The Psychophysiology of Stress
The basic thesis defended in the subsequent sections is that the mechanisms which lead to stress are useful in situations that spontaneously occur in a natural setting; but that they lose their relevance in situations that have been recently produced by civilization. They can then become dangerous for the survival of the organism
War, Trauma, and Auto-Destruction
The survivors wanted to erase from their memory the ten million victims who died uselessly and to forget themselves and their tragically wasted and lost years. (Manes Sperber, 1976, Malraux and Politics,â p. 201; translated by Marcel Duclos)
World War I was particularly traumatic for Europe for at least three reasons:58
1. The soldiers could not understand why they were fighting. Even today, historians have a difficult time understanding why there was a first world war. The only result was to plunge Europe into horror: communism, anticommunism, World War II, and the loss of its power in the world.
2. The soldiers of each nation were maltreated, not by the enemy but by their own government that transformed them into cannon fodder,â made them live in dehumanizing fashion in poorly constructed trenches, and shot them if they refused to fight. It was especially true of the democraticâ countries like France and England.
3. The major countries explored the use of chemical warfare, which often caused as much harm to their own soldiers as those of the enemy. These weapons created illnesses even more terrible and insidious than anything that the soldiers regularly suffered.
The result of this situation was that a number of soldiers were profoundly and permanently traumatized. Their hospitalization mobilized the resources and research of countless physicians because no theoretical framework existed to understand the disastrous psychophysiological state in which these soldiers found themselves. The theories of stress I summarize in the following sections are based on attempts (often only partially beneficial) to support the soldiers traumatized by the war. The limits of these modes of intervention illustrate that it is not possible to heal all ills with a medical perspective. Other solutions, more political, are certainly necessary.
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