Will, Desire and Experience: EtiologY and Ideology in the German and Austrian Medical Discourse on War Neuroses, 1914–1922

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

During World War I, German and Austro-Hungarian army doctors maintained that even the most dreadful experiences in the trenches could not, by themselves, generate the neurotic symptoms from which so many soldiers suffered. At first, it was argued that intrusive sound waves, not experience, were the crucial pathogenic agents. Psychogenic etiologies of trauma then became preponderant, but it was claimed that the symptoms stemming from experiences were transient and easily curable. Treatmentresistant symptoms were declared to be the result of the soldiers’ lack of will to fight and attributed to the influence of countervailing unconscious ideas and desires. The main aim of such etiologies was to stigmatize neurotic soldiers as cowards and weaklings, prevent them from leaving military service and block the payment of compensation for the work disability generated by the symptoms. In addition, these etiologies also legitimized the use of therapeutic violence against soldiers. After the war, some neuropsychiatrists continued to discuss the war neuroses within a radically nationalist outlook. Sigmund Freud took a different stance and criticized the nationalist commitment of army doctors. His post-war work sparked a new etiological discourse on war neuroses, which portrayed traumatized soldiers as victims of the war.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-320
Number of pages26
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Volume37
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2000

Keywords

  • World War I
  • military psychiatry
  • nationalism
  • psychoanalysis
  • trauma
  • war neuroses

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Will, Desire and Experience: EtiologY and Ideology in the German and Austrian Medical Discourse on War Neuroses, 1914–1922'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this