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War And It’s Effect On Society Essay, Research Paper

Jessica Sanchez


Apocalypse Now!

War and it s Effect on Society

The Merriam – Webster s Collegiate Dictionary defines war as a state of open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations. If you ask anybody that has served in any type of warfare, you ll get a variety of answers, albeit none as sweet and simple as the one given in a dictionary. Even those that have never come close to the front line, such as the women and children back at home, have their own tales to tell. General William T. Sherman tells us that war is hell , but what does it feel like? How far does it push all those involved? War has a profound effect on everyone, regardless of race, gender, or age.

When hearing the statistics of a war, you learn how many are dead, injured, captured, and starving. When have you ever been told the number of people suffering from emotional trauma and stress disorders? The physical ramifications as a result of being in combat can range from a nick and a few scratches to losing a limb to losing a life. Time tends to heal these injuries. The psychological effects of war on the other hand are trickier to deal with. In most veterans that return home after fighting in war does not result in any major readjustment problems. It is not so easy for a small percentage of soldiers that suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to readjust. In fact the symptoms can remain for years after the experience of being in combat. Generally defined, this disorder consists of a set of symptoms that emerge from an event or set of events that are on a level that exceeds the normal range of the human experience. This definition is not very specific and is quite open-ended. There are some characteristics of this disorder: feelings of helplessness, nightmares and or flashbacks, a separation or isolation from other people, lack of interest in activities that were at one time a favorite thing to do, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, phobic reactions, feelings of guilt, forgetfulness, headaches, and bouts of anger. The official criterion for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be found in the DSM-III. It is the manual that trained professionals use to assess and diagnose patients that have psychiatric disorders. Although the purpose is to give some structure to aid in recognizing this disorder there is nothing crystal clear about it. An event that is outside the range of the human experience, re-experiencing the event, avoidance of certain things, and heightening of energy are in a nut shell with other factors is how this disorder is recognized.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been studied in the field of psychology quite extensively. It is a disorder that is hard to diagnose because the symptoms are elusive. There is concern about this disorder because it is similar to and presents itself as other psychiatric disorders, such as depression, panic, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders just to name a few. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can virtually mimic any condition in psychiatry. In the 1970s veterans that seeked help were often diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and it was not until the 1980s that the diagnosis was changed to being Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder has also been misdiagnosed as bipolar affective disorder (manic-depression), because a patient may come in and describe episodes of rage and terror, which are high energy states, and he may also describe times when they have little energy and depression takes hold. This disorder is difficult to diagnose even by a skilled physician.

The methods used to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder vary. What may work on one individual may not work on another. When trying to work with patients with this disorder there are a few things to be aware of to make it easier for the patient and the therapist. First, the patient tends to be suspicious of other people. Also, the therapist should be aware of certain stimuli that might cause stress or vulnerability and to be able to reassure the patient. Often the veteran puts off getting help due to guilt of having survived or not being able to trust the doctors. Then they try self-treatment, which usually means the use of a foreign substance of some kind. The most used and seemingly preferred method is alcohol. Other substance abuses include drugs such as heroine, cocaine, and tobacco. The person may also have problems with following information that focuses on the way they live, what they eat, or the medications they might have to take.

All of these things come into play when working out a treatment plan. There are a lot of issues to consider when dealing with this disorder. Psychotherapy and drug treatments are the most effective for treatment. The person is forced to face what happened, but this time coping properly to allow him to heal. As far as the drug treatment antidepressants have been used. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCA) are the best and most effective. These drugs do not work for everyone. A combination of drugs with psychotherapy is another possibility as well. Veterans can turn to facilities like veteran’s hospitals and so on to get the help that they need.

Another disorder that has plagued veterans is Shellshock. Shellshock, as the name implies, was first thought to be caused by exposure to exploding shells. Doctors believed that the hysteria observed among men and officers could be traced to an organic cause. However, it was soon concluded that this was not the case. Shellshock began to occur in men who had never come under fire, while some had never even been within hearing range of exploding shells. The breakdown was so gradual that ’shock’ was also a misnomer.

At first there was little sympathy for Shellshock victims. Shellshock was so obviously a retreat from the war that many military authorities refused to treat victims as disabled. Some even went so far as to say that they should be shot for malingering and cowardice. Others blamed it on a hereditary taint and careless recruiting procedures. A British General at the time said. There can be no doubt that, other things being equal, the frequency of Shellshock in any unit is an index of its lack of discipline and loyalty .

This was a view shared by many and it made the burden of guilt for Shellshock victims even worse.

The symptoms displayed under the term Shellshock were extraordinarily numerous and different. Among regular soldiers hysteria – paralysis, blindness, deafness, contracture of limbs, becoming mute and limping were the most common, while officers mainly experienced nightmares, insomnia, heart palpitations, dizziness, depression and disorientation.

Becoming mute and speech disorders were the most common form of war neurosis. They were thought to be symptoms of a soldiers repressed aggression towards his superior officers. The rate of war neurosis, however, was four times higher among officers then among the regular soldiers. Their positions required them to continually repress their emotions in order to set an example for their men. The most severe cases of Shellshock occurred in officers who had made a name for themselves as daredevils. These man were ashamed by their overwhelming fear and performed daredevil acts to show their men that they were not afraid.

The treatments of Shellshock were many and varied. Disciplinary treatment was the most common at the time. The doctors involved with this form of treatment had harsh moral views of hysteria and stressed quick cures, as the goal of wartime psychiatry was to keep men fighting. Shaming, physical re-education and the infliction of pain were the main methods used. Electric Shock Treatment was very popular. This involved an electric current being applied to various body parts to cure the symptoms of Shellshock. For example, an electric current would be applied to the pharynx of a soldier that was mute or to the spine of a man who had problems walking.

Another form of treatment consisted of “finding out the main likes and dislikes of patients and then ordering them to abstain from the former and apply themselves diligently to the latter”. Patients who had a fear of noise were given rooms looking onto a main road, men who had been teachers or writers before the war were refused access to the library and men who feared being alone were put into isolation.

W.H.R. Rivers was a psychiatrist in Craiglockhart Medical Hospital and it became one of the few hospitals to practice psychotherapy in England at the time. For example, when the famous war poet Siegfried Sassoon was a patient in the hospital, Rivers treated him using psychotherapy. Every day Sassoon would have a session with the doctor during which they would discuss his war experiences. Many doctors refused to use this form of therapy on Shellshock victims as it sometimes took patients years to recover and very few returned to the war.

In the years following the First World War, many war memoirs or novels were written. However, very few were by men. The male veterans were struggling to repress their war memories, to banish the most painful of them from their minds. For some the memories would never go away. As Dr. Jay Winter as pointed out; “Those who couldn’t turn off their feelings, internalise them, brought them home with them, dreamt about them and went mad because of them”.

While the men fighting in the war endured awesome psychological traumas, the women and children back home were now left on their own. During both World Wars the women were the ones that manned the factories, and kept the country running. Enormous sacrifices were made, all in the name of the war effort. Numerous metal drives were held, where everything from tin cans to children s toys were collected and sent off to become new guns and bullets. When the men came back from the war, all the women lost their jobs to the men who held them previously.

Before the Vietnam War society had a positive outlook on war. Sure, husbands and brothers were dying, but it was all in the name of the great U.S of A. With the Vietnam war came the distrust of authority, the very same people that were sending kids away to die. The media portrayed the Vietnam War protesters negatively and Hollywood glorifies war. The media is addicted to violence and the public enjoys exciting scenes. Movies about war up until the late Vietnam movies tend to glorify war by showing America as strong and as superior, they focus on us being the good guys and don’t show how much of an impact it has on one’s mental attitude. People were beginning to understand that newspapers and television were somewhat controlled by the government and they show you what they want you to see and believe. Movies made before Vietnam and even some of the early Vietnam movies constantly reinforce the idea that our enemy is bad and that America is strong and indestructible.

The Vietnam era was a very critical and crucial part of our history and understanding it is very important. Watching the news, you have to ask yourself if the broadcasters are always telling the truth. Awareness for Vietnam is necessary and history repeats itself. If we don’t know what went on, who was involved, and what was the cause and outcome, we will make that mistake again. Knowing about it, we can try to understand what the veterans went through and what they are still experiencing. Vets have psychological and physical hardships they have to deal with. Showing respect and sympathy is something they deserve and they will greatly appreciate that.

In 1967, 47 million people watched the nightly news. This shows us what huge impact television newscasts of war have on society. Since networks are federally licensed and newspapers are not, the government has more of an impact on what it says on the war to news executives and they don’t have much control on newspapers. Society believes what it hears, we think that the government wouldn’t lie to us and we just form our opinions, we don’t research for ourselves and get information, we just watch the news.

Mass demonstrations, rallies, and marches are ways of showing a political movement in a democratic society. They are necessary to society and are important because it’s supposed to be a non-violent method of showing disagreement with the government.

Demonstrations shown on television look exciting and make things bigger than they really are. In reality, demonstrations last many hours and most of the time nothing happens. The media is most interested in demonstrations that produced violence. Television made demonstrators look like all they did was cause trouble and result in violence, but the police had a hand in it also. Television caused a great effect on society and their opinions about war.

The importance of war and the impact it has on society as well as the individual.

Awareness of our history and veterans is important and learning about our past will help us understand what is going on in the world today. We need to show compassion and acknowledge the experience that veterans go through. Media and movies influence people’s opinions about certain events. Movies about war don’t show the post-traumatic stress it has on one. War is very powerful and many are influenced by it and it should not be glorified. Those who fought for this county need to be held in highest regard. People need to realize that everything you see in war movies isn’t always accurate. The effects of war change a person and some have hardships dealing with them.


Holmes, Richard. Acts of War: The Behavior of Men In Battle

The Free Press 1986

Porter, Frederick. A Place Called Heartbreak: Stories of Vietnam

Macmillian 1993

Hosmer, Stephen T. Psychological Effects of U.S. Air Operations in Four Wars 1941-1991 : Lessons for U.S. Commanders

Rand 1996

Leavitt, Lewis A. The Psychological Effects of War and Violence on Children

Lawrence Erlbaum 1993

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