The thousand-yard stare or two-thousand-yard stare is a phrase coined to describe the limp, blank, unfocused gaze of a battle-weary soldier, but the symptom it describes may also be found among victims of other types of trauma. A characteristic of shell shock, the despondent stare reflects dissociation from trauma. The thousand-yard stare is thus often seen in cases of incipient post-traumatic stress disorder. It does not necessarily indicate PTSD, however, nor will it always appear in persons who will later develop PTSD.
The phrase was popularized after Life magazine published the painting Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare by World War II artist and correspondent Tom Lea, although the painting was not referred to with that title in the 1945 magazine article. The painting, a 1944 portrait of a Marine at the Battle of Peleliu, is now held by the United States Army Center of Military History in Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C. About the real-life Marine who was his subject, Lea said:
He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?
When recounting his arrival in Vietnam in 1965, then-Corporal Joe Houle said he saw no emotion in the eyes of his new squad: "The look in their eyes was like the life was sucked out of them." Later learning that the term for their condition was the 1,000-yard stare, Houle said, "After I lost my first friend, I felt it was best to be detached."
- Life magazine, 6/11/1945, p. 65. link
- Jones, James, and Tom Lea (illustration), (1975). - "Two-Thousand-Yard Stare". - WW II. - (c/o Military History Network). - Grosset and Dunlap. - pp.113,116. - ISBN 0-448-11896-3
- Host: Rear Admiral Gene LaRocque (USN, Ret.); Interviewer & narrator: Sanford Gottlieb; Producers: Matthew Hansen, Nick Moore, Lori McRea, Daniel Sagalyn (1991). "War through the eyes of artists" (TRANSCRIPT OF TELEVISED BROADCAST). America's Defense Monitor, Program Number 438. Center for Defense Information. Retrieved 2006-10-27.
- Stone, Sgt. Arthur L. (2002-05-02). "Retired Sgt. Maj. Joe Houle recounts Vietnam tour". Marine Corps News.