The Blue Angels' Psychological Warfare

| Mon Oct. 10, 2011 4:23 PM EDT

Today is the penultimate day of San Francisco's annual Fleet Week, during which communists like myself complain about the Navy's wasteful expenditure of taxpayer dollars on jet fuel so the Blue Angels can do acrobatics overhead. As Navy F-18s have screamed past my house, giving the city the feel of a battlefield, I've been thinking, "This is probably not going well for some people." Like people who have been traumatized in war zones and whose post-traumatic stress may be triggered by the noise.

Sure enough, a massage therapist I was talking to mentioned that while he was working on a relocated Iraqi woman this weekend, the roar of the Blue Angels' engines sent her into a cowering panic attack on the massage table. That was sad, but not as sad/scary as the Navy SEAL he was working on who suddenly leaped off the table, flipped the massage therapist, and pinned him down by his throat.

Kind of sounds like something that would happen in a movie, but that's definitely not just Hollywood melodrama. A lot of people who grew up amid war or went to war, the masseuse said, can be triggered by innocuous noises like low-flying jets or backfiring cars even in the profoundly safe and calming setting of a massage. And unexpected—and uncontrollable—triggering is only going to become a more prevalent problem; an estimated one in five Iraq and Afghanistan vets suffers PTSD. Already, some areas hold extra support groups during firework season. With more vets coming home all the time, maybe the Navy should consider making counseling part of its Fleet Week program next year.