Self-Help: Emotional Preparedness as Military Strategy
The clinical drift toward prevention surfaced in preventive efforts to promote psychological self-help among normal soldiers. Advice was geared to the personal management of emotions under stress—fears and resentments, in particular—and much attention was paid to the distinction between normal and abnormal reactions in an effort to reassure soldiers that a certain amount of trepidation was to be expected as they adjusted to military life. Advice was typically packaged in the form of lectures to new recruits, short pamphlets or easy-to-read books, and popular films. In these efforts, science always gave way to simplicity. The point was to "show the men that the army was interested in their feelings" and help them adjust, not to exhibit the fine points of psychological knowledge (figs. 4-10).
Edwin Boring, a prominent psychologist involved in the war effort, thought such wartime self-help literature so successful that he predicted the postwar years would expand the market for such products into radio, television, and movies and change the emphasis from controlling negative emotional states to attaining contentment and peace of mind: Fear in Battle (an actual example of wartime self-help literature, discussed below) would be transformed into "How to be Happy —at every drug store" (his prophetic fantasy of where the future might lead). The dissemination of psychological knowledge through popular channels, Boring speculated, would "increase personal maturity, help social tolerance and progress, and enlarge the democratic communal base of thinking."
Boring's glowing review of the genre, however typical of the period's extravagant optimism and abiding faith in the democratic consequences
of true science, was also self-interested. He was coeditor of Psychology for the Fighting Man, one of the most important efforts in the self-help category. The brainchild of the Emergency Committee in Psychology, the book was part of psychologists' consciously organized effort to "sell" the notion of their professional contribution to the U.S. military. Marjorie Van de Water, a professional journalist who specialized in popular science writing, was hired to turn the sometimes obscure language of experts into prose the average GI could easily read and understand.
Numerous checklists were included, for example, offering simple instructions about what to do or think in a variety of situations. Staying awake, speeding the training process, and recognizing "mental danger signals" were each considered in turn, along with other situations common in military life. The experts had numerous tips for soldiers worried about "how to fight fear" or confused about "how to win friends in foreign lands." Among them were seeking physical contact with friends, trying hard to understand strange customs, and suppressing disapproval of behavior they thought too bizarre to respect. Although Boring
privately derided this how-to style as "soft and popular," and one reviewer dismissed the condescending "birds, bees, and flowers" tone of the book, there was no arguing with the project's success. The book was published in 1943 after sections were serialized; it eventually sold around 400,000 copies at 25 cents apiece.
Authored collaboratively by fifty-nine experts and more than 450 pages long, the book covered a range of topics, including a number that were not strictly clinical. Its general purpose was to bring up-to-date psychological knowledge to the masses and explain to ordinary soldiers the challenge of ensuring satisfactory psychological resources for military purposes. "The Army has a perpetual problem of psychological logistics," the authors noted, "a problem of the supply of motives and emotions, of aptitudes and abilities, of habits and wisdom, of trained eyes and educated ears. How does it get the mental materiel to the right places at the right time?" The rationale for psychological personnel testing was painstakingly explained in the book, as were the basics of vision and hearing, propaganda, and psychological warfare.
Most of the book, however, concentrated on loaded topics of great concern to individual soldiers: morale, food, sex, neurosis, panic, and personal adjustment. How to cope with sexual deprivation was a major subject and on this, as on other topics, the book's tone veered unsteadily between authoritative prescription and empathetic reassurance. If masturbation became a regular habit, or a preferred form of sexual activity, the authors counseled, "it is definitely abnormal." "If it is only resorted to as a temporary outlet," they added, it could do little mental or physical harm. Prostitution could also seriously hamper military efficiency, the experts warned, and no true sexual satisfaction could be found in promiscuous contacts. But adjusting to the sexual strains of military life was no simple matter either. Everything from unusual fantasies to homosexuality could be understood as a normal response to abnormal circumstances, at least sometimes. They were inappropriate, but they were also likely to be temporary. On masturbation, prostitution, and other sexual topics, Psychology for the Fighting Man tried to balance clear instructions and friendly reassurance. "It is not easy for a man to get his sexual life into wise and proper adjustment."
Homosexuality was a major, ongoing preoccupation for clinical experts throughout the war years, and their work on the topic was not by any means limited to the self-help literature. Because homosexuality was considered a special threat to military discipline and good morale, anyone with such proclivities was automatically rejected from the armed
forces. But since few homosexuals announced themselves upon induction, subsequent revelation of homosexuality was an official pretext for the psychiatric hospitalization and dishonorable discharge of thousands of soldiers and sailors.
But clinical opinion about homosexuality changed decisively during the war years and the shift bolstered the view that mental health experts were the very incarnation of modern enlightenment. The prewar consensus held that homosexuality was nothing but depraved sexual behavior in otherwise ordinary people. By 1945 clinical research made it appear that homosexuals had unique psychological profiles; in other words, they were not ordinary people. The military's practical response to homosexuals simply had to change, according to some clinicians. "The crude methods of the past have given way to more humane and satisfactory handling of the problems of the homosexual. No longer is it necessary to subject cases that are so definitely in the medical field to the routine of military court martial." Because it involved psychological identity, homosexuality ought to be treated with compassionate psychotherapy rather than criminal penalties. Sexual deviance was no simple matter of wicked behavior; hence, punishment could not fix it. Only experts with a grasp of the personality as an integrated whole could hope to illuminate—let alone alter—the psychological processes implicated in the production of homosexuality.
Psychology for the Fighting Man managed to present both old and new views on this topic, capturing this fascinating change of attitude in progress. Soldiers were counseled that meeting heterosexual needs through homosexual behavior was understandable, even if it was also degenerate. Normal soldiers with such impulses should fight hard to control them if they could (two practical rips from the experts were praying and concentrating on killing the enemy), but, whatever happened, they would probably be just fine once they returned home. On the other hand, the experts indicated that homosexuals were a recognizable type whose perversion—if forced upon unsuspecting soldiers—deserved court martial and prompt discharge. In the first case, homosexuality was a normal response to an abnormal situation. In the second, it constituted a distinct clinical syndrome: "Attempts to reform such men are almost always futile."
Belief in the possibility and desirability of reforming the self, although not necessarily applicable to sexual preferences and behaviors deemed deviant, was nevertheless at the core of most of the self-help effort. "Adjustment" was a term as likely to designate efforts to post-
pone or prevent mental breakdown through self-education and preparedness as it was the treatment of mental shock with professional techniques such as psychotherapy.
For obvious reasons, fear was an emotion especially in need of adjustment, and its management was a major theme in Psychology for the Fighting Man. The first step in the process of emotional management was reassuring explanation. Fear, according to the experts, was entirely natural and healthy when it was a response to actual external danger. Moreover, it was "nature's way of meeting in an all-out way an all-out emergency" and it was "useful in mobilizing all the body's resources." Whether in combat or in anticipation of combat, all soldiers who were honest with themselves experienced fear.
The process through which fear was normalized, it is important to note, depended on the sex-segregated nature of the combat experience, as well as the overwhelmingly male ranks of clinical experts themselves. Roy Grinker was one of a number of professionals who identified wartime contact with healthy young men experiencing stress as the key to clinicians' postwar gravitation toward normal psychology. Generalized fears had, after all, long been attached to the phenomenon of hysteria in women, an unappealing, if still fascinating, syndrome marked by extreme dependence, emotional superficiality, and a heavy dose of melodrama. Fear of combat, however, was uniquely masculine, and could therefore circumvent the taint of irrationality and abnormality that marked all the terrors clinicians treated in the female gender. Women felt "anxiety," rather than "fear," and the difference was crucial. Because the source of soldiers' combat fears was obvious and environmental, their feelings were normal and clinicians readily empathized with their nervousness. In contrast, women's feelings could be vague, difficult to explain, and farther from clinicians' own experience. They tended therefore to be interpreted as abnormal anxieties with purely intrapsychic roots. The purpose of the self-help literature, in any event, was to help soldiers strike a balance between permitting themselves to feel normal emotions (like fear) when it was safe to do so and strictly regulating them when it was not. Left unmonitored, fears could grow into anxieties, ceasing to be comprehensible emotional reactions to real peril and becoming states of chronic inner disturbance requiring treatment.
John Dollard, a member of the Yale Institute of Human Relations and a consultant to the Research Branch of the army's Morale Division, authored several self-help pieces on this particular topic, including a
short pamphlet, Fear in Battle, and the even shorter "Twelve Rules on Meeting Battle Fear." Both were intended to reassure men that fear was no cause for shame or embarrassment. Even extremely unsettling psychological experiences, Dollard advised, were perfectly ordinary amid the extraordinary circumstances soldiers faced. Emotional advice "will help any soldier with the guts to face the ordinary fact that everyone gets scared in battle."
Characteristic of advice on this and other topics, and of the normalization process in general, was the insistent refrain that insight—meaning psychological self-consciousness—was the most effective method and barometer of psychological self-mastery; practiced introspection was both technique and goal. Calm, rational understanding of self was a kind of emotional armament, as necessary to the effective prosecution of war as to the goal of individual self-defense and preservation. "Keep remembering that being scared makes you a smarter soldier—and a safer one," was Dollard's rule number 3. But such comforting words were hardly an adequate guide to soldiers facing tangible horrors on the battlefield. So Dollard also prescribed specifics on suppressing fear when necessary: "Make a wisecrack when you can" and "Never show fear in battle" were two of his recommendations. Nor did he neglect to remind soldiers to adopt regular habits of emotional communication. "Talk about being scared—any time you want to talk about it. Everybody gets afraid in combat. You're no exception, and neither are the rest of the men in your outfit. It's a common, every day battle experience for all normal men. It always has been—in every war in history. So there is no reason in God's world for not talking about it—during a lull in the fight, or afterward. And if you do, it helps next time—it helps every time."
Wartime self-help literature attempted to communicate several different things at once. Because it provided refreshing clarity and ready sympathy to countless individuals living without much of either, its appeal was not exactly mysterious. Moreover, it highlighted the potential helpfulness of clinical expertise to ordinary people. Soldiers who absorbed the lesson that they could take steps to prevent mental breakdown themselves were living proof that the meanings of war and of mental health were both rapidly changing. Owning up to feelings like fear was defined as key to managing the military's "mental material" precisely because victory in war required the active mastery of individual subjectivity. If they agreed to strive for a state of psychological insight, experts promised soldiers that, in return, they would help them fulfill
their patriotic duty, demonstrate their emotional enlightenment, and survive the war in body as well as in spirit.