. Deeper psychological problems cannot be addressed if the veteran is excessively self-medicating.” (veteranfamiliesunited 3).
Emmett is consistently unemployed; he says that he doesn’t feel like he needs to get a job. Although Sam works at the Burger Boy which helps to support her and her uncle and therefore “Emmett’s problems bring about a limited lifestyle and barriers imposed on Sam’s own possibilities” (Ryan 202). Although he does end up getting a job at the end of the novel to support himself while Sam goes to college, this does not occur until after he has had his startling break down with Sam at Cawood pond. Emmett feels like he doesn’t need to get a job, which ultimately seems like another way for him to deflect his problems away from his life so he can focus more on his substance abuse and watching M*A*S*H.