The Great War: How and Why Psychology went to War

One event that would have a lasting effect on America, “the war that end all wars” would not only change the way we view American foreign policy but the results of our actions mentally as well as physically. World War One, which started in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria touched off an international firestorm in which the Central Powers, led by Germany wanted to created some type of militarily and mental rule of world domination, yet we would not enter the war until 1918 (prior to this the British-owned luxury ship Mauritania was sunk by a German U-boat on May 7th, 1915 in which 1,195 people lost their lives, including 128 Americans). This and other chain of events led the United States to enter the war.

Dogfight, with five fighter aircraft of World War 1 (oil painting) by .Unattributed is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0

Psychological trauma experienced during the war had a very devastating toll on veterans, many of these who suffered symptoms for the rest of their lives. These problems ranged from bad memories that were difficult to erase, extreme exposure to nightmares and the terrors that they brought while sleeping and the trauma that they would experience in later years. In fact, World War One served as a critical period in the development of clinical psychologists to the war effort, with the assistance of intelligence, vocational and personality tests to the troops resulted in the widespread recognition of specialized expertise and applied a lot of usefulness of psychology. In the years after the war most doctors were beginning to be more diversified in their work environments, especially in business, science and education. During the war people can be exposed to many different traumatic events. This raised the chances of developing health problems like PTSD, anxiety and depression, and the lives will be worst in adulthood. Here’s a question: Why were psychologists employed during the war and what efforts did their contributions make during the effort? Psychologists helped make this situation more scientific, in a more rational and modern way.

World War 1 Memorial at Whalsay Kirk by Robbie is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Another question here is asked in what role did psychology REALLY play: What particular way did psychology play in the part of soldiers and citizens? Psychological warfare prayed upon the vulnerabilities of soldiers in order to gain the advantage during the war. Spreading propaganda and using deception were used as tools to gain a strategic and tactical edge. Psychologists would use these techniques to help both sides of the fence, meaning there were those helping the Allies and those aiding the Central Powers. What exactly was going through the minds of psychologists who helped in the war effort for either side? For one thing analysts for both sides felt that assisting in any way to help stop the spread of death was necessary to get a full understanding on why men would commit such heinous acts of war to achieve what, world domination, economic benefaction, or to flex the full military muscle of its home country just to prove a point? Most medical experts understood that killing or being seriously injured in battle did do something to the mind that led to what some called “mental trauma”, in other words, shell shock. Referred to at the time most often as “war neurosis”, the problem was characterized by a common core of possible symptoms: tics, muscle spasms, shakes and memory problems.

We all know the results of the First World War and what the results were: there were no winners, instead there was an armistice signed on November 11th, 1918 in Versaille, France that ended the conflict and the Central Powers endured a defeat like no other in spite of the peace treaty. So many lives lost, so much physical and personal pain suffered from people by people but the role that psychology played in the conflict rarely, if specifically, received the credit due but those who assisted the people, the troops, nurses and anyone else in understanding the effects of war as a whole did their best to educate, demonstrate and explain their contributions.

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