Do what we understand today about the psychology and physiology of combat shed any light on the experiences of combat soldiers in the First World War?
In the modern era and especially since the Vietnam War, a number of scholars have turned their attention to the psychological impact of combat on soldiers. The result of this attention has been a growth in the number of theories used to explain psychological and physiological responses of men to combat. These theories have yet to be applied to the experiences of soldiers in WWI. By doing so, it is hoped that a better understanding of both the nature of the conflict and the impact of the war on individuals will be gained. In particular this paper will focus on psychiatric casualties of combat, the evacuation syndrome and how it was overcome in WWI, the trauma of close-range interpersonal aggression, resistance to killing and overcoming that resistance and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some part of this essay will be spent discussing the unique aspects of WWI such as, fighting with bayonets, low fire rates and how killing was rationalised after the war. The psychological cost of war is most readily observable and measurable at the individual level. As such, this paper will use a number of first hand accounts of combatants in WWI to illustrate the psychological and physiological phenomena mentioned above.
By the end of WWI, the British army had dealt with 80,000 cases of 'shell shock'. "After the war, around 65000 British ex-soldiers were drawing disability pensions because of 'neurasthenia' - 6 per cent of the total - of whom 9000 were still in hospital." According to Joanna Bourke, war neuroses accounted for one-seventh of all personnel discharged for disabilities from the British Army and emotional disorders were responsible for one-third...