It was not until World War I that specific clinical syndromes came to be associated with combat duty. In prior wars, it was assumed that such casualties were merely manifestations of poor discipline and cowardice. However, with the protracted artillery barrages commonplace during “The Great War,” the concept evolved that the high air pressure of the exploding shells caused actual physiological damage, precipitating the numerous symptoms that were subsequently labeled “shell shock. ” By the end of the war, further evolution accounted for the syndrome being labeled a “war neurosis” (Glass, 1969). During the early years of World War II, psychiatric casualties had increased some 300 percent when compared with World War I, even though the preinduction psychiatric rejection rate was three to four times higher than World War I (Figley, 1978a).
At one point in the war, the number of men being discharged from the service for psychiatric reasons exceeded the total number of men being newly drafted (Tiffany and Allerton, 1967). During the Korean War, the approach to combat stress became even more pragmatic. Due to the work of Albert Glass (1945), individual breakdowns in combat effectiveness were dealt with in a very situational manner. Clinicians provided immediate onsite treatment to affected individuals, always with the expectation that the combatant would return to duty as soon as possible. The results were gratifying.
During World War II, 23 percent of the evacuations were for psychiatric reasons. But in Korea, psychiatric evacuations dropped to only six percent (Bourne, 1970). It finally became clear that the situational stresses of the combatant were the primary factors leading to psychological casualty. Surprisingly, with American involvement in the Vietnam War, psychological battlefield casualties evolved in a new direction. What was expected from past war experiences — and what was prepared for — did not materialize.
Battlefield psychological breakdown was at an all-time low, 12 per one thousand (Bourne, 1970). It was decided that use of preventative measured learned in Korea and some added situational manipulation which will be discussed later had solved the age-old problem of psychological breakdown in combat. As the war continued for a number of years, some interesting additional trends were noted. Although the behavior of some combatants in Vietnam undermined fighting efficiency, the symptoms presented rare but very well documented phenomenon of World War II began to be reobserved. After the end of World War II, some men suffering from acute combat reaction, as well as some of their peers with no such symptoms at war’s end, began to complain of common symptoms.
These included intense anxiety, battle dreams, depression, explosive aggressive behavior and problems with interpersonal relationships, to name a few. These were found in a five-year follow-up (Futterman and Pumpian- Mindlin, 1951) and in a 20-year follow-up (Archibald and Tuddenham, 1965). A similar trend was once more observed in Vietnam veterans as the war wore on. Both those who experienced acute combat reaction and many who did not began to complain of the above symptoms long after their combatant role had ceased. What was so unusual was the large numbers of veterans being affected after Vietnam.
The pattern of neuropsychiatric disorder for combatants of World War II and Korea was quite different than for Vietnam. For both World War II and the Korean War, the incidence of neuropsychiatric disorder among combatants increased as the intensity of the wars increased. As these wars wore down, there was a corresponding decrease in these disorders until the incidence closely resembled the particular prewar periods. The prolonged or delayed symptoms noticed during the postwar periods were noted to be somewhat obscure and few in numbers; therefore, no great significance was attached to them.
However, the Vietnam experience proved different. As the war in Vietnam progressed in intensity, there was no corresponding increase in neuropsychiatric casualties among combatants. It was not until the early 1970s, when the war was winding down, that neuropsychiatric disorders began to increase. With the end of direct American troop involvement in Vietnam in 1973, thDuring the same period in the 1970s, many other people were experiencing varying traumatic episodes other than combat. There were large numbers of plane crashes, natural disasters, fires, acts of .