How might post-traumatic stress disorder change warfare?

This is a brief note from thinking about Open University DD210 Living Psychology module, book 2, chapter 13, page 149…172 ‘3. The impact of extreme circumstances‘, ‘4. Recovery, resilience and post-traumatic growth‘ and ‘5. Perils, pitfalls and positive effects of psychological interventions‘.

Post-traumatic stress disorder.  People can be damaged by what they are ordered to do; might this change how warfare is conducted?

Millennia ago and centuries, marching off to another country or city allowed preparation time, bonding and training time on the way there.  On the way back there was lots of time for reflection with those who had been through the same experience, done in an environment of routine, with physical activity and done outdoors.  Might that have prevented PTSD for most people?  Is PTSD a phenomenon that arrived with the ability to leave the front line and go home fairly quickly?

Might the consequences of PTSD on military personnel make government change the way warfare is conducted so that it is prevented?  If so, what will that look like?

Is PTSD just an infantry complaint?  Do snipers get it worse than combat area engineers?  Do bomber crews get PTSD?  What about drone pilots who work 9-5 and go home every evening?  Who suffers most: conscripts, volunteers or militia?  Do revolutionaries / guerillas / freedom fighters get it?  Do victors get it?  Is it worse for those who suffer defeat?  How bad is it for child soldiers?

How bad is it for civilians in a war zone?  Refugees?  Survivors?  Orphans?  (And does anyone in governments care about civilians in war zones? It does not seem so.)

What research is being done in PTSD?  By whom?  Why?  Is it for peaceful purposes to demonstrate how warfare is bad, or to make warfare and killing less stressful for the troops so that it can continue?

War causes social breakdown, allows us to be worse than animals, and to get away with it

I decided to go into war prevention because I suspected it was not cost effective and because it creates a generation of people wanting vengeance.  The Iraq War was sold to us as a great way to make money from reconstruction (by destroying what already existed), to support international development (i.e. take their oil industry) and produce peace (by turning a militarised country into a terrorist region).

What I have since learned about is some of the human cost.  I had some idea, of course, but there are murkier aspects that do not get talked about.

One example is male sexual abuse.  I did not think it likely to be a big deal: rare and hardly very damaging.  All a bit “Fnarr, fnarr, you’ll get over it.”  I was very wrong.

The scale of the problem and the nature of the physical damage to the body are described in this Guardian article from 2011 entitled The rape of men: the darkest secret of war.

I wanted to cherry-pick some quotes about the marital breakdown, humiliation, physical consequences of the permanent damage caused, lack of support and lack of recognition, but the article itself if pretty relentless in providing these itself.  Essentially, it is not about sexual gratification, it is about the perpetrator being so dehumanised that they routinely perform the most degrading torture on innocent strangers and war both creates the environment for such cruelty and makes it possible to hide the act both at the time and later.  If interested, I suggest you read it for yourself.  It’s all quite sad.

I thought Sven Hassel’s books about what went on at the Eastern Front were bad; reality is worse.

War causes social breakdown and allows us to be worse than animals and get away with it.  It makes one wonder what the agenda is for those people who promote it.

The horrors of war: the gueules cassées

I believe gueules cassées is French for ‘broken faces’ or ‘broken jaws’ (I know not which) and is the term used for the French men who had their faces blown off in the Great War.

Some 15 million men were crippled by the Great War.  In the UK alone by the late 1930s there were still over half a million men receiving pensions for physical disability caused by that war (National Archive).  And then there were those who remained in hospital for the rest of their lives.

The nature of trench warfare is such that the face is often the most exposed part of the body meaning the Great War – with its shrapnel and grenades – was the cause of a huge increase in the number of severe facial wounds.  Also, battlefield medicine began to improve during that war increasing the likelihood of wounded men surviving terrible wounds that would have previously been fatal.

But what happens to a young man with no lower jaw or a hole in his skull where his nose was?  And in France losing ones face was not considered a disability so they received no pension, despite being unable to go out in public.

Léon Dufourmentel (1884 – 1957) was a French surgeon responsible for caring for the gueules cassées and was innovative finding methods for repairing facial wounds by transferring flaps of skin from the scalp to, for example, the chin.

Apparently five of his patients were taken from the hospital to the Palace of Versailles for the signing of the peace treaty in 1919.

Such people are still supported in France – because soldiers are still being shot in the face – through the Union des Blessés de la Face et de la Tête (Union for those with Facial and Head Injuries) and the Foundation for Gueules Cassées are.  They organise international events to raise awareness and funding.

Whether you choose to do a Google image search for the term is up to you.  They are seriously horrid pictures.  They are the sort of images the media are prevented from portraying during a war for fear of upsetting morale.  Whether you call that sensible censorship or propaganda is up to you.

Alternatively view the war memorial in Trévières to the dead of 1914-18.  She was herself maimed in the Second World War and now stands as an inadvertent representative of the broken faces.

The War Memorial at Trévières with her lower jaw blown off

The War Memorial at Trévières. Taken from Traces of War.com

As I write this, there is nothing on the English language Wikipedia about the gueules cassées.  Nowadays plastic surgery is commonplace, even expected of the rich and famous – every day the newspapers and news web sites are littered with such ‘news’.  But nothing much is said about those who suffered and made it necessary for innovative techniques in surgery to be invented.  Perhaps a little more exposure to the horrors of war, and a little less commercial censorship, rather than glorifying and sanitising war by  the media and search engines, might not go amiss.