YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 9, 2009

Strategic Regression in “the greatest generation”

A plea for home ownership by Alan Cranston, Summer 1987

[Added 12-15-09: this blog is not meant to support the anti-psychiatry movement or the practice of mental health professionals today as a group. As in other professions, there are competent and incompetent pracitioners, some who further the search for truth and others who seek only minor amelioration in their clients. I have many friends on the Left who dismiss all forms of psychotherapy, to their detriment, physically and mentally.] Many prior blogs have dealt with social psychological strategies for achieving “civilian morale,” not only to support the second world war, but in establishing a stable peace afterward. See http://clarespark.com/2009/08/22/left-liberal-social-psychologists-and-civilian-morale-at-harvard/ and http://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/. For my own formulation of the notion of “balance” see http://clarespark.com/2009/06/04/modernity-and-mass-death/

The Fort Hood massacre/jihad has motivated me to read in the annals of military psychiatry. What I have found may surprise many visitors to this website. The following quote from a major publication by two Army Air Force psychiatrists has implications for the postwar period and for our studies of popular culture. Note the strong contrast drawn between fascist and liberal democratic governments by these psychiatrists. One wonders if they agreed with the troops that the war was caused by powerful financial interests, not because of the real threat of fascist ambitions for world domination. Or did Doctors Grinker and Spiegel project their own populist vision into the minds of their troubled patients? When they claimed that the soldiers blamed “the machinations of large financial interests” for the war, did they mean “Wall Street” or “the Jews”?

    The photograph I chose to accompany these materials was distributed by Senator Alan Cranston in the summer of 1987. It shares the same logic as that of the irrationalist psychiatrists I quote below: the working-class family, properly housed, must be managed, protecting them from their dangerous, morale-reducing proclivities to complain about incompetent leadership. (Click on the picture to read the text. I pasted onto the collage the missing girl ad.)

From the chapter “Motivation for Combat—Morale,” in Roy R. Grinker and John E. Spiegel, Men Under Stress (Blakiston Press, 1945):

“Prior to his introduction to combat, the average flier possesses a series of intellectual and emotional attitudes regarding his relation to the war. The intellectual attitudes comprise his opinon concerning the necessity of the war and the merits of our cause. Here the American soldier is in a peculiarly disadvantageous position compared with his enemies and most of his Allies. Although attitudes vary from strong conviction to profound cynicism, the most usual reaction is one of passive acceptance of our part in the conflict. Behind this acceptance there is little real conviction. The political, economic or even military justifications for our involvement in the war are not apprehended except in a vague way. The men feel that, if our leaders, the “big-shots,” could not keep us out, then there is no help for it; we have to fight. There is much danger for the future in this attitude, since the responsibility is not personally accepted but is displaced to the leaders. If these should lose face or the men find themselves in economic difficulties in the postwar world, the attitude can easily shift to one of blame of the leaders. The the cry will rise: “We were betrayed—the politicians got us in for their own gain. The militarists made us suffer for it.”

   There is much that is lacking in the political education of American troops, for which army policy cannot be criticized in view of the similar apathy on the home front. Late in the struggle the army became aware of this weakness among our soldiers. The Information and Education Division was then organized to repair this gap in the psychological preparation for combat. Some progress in the face of considerable resistance has been made by this service, but at the time of writing the men still have only a dim comprehension of the meaning of the fascist political state and its menace to our liberal democratic government. The war is generally regarded as a struggle between national states for economic empires. The men are not fully convinced that our country was actually threatened, or, if so, only remotely, or because of the machinations of large financial interests. In such passive attitudes lie the seeds of disillusion, which could prove very dangerous in the postwar period. Certainly they stand in startling contrast with the strong political and national convictions of our Axis enemies, which can inspire their troops, when the occasion demands, with a fanatical and religious fervor. Fortunately, strong intellectual motivation has not proved to be of the first importance to good morale in combat. The danger of this lack seems to be less to the prospect of military success than to success in the peace and to stability in the postwar period.” (pp.38-39)

   The authors go on to describe the unconscious forces that bind the men and lift morale, all concerned with love for the father-leader and the identification with each other as if they were a happy family:

   “The formation of such feelings of obligation and loyalty to any group with which one is identified is of the highest significance to good morale. It is the essence of the powerful patriotic feelings which are stimulated in times of war, but which have their origins in earliest childhood. …Not all Americans have been able to develop a range of identification large enough to include the nation and thus to develop strong feelings of loyalty and obligation. To some extent this ability seems to be a measure of social maturity. (p.40)

   In another chapter, “The Reactions to Combat Based On Previous Emotional Disorders,” the authors (psychiatrists in the Army  Air Force) describe a “psychopathic” individual who had complained about suicidal missions ordered by his commander, and which the better adjusted men had come to accept without his “loud and vociferous criticisms.” The authors sum up such psychopathic types (who, to these eyes, resemble loud, pushy, and troublemaking Jews):

   “This case illustrates the general problems involved in dealing with the mild psychopathic personalities brought out by combat stress. These individuals resemble problem children and have a characteristic capacity for stimulating the desire to protect and help them in some of their associates, while they irritate and permanently antagonize others. They are childishly demanding and emotionally reactive and at the same time have a child-like clarity of vision. Unfortunately the truths they proclaim so loudly may be apparent to others, who are doing their best to ignore them or to get along in spite of them. To handle such individuals skillfully so that they can continue to give service without damaging morale requires superior leadership and knowledge of human relationships. In many cases it can be done successfully.” (81)

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3 Comments »

  1. [...] pushy and childish flier who criticized the suicide missions ordered by his superior officer (see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/09/strategic-regression-in-the-greatest-generation/), the social scientists associated with the Committee For National Morale quietly erased the [...]

    Pingback by Nazi sykewar, American style, part four « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 19, 2010 @ 7:19 am | Reply

  2. [...] this along with http://clarespark.com/2009/12/09/strategic-regression-in-the-greatest-generation/.%5D  I have been reading Roy R. Grinker Sr.’s memoir Fifty Years in Psychiatry: a Living [...]

    Pingback by A brooding meditation on intimacy and distance « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 12, 2010 @ 6:20 pm | Reply


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