Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
The unprecedented reliance today on psychiatric drugs to maintain mission readiness in war and to treat veterans at home has been the subject of ethical debate in the United States. While acknowledging these debates, I advocate for an ethnography of how US soldiers and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars themselves articulate political and ethical tensions in their experiences of psychiatric drug treatment. Detailing one army veteran’s interpretations of drug effects as narrated through the lens of his current antiwar politics, I examine the radicalizing transformations of self and subjectivity that he attributes both to his witnessing drug use in Iraq and to the neurochemical effects of his own medications. Playing on the biomedical notion of “side effects,” I highlight surprising political and ethical openings that can surface when psychopharmaceuticals and war intersect. Psychotropic medication use offers a critical realm for furthering the ethnographic study of the lived tensions and contradictions of military medicine and medicalization as revealed in militarized embodied experience.