World War II

WWII differed from previous wars in its use of bigger field weapons and bombs, which placed soldiers at greater risk (PBS, 2003). Additionally, soldiers were placed into smaller combat groups, which reduced the social interaction which may have been a protective factor for psychological afflictions (Marlowe, 2000). Indeed, the war took a tremendous psychological toll on soldiers, despite the extensive use of psychiatric screening for selection (Marlowe, 2000). Medical personnel were puzzled that although over one million soldiers were screened out for psychological reasons, there continued to be staggering numbers of psychiatric casualties in war. In fact, even soldiers who had fought bravely on previous tours were being affected (Scott, 1990).

Overall, 25% of casualties were caused by war trauma, and this rate was even higher– 50%– for soldiers engaged in long, intense fighting (PBS, 2003). In fact, so many soldiers were affected that psychiatrists were confronted with the reality that psychological weakness had little to do with subsequent distress in combat. Thus, terminology changed from “combat neurosis” to “combat exhaustion,” or “battle fatigue” (Bentley, 2005). Reflecting the consensus that all soldiers were vulnerable to battle fatigue due to their environments, the U.S. Army adopted the official slogan, “Every man has his breaking point” (Magee, 2006).

In 1947, the U.S. Army released a documentary, entitled Shades of Gray, about the causes and treatment of mental illness during WWII. This documentary, shown in the following eight YouTube clips, indicates the consensus at that time that no one is immune to mental illness, and that environmental factors play a large role in the development of psychological problems. Combat exhaustion was thought to encompass such symptoms as hypervigilence, paranoia, depression, loss of memory, and conversion.

During WWII, treatment shifted to giving “mental patients” rest in safe areas (PBS, 2003). Other methods used by psychiatrists at this time included administering sodium pentothal (or other barbiturates) to induce repressed battlefield experiences, and even disbursing liquor to soldiers (PBS, 2003)!

The following U.S. Army training video, created in 1945, indicates that due to a shortage of psychiatrists, unspecialized medical officers needed to be trained to recognize the signs of combat exhaustion. The video trains medical officers in the use of various therapies for combat exhaustion, including the administration of sodium pentothal, followed by suggestive therapy, to help soldiers recover from psychosomatic physical complaints.

Although psychiatrists were advancing in their understanding of war trauma, combat exhaustion was not universally accepted. General George Patton was notable in his lack of sympathy for the psychological afflictions of soldiers. He is said to have slapped two soldiers who were recuperating in a military hospital while yelling to a medical officer, “Don’t admit this yellow bastard…There’s nothing the matter with him. I won’t have the hospitals cluttered up with these sons of bitches who haven’t got the guts to fight” (Magee, 2006). President Roosevelt received thousands of letters about the incident, most of which indicated support for Patton. “Ultimately, though, Patton was reprimanded, ordered to apologize, and relieved of command of the Seventh Army” (Magee, 2006).

In 1946, the National Mental Health Act was passed, which provided for the expansion of mental health facilities, including VA centers that would treat mental health problems in veterans (Magee, 2006).

Go to Next Page- Post World War II & Vietnam →

References:

Bentley, S. (2005). Short history of PTSD: From Thermopylae to Hue soldiers have always had a disturbing reaction to war. Vietnam Veterans of America: The Veteran. Retrieved from http://www.vva.org/archive/TheVeteran/2005_03/feature_HistoryPTSD.htm

Magee, D. (2006, May 15). PTSD: Only the name has changed. WCF Courier. Retrieved from http://wcfcourier.com/news/metro/ptsd-only-the-name-has-changed/article_394eabda-6a67-5b42-ab5b-2643c4158f11.html

Marlowe, D. H. (2000). Psychological and psychosocial consequences of combat and deployment with special emphasis on the Gulf War. Retrieved from http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/library/randrep/marlowe_paper/

PBS (2003). The perilous fight: America’s WWII in color. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/perilousfight/psychology/

Scott, W. J. (1990). PTSD in DSM-III: A case in the politics of diagnosis and disease. Social Problems, 37(3), 294-310. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/800744?seq=3

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7 comments on “World War II

  1. […] President Roosevelt received thousands of letters about the incident, most of which indicated support for Patton. “Ultimately, though, Patton was reprimanded, ordered to apologize, and relieved of command of the Seventh Army”  [from history of PTSD] […]

  2. […] the drugs that the returning serviceman hankered after to blot out the horror of war in the pre-post traumatic stress disorder days. And with a bit of luck he could use the profits to back a few winners and quickly escape the […]

  3. […] WWII differed from previous wars in its use of bigger field weapons and bombs, which placed soldiers at greater risk (PBS, 2003). Additionally, soldiers were placed into smaller combat groups, which reduced the social interaction which may have been a protective factor for psychological afflictions (Marlowe, 2000). Indeed, the war took a tremendous psychological toll on soldiers, despite the extensive use of psychiatric screening for selection (Marlowe, 2000). Medical personnel were puzzled that although over one million soldiers were screened out for psychological reasons, there continued to be staggering numbers of psychiatric casualties in war. In fact, even soldiers who had fought bravely on previous tours were being affected (Scott, 1990). Read More Here […]

  4. […] alcoholism, PTSD, and difficulty readjusting to life away from the war zone.  There’s a long history of PTSD, particularly since WW2.  My family has members who fought in wars for our country since […]

  5. mahituna says:

    Patton led by example, he visited field hospitals often to see and lift the spirits of the soldiers. Is the author aware of the events that preceded the slapping incidents? probably not. Patton cared deeply for those under his command but also understood that one had to overcome the effects of war on a person for them to survive. Wonder if the GI’s in the Philippines if they would rather to continue the fight no matter the hardship or buckle at the first sign of trouble like their commanders did and surrender. What resulted was untold cruelty and death as a POW of the Japanese who at the time of surrender where actually out of ammunition. Patton knew war was hell and you had to be tough because your enemy was and never give the enemy a chance to control your fate, you control his.

  6. sgasfg says:

    good job

  7. […] alcoholism, PTSD, and difficulty readjusting to life away from the war zone.  There’s a long history of PTSD, particularly since WW2.  My family has members who fought in wars for our country since […]

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