Kale, Caroline

The Second World War brought along many changes in the way war was fought, such as larger more and more powerful weapons; along with these, came the new strategies and treatments for the aftermath of the psychological state of the wars soldiers, many of whom returned broken and disturbed from the immense stress their bodies and minds underwent. This was largely due to the enormous fear new weapons, such as large machine guns and poison gases provided. While they worried for their lives, their minds began to give up on them.

When World War Two ended and all of the soldiers returned home, not all of their former selves returned. About fifty percent of WWII veterans suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, called “combat exhaustion” at this point in history. This vast influx of suffering veterans overwhelmed psychiatrists, who had to begin training non-psychiatrists to recognize signs of combat exhaustion in soldiers, due to the small staff on hand. The puzzling fact for psychiatrists was the fact that soldiers who had a “positive” war experience, or those who were not critically injured and/or completed acts of valor, still faced these mental traumas. They began working with new ways to treat combat exhaustion, such as encouraging the soldiers to discuss their experiences in war in order to face their fears, and to ultimately realize the experience was over. These problems ultimately led to the Mental Health Act of 1946, which called for the creation of Veteran’s Affairs clinics around the country with large mental health facilities in order to help veterans re-assimilate into their normal lives.

These issues brought by World War Two created major social changes. People gained a greater understanding of the effects of the war on their friends, sons, husbands, and fathers, realizing that this extreme mental trauma could happen to anyone, not just the “damaged” or physically injured soldiers that were normally viewed as the ones who became “crazy” because of the war. People also began to understand that this mental trauma was more of a result the environment of war, not their mental disposition, which was thought to be crazy and unstable, a major breakthrough in the psychology of war. A more sympathetic understanding of soldiers with combat exhaustion emerged, not only among the common masses, but the army itself, who adopted a new slogan “every man has his breaking point,” emphasizing the increased understanding of the psychological effects of war, and the partial abandonment of the “rub some dirt on it” philosophy utilized by the army. This new focus on mental health resulted in a completely new side of supporting the nations troops, not only leading to psychiatric advances in the treatment of what is now post traumatic stress disorder, but a greater understanding and compassion for a soldiers mind and experiences of war and what it ultimately does to them. This social change is still seen constantly today with the new research on PTSD, and the continuing efforts to aid soldiers recovering from their experiences in the battlefield.

Image courtesy of wartimepress.com

INFANTRY JOURNAL - PSYCHOLOGY FOR THE FIGHTING MAN

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