"It was PTSD." That's what some folks in Missouri claim when anyone brings up guerrilla warfare during the Civil War. As they see it, you can't blame people for their actions when they have experienced trauma.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Was that the problem that caused William Quantrill and his 400 followers to come through Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863, leaving 250 children fatherless? Really?
Even in 1863, when there were not therapeutic services as there are today, I believe that victims have choices. PTSD definitely contributes to a much higher degree of stress than usual, and it can go on for many years, if not a lifetime. I'm not minimizing the pain that some of the Confederate guerrillas on this raid may have had from violence and cruelty dished out by Jayhawkers and Union soldiers.
Yet the massacre in Lawrence, commonly referred to as Quantrill's Raid, was very carefully planned for weeks. PTSD does not make pawns out of victims. Thinking that way insults the many sufferers of PTSD who manage to cope without harming others. There were lots of chances to make other choices in 1863, just as there are today.
Mature people, no matter what the age, are willing to do the difficult work of coping while resolving conflict while pursuing non-violent means. Violence, aggression, and fear of conflict are the factors that stop conversation. They are not means that lead to a lasting peace.
In 2014, those of us who are interested in the horrific tragedies of the Civil War, need to be talking about de-escalation as we process the past. Staying stuck in the eye-for-an-eye mentality so common in a gun culture runs as counter to "the American ideal" as slavery was.
If PTSD is justification for violence, then how can we possibly explain how the newly freed slaves were more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators? What kept them from organizing, as slave masters feared they would, to perpetuate the hate?