"O" the Great and Powerful

Reuters says that Cyprus now has a Plan B to resolve its financial crisis, involving a modified levy on bank deposits and a nationalization of pension funds, in addition to issuing more bonds.


Officials said it could include: an option to nationalize pension funds of semi-government corporations, which hold between 2 billion and 3 billion euros; issuing an emergency bond linked to future natural gas revenues; and possibly reviving the levy on bank deposits, though at a lower level than originally planned and maybe excluding savers with less than 100,000 euros.

The banks will stay closed at least until Tuesday next week, probably because there is no point opening them. In their bankrupt state there is nothing to pay depositors with anyway. With the banks closed until further notice, the UK has urged its nationals on the island to make other arrangements. “British pensioners living in Cyprus are being urged to switch their state pension payments to UK bank accounts, after the British government suspended payments to accounts lodged with Cypriot lenders.” Until then the British government will hold on to the dough.

Will the Cyprus bank depositors ever see their money again?

Myke Cole, who did three tours in Iraq, has an interesting reflection on his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms that cast a surprising light on the banking confidence problem. Cole said he long believed that PTSD involved the classic Hollywood depictions of nightmares, flashbacks, nights sweats etc. Then he realized that in his case at least, PTSD was much bigger than that.

I kept seeing non­profit TV spots, charity pieces and solemn psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ical essays. They all described a PTSD that I’d never seen in myself, and more impor­tantly, in anyone else I knew who suf­fered from it. I’ll never forget this one spot on AFN, where a sol­dier washes his hands, only to find blood pouring out of the faucet Stephen King’s Shining style. He hears gun­fire, looks into the mirror, the back­ground is a desert bat­tle­field strewn with corpses, glowing red.

I picked that apart with some friends for an hour. I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there for whom PTSD is like that, but it sure as hell wasn’t like that for any of us. …

Because PTSD isn’t a dis­ease, it’s a world view.

War, dis­aster response, police work, these things force a person to live in the spaces where trauma hap­pens, to spend most of their time there, until that world becomes yours, seeps through your skin and runs in your blood. Most of us in indus­tri­al­ized western soci­eties live with feeling that we are safe, that our lives are sin­gular, mean­ingful, that we are loved, that we matter. We know intel­lec­tu­ally that this may not be the case, but we don’t feel it.

PTSD is what hap­pens when all that is stripped away. It is the cur­tain pulled back, the deep and the­matic real­iza­tion that life is fun­gible, that death is capri­cious and sudden. That anyone’s life can be snuffed out or worse, ruined, in the space of a few sec­onds. It is the shaking real­iza­tion that love cannot pro­tect you, and even worse, that you cannot pro­tect those you love. It is the final sur­ren­dering of the myth that, if you are decent enough, eth­ical enough, skilled enough, you’ll be spared.


It’s a change in world view.

And that’s exactly what happens to the confidence of a citizen when he sees that the supposed safety of his bank account and inviolability of his pension funds exposed for nothing but an illusion. The myth dies; the curtain is pulled back. Oz the Great and Powerful is shown up as nothing but a huckster from the Midwest.  Though in a much weaker way than PTSD losing a large part of your life savings isn’t so much a momentary shock that can soothed away by a politician’s words as an awakening.

But an awakening to what?

Cole’s most interesting observation is the idea that person once marred by the Life (as I refer to it in my own novel, No Way In), he finds it hard to regain his faith in the conventional reassurances.  Once doubt has entered into the perfect Faith it can never be perfect again. And having glimpsed the world outside the wire, Cole writes, many would rather than live there than go back to BS:

And this is why so many of us, even post diag­nosis, go back to work in the fields that exposed us to the trauma in the first place. Because the fear is bone deep, and the only thing that puts it to sleep is the thought that you can maybe patch a few of the holes in the swiss cheese net under the high wire. Because we are fright­ened from the moment we wake until the moment we sleep, and if we can stave that off for someone else, well, then maybe that’s some­thing to live for.

And that’s for those of us who get off easy. In the worst cases, people aren’t able to find meaning in a reg­ular job, or in wealth-building, or rela­tion­ships, or any of the things that modern soci­eties tell us charts the course of a life.


This echoes the eloquent Frederick Forsyth, who in his novel The Dogs of War, memorably described the psychological damage that compelled poor ex-soldiers to keep returning to the mercenary life.  He wrote of the impossibility of going back to the world of canned laughter.

The real problem was being able to stick it out, to sit in an office under the orders of a wee man in a dark gray suit and look out of the window and recall the bush country, the waving palms, the smell of sweat and cordite, the grunts of men hauling the jeeps over the river crossings, the copper-tasting fears just before the attack, and the wild cruel joy of being alive afterward. To remember, and then to go back to the ledgers and the commuter train, that was what was impossible. He knew he would eat his heart out if it ever came to that. For Africa bites like a tse-tse fly, and once the drug is in the blood it can never be wholly exorcized.

And in my own book the characters struggle to escape the Life, mostly without success. “Most people had very little to look forward to at fifty-two except an impending old age. Alex at least had this one last mission in a great cause against daunting odds: the last chance to live the Life.” And yet, “damn the Life. It contaminated everything it touched.”

That it does. That it does. But once a person knows there is neither “certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” in living as the celebrities on TV recommend, in the unending parade of cooking shows and Lena Dunham cool posturings, or making the trip each day to the office for the sake a pension that might never be there — there’s no help for it. Fact is, you’re not in Kansas any more.  The “world view” changes.


Men with genuine PTSD get a glimpse of life as it really is. In a milder way, the lines of depositors in Cyprus waiting outside banks in hope and desperation get a glimpse of what the game always was. Once upon a time, as Cole notes, men knew the necessity of relying upon things to give life, uncertain as it was, some meaning. There were warrior cults, for example. “Even if you look past the promise of immor­tality, they offer a tremor in the world, a ripple of sig­nif­i­cance in your passing.”

Today’s elite has stripped civilization of all meaning except the pension and the welfare check at the end of the rainbow. That was supposed to be enough. What happens when there’s not even that?

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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