Lessons on Combat Stress from World War II; the "Accumulated Blur"

I’ve been watching the PBS documentary The War by Ken Burns, and, although not quite as good as his The Civil War, is still very well done. If The Civil War was an A+, then The War is an A-. Both are highly watchable, gripping, and informative.

In the 5th episode, “FUBAR,” Burns describes the latter part of 1944 in Europe as Allied forces pushed the Germans back across France and Belgium.

By that time several units had fought in numerous engagements for several consecutive months after the June 6 invasion. Journalist Ernie Pyle (who died near Okinawa in April 1945) wrote of an “accumulated blur” that characterized soldiers and marines who had been exposed to relentless deadly combat.

Additionally, The War provides hard data: 1/4 of those evacuated from the front suffered some form of neurological or psychiatric disorder. Army planners determined that the average soldier could mentally withstand no more than 240 days of combat.

This last point is especially interesting when one considers that in the US Army, the biggest issue has been that of “dwell time,” or, the time spent deployed versus the time spent at home. Most US Army units are about 1:1 (or, one year on, one year off), some are even worse than that (i.e. helicopter aviation). Admiral Mullen was talking about a goal of 1:3 and 1:4 in 2007…which never happened.

It’s safe to say that the “accumulated blur” is finding its way into today’s soldiers – as evidenced by the extraordinarily high suicide numbers.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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