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Indie Groundbreaking Book: When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home

We all know that war is hell. But, so is returning home from war.

In her groundbreaking book (and we're not the only ones calling it that -- the experts call it that, too), When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans (The MIT Press, 2011), Paula J. Caplan proposes the it-takes-a-village approach to helping vets heal from the emotional ravages of war: that lay people -- family, friends, colleagues, even strangers -- actually listen to vets' experiences. And talk to them about them.

While some may certainly need therapy and/or medication, Dr. Caplan writes that "there is only so much emotional carnage of war that psychologists or psychiatrists can fix," and stresses "the importance of every citizen being willing to listen to vets' descriptions of what they've been through."

In 2004, Dr. Caplan wrote an article for The Washington Post "about the need to avoid calling veterans mentally ill."

In the book, she writes: "I was moved by the many veterans from various wars who wrote to say that this article had hit home for them and to urge me to continue trying to convey this message."

In 2007, she tackled the issue again in an appropriately titled article for Tikkun magazine, "Vets Aren't Crazy; War Is."

A clinical and research psychologist, an Affiliate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute, and a Fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Dr. Paula J. Caplan is the author of 12 books, including The Myth of Women's Masochism, and They Say You're Crazy: How the World's Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who's Normal. She's written articles, essays, and op-eds for scholarly and popular publications, and she's also a playwright.

Thoroughly researched, When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home is authoritative, yet written in an intimate, conversational voice that further strengthens Dr. Caplan's message.

"What moved me to write When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home is how common vets problems and dilemmas are -- some of which have been created by well-meaning people who do not stop to consider what helps and what hurts vets -- and that there is good reason to believe the suffering can be alleviated," she writes.

She notes that "socially created problems are often the causes of people's pain, but that pain is often mistakenly attributed to factors within the individuals."

At the core of this issue is the obvious, which far too many people miss.

And Dr. Caplan reminds readers of that, writing: "Barry Romo, National Coordinator of Vietnam Veterans against the War, notes that war trauma is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation."

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Q: Are there any projects or programs that train people to interview veterans?

A: Not that I know of. That doesn't mean they're not out there. There are ways you can train people to do interviews, but I don't want people to think that because they're not trained that they can't do this.

Q. Your book includes a chapter that teaches the reader how to talk to veterans. You also write that this advice applies to the military, the VA, and therapists outside the military. Have any veterans told you about any negative experiences they've had talking to lay people?

A. They all have stories to tell about people saying something stupid. But, the uniform response has been: 'I'm so glad you're saying this. That someone wants to listen has been overwhelmingly positive.' My play, War & Therapy, is about a veteran and a therapist. At a Q&A session after a performance of the play at the Edmonton International Fringe Theater Festival, there were many veterans in the audience and one said, 'You've broken the silence.'

Q. War & Therapy -- one of three plays you've written about veterans -- focuses on the same issues in your book.

A. Yes, that there's an ocean of pain out there and it's mostly suffered in silence. We have to stop pathologizing people for war trauma. What's healing is reconnecting with community.

Q. How did you end up so focused on veterans?

A. In 2003, I was at a meeting of psychologists when the Iraq war came up and we talked about what we could do to help veterans. I knew they'd come home to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnoses, prescription meds, and people closing the door behind the vets, shutting them out. I started doing interviews and research for this book.

Q. What were the publishers' reactions?

A. Many publishers turned it down because they said no one wants to read about war and that an author would have to make it an upbeat book about war!

Q. How did you react to that?

A. I wavered about writing the book. But, then I went on a cruise sponsored by The Nation magazine where I heard a talk by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. He talked all about his activism. We spoke after his talk and he urged me to do the book. A colleague referred me to The MIT Press, and I got an agent through a referral from a colleague, an agent who, ironically, also represented an old friend of mine. But, if it hadn't been for that conversation with Peter Yarrow, I might have given up trying to get this book published.

When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans
by Paula J. Caplan
320 page hardcover; $27.95
The MIT Press (April 2011)

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As a journalist, columnist, essayist, and media critic, Nina L. Diamond's work has appeared in many publications, including Omni magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.

She was a regular contributor to a number of "late, great" national, regional, and newspaper Sunday magazines, including Omni; the award-winning South Florida magazine; and Sunshine, the Ft. Lauderdale (now South Florida) Sun-Sentinel's Sunday magazine.

She covers the arts and sciences; the media, publishing, and current affairs; and writes feature articles, interviews, commentary, humor/satire/parody, essays, and reviews.

Ms. Diamond is also the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers (Lotus Press) and the unfortunately titled Purify Your Body (Three Rivers Press/Crown/Random House) , a book of natural health reporting which has been a selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club's One Spirit Book Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club.

For its entire run from 1984-1998, she was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, which aired on WLRN-FM in Miami.

She has appeared on Oprah, discussing the publishing industry, but, in a case of very bad timing, that appearance was two years before her first book was published.

She has written her Much Ado About Publishing column for Independent Publisher since 2003.

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