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Swervin11b

Panic! Battle Fatigue in WWII

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6 hours ago, Swervin11b said:

Which brings up something I didn’t write about in that piece...moral injury. It’s the idea that there is some psychological damage as a result of doing things that go against a moral code, say, like modern people killing one another. It’s not true for everyone (there are sociopaths out there), but 98% of modern people are deeply disturbed by killing or helping in a situation in which someone was killed. It goes against core human values, somewhat illustrated by Judeo-Christian beliefs and moral codes.

Thanks for the very well written piece. Your comment above reminded me of this interesting subject (that you´re probably already aware of). Provided me with a lot of food for thought.
 

 

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8 minutes ago, umlaut said:

Provided me with a lot of food for thought.

I thought that that SLA Marshall study has been found to be highly flawed? If so it completely dismantles this guys opening premise if he's basing it on the book. BTW I like this dude I watched him one day for about an hour talk about a "white cannibal". He has interesting vids.

 

Mord.

Edited by Mord

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15 minutes ago, Mord said:

I thought that that SLA Marshall study has been found to be highly flawed?
 

Oh? Didn´t know that.

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9 minutes ago, umlaut said:

Oh? Didn´t know that.

I'll have to do some research but I swear over the last year I ran into something that was stating that they began to see his study as very flawed yet it was still being cited as gospel, like the Stanford Prison Experiment.

 

Mord.

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16 minutes ago, umlaut said:

Oh? Didn´t know that. 

Ok. I did a quick search and found these right off the bat. I didn't read completely through them but I think they start with the idea that his research was at least partially flawed.

http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/articles/03autumn/chambers.pdf

 

Mord.

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John C. McManus is a modern historian who tore into SLA Marshall as well. He wrote a kind of overview of the life of combat arms guys in WWII, almost an oral history. He asked them straight up if SLAM was right or not haha. None of them thought so. He pointed out a lot of problems with it. 

He’s got some decent books, actually. The Deadly Brotherhood and Grunts come to mind. The former is the WWII book and the latter covers WWII all the way to Iraq. It’s  just a look a “what it was like, if you will. I can vouch for what he wrote about Iraq. It was dead on. 

Edited by Swervin11b

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I don't want to get too much into the whole controversy surrounding SLA Marshall and his book/study Men Against Fire or the conclusions of David Grossman in his On Killing as I think it detracts from the good work Swervin has shared with us. 

I'll quickly just say that SLA Marshall's study was not bulletproof. Much of it was based on interviews, not hard scientific data that most hard sciences require. Thus, many discredit it entirely. Grossmans book On Killing is partly based on the findings of SLA Marshall, but much of it is not. Grossman's main overall point is that humans have a built in hard-wiring in their psychology to not kill other humans, that we are hardwired against trying to eradicate our own species on an individual level. I'll add that he includes a multitude of other sources and examples throughout history to help shore up his case. Marshall's study makes up only a portion. 

Grossman himself mainly comes under fire for drawing conclusions at the end of On Killing and in other books he has since written where he claims that a desensitization of violence in todays society due to interactive video games, movies and other visual media are causing the violent acts such as school shootings, stabbing spree's etc. Frankly, because he has claimed that the vast majority of the entertainment most people consume is causing things like school shootings, his views have not been received well and there is a large pushback against everything he has written, not just the violent video games stuff. 

SLA Marshall's study wasn't perfect, and Grossman's On Killing draws some controversial conclusions regarding modern society and violence in media, but a lot (I would argue the majority) of what each of them wrote about is true. Humans do have a natural aversion to killing other humans (this is one part that is well documented and studied) and while we might not have the specific numbers for WWII, it has been proven that modern training methods increase individual soldier lethality compared to past generations. 

Edited by IICptMillerII

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14 minutes ago, IICptMillerII said:

(I would argue the majority) of what each of them wrote about is true. Humans do have a natural aversion to killing other humans (this is one part that is well documented and studied)

Ah, now you went and clashed with one of my personal theories! LOL. I have always thought that war was built into us by nature as a checks and balances sorta thing. Like it knew we'd evolve into super predators and the only way to keep our populations stable, seeing that no animal (and as yet disease/virus) could, would be to instill in us a penchant for killing each other on a mass scale. We'd in fact have to cull ourselves because nothing else could. I always thought it was a cool theory. No science behind it, just 49 (almost 50!) years of observation.

You'd think after two world wars, mankind would've retired the idea by now!

Now, imagine for a second where the Earth's population would be right now if you subtracted every death that has been caused by armed conflict since 1900 until yesterday. Would we have reach critical mass?

 

Mord.

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I’d venture to say that if we were hard-wired to destroy one another we’d have done it by now. Plus, you wouldn’t see things like 1.3 million psychiatric casualties in the span of a four year war and moral injury wouldn’t exist. (Like a full sixteenth of the US military in WWII). 

Moreover, the intense training that militaries undergo wouldn’t have to be so intense.

We do have a very intense, primal instinct for self-preservation, though. That’s arguably why you see so many mental health problems in and following a war...most of what we trained to do goes against self-preservation. Hell, the whole reason militaries are so rigidly disciplined is to try to overcome those instincts 

I don’t doubt that some are wired a little differently, and thus don’t have any problems killing. They’re called sociopaths 

Edited by Swervin11b

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I should've worded that better. I wasn't thinking in terms of annihilation because then that too would upset the balance. But I get ya.

 

Mord.

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2 hours ago, IICptMillerII said:

Humans do have a natural aversion to killing other humans (this is one part that is well documented and studied)...

Yes, I believe there is an instinctive aversion to killing and an accompanying instinct to preserve the lives of others that forms an important part of our psychic makeup. However, I also strongly believe there is also a contrary capacity to do violence, to go into what I call "the killer rage" state of mind and behavior. Usually both these instincts are present in degrees that vary from individual to individual and with circumstances. These instincts can get mixed and expressed in complex ways: is a mother who shoots someone who threatens her child acting to destroy an enemy or to protect the child? Both probably. Similarly, a squad of soldiers who wipe out a machine gun nest that just killed a well liked buddy may be acting from an urge for revenge and a rational desire to eliminate a mortal threat.

Michael

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2 hours ago, Mord said:

Ah, now you went and clashed with one of my personal theories! LOL. I have always thought that war was built into us by nature as a checks and balances sorta thing. Like it knew we'd evolve into super predators and the only way to keep our populations stable, seeing that no animal (and as yet disease/virus) could, would be to instill in us a penchant for killing each other on a mass scale. We'd in fact have to cull ourselves because nothing else could. I always thought it was a cool theory. No science behind it, just 49 (almost 50!) years of observation.

You'd think after two world wars, mankind would've retired the idea by now!

Now, imagine for a second where the Earth's population would be right now if you subtracted every death that has been caused by armed conflict since 1900 until yesterday. Would we have reach critical mass?

 

Mord.

I don't think you're too far off the mark necessarily. War is many things, but one thing it almost certainly is is competition. Everything living must compete in some form to survive. Warfare itself is not a human phenomenon. There are plenty of species across the spectrum, from insects to mammals down to the microscopic that engage in warfare. However, warfare as a form of inadvertent population control is actually somewhat of a misconception. I'm trying to find the graph and data and not having a lot of luck at the moment (my google fu appears to be weak) but in the course of human history (50,000BC to modern day) its estimated that around 100 billion people have lived and died, but only around 1.5 billion or so died due to being killed in a war or from violent crime. So while warfare can have a drastic effect on populations in the short term, on the long term it tends to be rather insignificant. I apologize that I can't find the hard data to back it up at the moment, so take this with a decent sized grain of salt.

1 hour ago, Swervin11b said:

I’d venture to say that if we were hard-wired to destroy one another we’d have done it by now. Plus, you wouldn’t see things like 1.3 million psychiatric casualties in the span of a four year war and moral injury wouldn’t exist. (Like a full sixteenth of the US military in WWII). 

Moreover, the intense training that militaries undergo wouldn’t have to be so intense.

We do have a very intense, primal instinct for self-preservation, though. That’s arguably why you see so many mental health problems in and following a war...most of what we trained to do goes against self-preservation. Hell, the whole reason militaries are so rigidly disciplined is to try to overcome those instincts 

I don’t doubt that some are wired a little differently, and thus don’t have any problems killing. They’re called sociopaths 

I very much agree. People tend to discredit the self-preservation instinct without fully understanding how powerful it really is. That said...

13 minutes ago, Michael Emrys said:

Yes, I believe there is an instinctive aversion to killing and an accompanying instinct to preserve the lives of others that forms an important part of our psychic makeup. However, I also strongly believe there is also a contrary capacity to do violence, to go into what I call "the killer rage" state of mind and behavior. Usually both these instincts are present in degrees that vary from individual to individual and with circumstances. These instincts can get mixed and expressed in complex ways: is a mother who shoots someone who threatens her child acting to destroy an enemy or to protect the child? Both probably. Similarly, a squad of soldiers who wipe out a machine gun nest that just killed a well liked buddy may be acting from an urge for revenge and a rational desire to eliminate a mortal threat.

Michael

This is actually a very common misconception. Most people (your average joe, not someone who has been trained) when forced into a "kill or be killed" situation still cannot bring themselves to kill. This is something that Grossman does do a good job explaining and providing relevant examples.

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3 minutes ago, IICptMillerII said:

This is actually a very common misconception. Most people (your average joe, not someone who has been trained) when forced into a "kill or be killed" situation still cannot bring themselves to kill.

On the other hand, there are those who kill readily and with little provocation. We don't generally regard them as normal, but they do keep cropping up.

Michael

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I do know that our weapons have made it easier to kill. As Mord discussed, medieval combat was brutal. Now it’s much more sanitized. It can be at least, if you’re not on the receiving end. 

Maybe the self-preservation instinct would have helped people get over their reluctance to killing in medieval times. It does now, too 

Edited by Swervin11b

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56 minutes ago, IICptMillerII said:

I don't think you're too far off the mark necessarily. War is many things, but one thing it almost certainly is is competition. Everything living must compete in some form to survive. Warfare itself is not a human phenomenon. There are plenty of species across the spectrum, from insects to mammals down to the microscopic that engage in warfare. However, warfare as a form of inadvertent population control is actually somewhat of a misconception. I'm trying to find the graph and data and not having a lot of luck at the moment (my google fu appears to be weak) but in the course of human history (50,000BC to modern day) its estimated that around 100 billion people have lived and died, but only around 1.5 billion or so died due to being killed in a war or from violent crime. So while warfare can have a drastic effect on populations in the short term, on the long term it tends to be rather insignificant. I apologize that I can't find the hard data to back it up at the moment, so take this with a decent sized grain of salt.

Makes sense.  If for example you look at WW1 the first perception is the sheer number of deaths.  However that is specifically amongst military age males.  The total population loss for Britain was less than 2.5%.   So essentially you have a problem from a war fighting perspective for maybe a generation, but the female population is unaffected so the potential is to replace the loss in a generation.  Yes guys, we are expendable.....

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Interesting thread. Personally I think most people/soldiers kill out of love for what/who  they hold dear and want to preserve/protect, sooner than just an instinct or skill to kill.

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14 hours ago, Mord said:

Ok. I did a quick search and found these right off the bat.

Thanks a lot for sharing that - I´ll have a more detailed look at it later.

 

13 hours ago, Mord said:

 I have always thought that war was built into us by nature as a checks and balances sorta thing. Like it knew we'd evolve into super predators

Ah! Now I get your nick (didn´t know you speak danish) 😉
https://translate.google.com/?hl=da#view=home&op=translate&sl=da&tl=en&text=Mord

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Any study of US military in WWII and their rates of "battle fatigue" has to take into account the unique operating characteristics of the US military in WWII. The German army had a far lower rate of battle fatigue, for example. 

1. Time in the line (Germans rotated units out: the US did not.)

2. Replacements (US plugged individuals into the firing line: the Germans had replacement battalions, organic to the division, staffed by the men who would be serving with the replacements. They trained them in battlefield techniques and got to know each other before the new guys got into the line.)

3. Unit cohesiveness (US men were "tight" at the squad level. Germans at the company level.)

 

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1 hour ago, c3k said:

Any study of US military in WWII and their rates of "battle fatigue" has to take into account the unique operating characteristics of the US military in WWII. The German army had a far lower rate of battle fatigue, for example. 

1. Time in the line (Germans rotated units out: the US did not.)

2. Replacements (US plugged individuals into the firing line: the Germans had replacement battalions, organic to the division, staffed by the men who would be serving with the replacements. They trained them in battlefield techniques and got to know each other before the new guys got into the line.)

3. Unit cohesiveness (US men were "tight" at the squad level. Germans at the company level.)

 

One of the studies I quoted in that article took that into account. They found there was a neglible difference between how often replacements or veterans broke down. (It’s called “Variation in Psychological Tolerance to Ground Combat.”) 

They did note that cohesiveness played a huge role, and one can imagine that a unit with a significant number of replacements was less cohesive. They couldn’t really differentiate whether a high number of casualties, thus requiring a lot of replacements, or the presence of so many replacements is what mattered more.

They also found that after the Battle of the Bulge, psych casualty rates went down, largely because there was encouragement that the war would be over soon. 

 The German rotation policy likely played the biggest role in keeping them down, according to the findings of the US study 

I would imagine that the rather huge numbers of POWs US forces took would be an indicator of battle fatigue in German forces. Many of them were knocked senseless and terrified by prepatory aerial or artillery bombardment 

Edited by Swervin11b

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40 minutes ago, Swervin11b said:

One of the studies I quoted in that article took that into account. They found there was a neglible difference between how often replacements or veterans broke down. (It’s called “Variation in Psychological Tolerance to Ground Combat.”) 

They did note that cohesiveness played a huge role, and one can imagine that a unit with a significant number of replacements was less cohesive. They couldn’t really differentiate whether a high number of casualties, thus requiring a lot of replacements, or the presence of so many replacements is what mattered more.

This also helps to explain why soldiers in ancient/medieval times tended to cope with the trauma, despite being in a more vicious and psychologically damaging form of warfare. Face to face melee combat is the most psychologically damaging. However, the fact that men were in close formations, literally shoulder to shoulder with their fellow soldiers, both helped to shield them from the psychological terror as well as provide them with psychological distance. 'I'm not killing, my whole unit/formation/group is doing the killing.' It may seem small, but that makes a massive difference psychologically. 

It's also worth mentioning that the single biggest determining factor in the development of battle fatigue/shell shock/etc is the amount of time spent in direct combat. In ancient/medieval times the vast majority of time was spent out of combat. A battle would usually only last a day (sieges excluded) whereas modern warfare has men in direct combat for months, potentially. 

All of this helps to explain why rotating units out of direct combat helps delay psych casualties, and why unit cohesion (esprit de corps) is so important. 

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17 hours ago, IICptMillerII said:

I apologize that I can't find the hard data to back it up at the moment, so take this with a decent sized grain of salt. 

Considering you were responding to a statement that was formulated completely within my skull, with absolutely no research, scientific data, or studies behind it...I think I can let you slide. LOL.

 

6 hours ago, umlaut said:

Ah! Now I get your nick (didn´t know you speak danish) 😉

 

A happy accident. That's badass, though. When they speak my name in Denmark, it's in a whisper.

 

Murder.

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Don't underestimate the prevalence of war trauma of pre-modern times. Oftentimes there'd be a regional war, then afterward society would just crumble for awhile. The chaos in Somalia is following a pattern that was set by Europe 500 years earlier. Three thousand year old Assyrian texts talk of soldiers suffering from disorders that to the modern ear sound very much like PTSD. A large chunk of the Illiad is basically a chronicle of combat fatigue and war-induced personality disorders.

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7 minutes ago, MikeyD said:

A large chunk of the Illiad is basically a chronicle of combat fatigue and war-induced personality disorders.

 

With a good deal of Homererotic undertones.

 

Mord.

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I have wondered if a factor in any sort of breakdown whether battle fatigue or just a "nervous breakdown" in civilian life is that one has people around you who witness your distress, care about you, and you know can help you.

What about when one is under similar if not worse stress but you know there is no friendly face to turn to?  Maybe one doesn't break down if that could make one's situation worse, but keeps going.  One's personality may well be permanently changed by the experience and there may be lasting after effects when the situation is over perhaps years later.  But, at the time, one has no choice but to keep going (or die).

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3 hours ago, Erwin said:

I have wondered if a factor in any sort of breakdown whether battle fatigue or just a "nervous breakdown" in civilian life is that one has people around you who witness your distress, care about you, and you know can help you.

What about when one is under similar if not worse stress but you know there is no friendly face to turn to?  Maybe one doesn't break down if that could make one's situation worse, but keeps going.  One's personality may well be permanently changed by the experience and there may be lasting after effects when the situation is over perhaps years later.  But, at the time, one has no choice but to keep going (or die).

Yeah man that’s definitely a factor. The Variation in Psychological Tolerance study discussed an observation where guys who weren’t evacuated as psych casualties had a greater tendency to be admitted to a VA hospital at some point later in life. They might very well have had breakdowns in combat, but they were never treated for them. I think plenty of guys had that happen actually. 

Most of the memoirs I’ve read said that everyone was fairly sympathetic towards psych casualties. They knew what was going on and that it was really only a matter of time before it happens to them. 

A guy’s past performance was a factor in how a breakdown was perceived. One memoir talked about a guy who’d been wounded, and he came back to the line in the Huertgen. He broke again. No one blamed him - he was shaky from being badly wounded and just not ready for it. 

In the same memoir a brand new radio operator “lost it” even before things kicked off. This was less well received, and mainly because the officer had seen really bad breakdowns over the course of the fighting and thought this radioman was just scared. He sent him back to his hole, telling him that everyone was scared. The officer had come close to breaking himself a few days before, and just didn’t have patience for it on top of that. 

I didn’t get too far into PTSD in that piece. I think they’re related, but there is enough of a difference that it would need its own article to do it justice. I just tried to introduce the relationship. It’s a lot harder to understand as it pertains mainly because there isn’t a whole lot of good data on it after WWII. It certainly shows up, especially in literature, but it doesn’t have the same statistical body that battle fatigue does 

Another thing that makes PTSD much more complicated is the wide range of trauma experienced in war; vehicle accidents, fear of death, seeing horrible deaths/bodies, killing, survivor’s guilt, distrust of authority - the grab bag from hell. Then there’s alienation from society between military and civilian populations to exacerbate it. 

Short answer though: I can guarantee that the support factor at the time of the trauma plays a huge, huge role. So does continuing to be traumatized over and over again. 

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