Behavior of American Soldiers in WWII

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Behaviorof American Soldiers in WWII

Thelate 1941 American entry into the war saw an injection of resourcesin form of finances, human resources and industrial resources intothe operation. In line with the other commonwealth nations, theproduction of the United States was in excess of what their militaryforces required. This made the Second World War the mostindustrialized war in history at the time. At the onset of war, theFrench and British had placed big aircraft orders with manufacturersfrom America, and the American Congress had subsequently agreed toapprove plans of increasing its air forces with 3000 planes.Eventually, America was able to adjust and meet the demands of thewar. An executive in the automotive industry later appointed byRoosevelt as Chairman of the Office of Production Management andmember of the National Defense Advisory Commission to organize warrelated productions stated &quotWewon because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, thelike of which he had never seen, nor dreamed possible.&quot (Parker, 53-56)

However,the American involvement in the Second World War went beyond theindustrial production of aircrafts, transforming majority of theaspects involving economy, politics, culture and society. The armedforces was not left behind either, with WWII turning the army into aninternational military presence. They were deployed as combatants,peacekeepers, occupiers or defenders, roles which were fully utilizedin representing the American power globally. Additionally, the waradded weight to the view that the duty of the military service is apatriotic duty that should reinforce the image of the Americansoldier. With the Second World War, the military service acquiredmore respect, not to mention the upward economic/ financial mobilityof the veterans resulting from the generous benefits awarded to theservicemen (Baker, 25).

Behaviorof United States Army in the Second World War

Unlikeany other war, the Second World War elicited a host of evaluationsand assessments by scholars in regards to the behaviors of soldiersin combat. In the recent past, military historians and socialscientists have endeavored to study diverse aspects of behaviordisplayed in the battlefields. They include issues of motivation,combat expectation and coping mechanisms employed by soldiers. Thesestudies have gone a long way in helping soldiers, civilians andfellow scholars to better understand the war situations and itseffects on the people in the battlefields. The most natural emotionin the battlefield has been described by the scholars as that of fear(

Observingacts of warfare such as killings, torture and prevalent devastationis always extremely distressing. For this reason, significant mentalhealth issues experienced by military personnel have been said toresult from witnessing these battlefield scenes. Death, destructionand torture not to mention the unexpected threats to life whiletaking part in first hand killings and hostilities are potentialinterferences to sound mental health. In the 20thCentury, military personnel received psychiatric help to assist inmitigating the effects of the traumatic experiences that are inherentduring warfare. However, sometimes the military officials have shownstrong ambivalence for psychiatry involvement in military affairs,often labeling soldiers that suffer from psychiatric symptoms ascowards. They also claim that the presence of psychiatric personnelincreases the display of psychiatric symptoms. In most instances, thepresence or contribution of psychiatrics has only been appreciatedwhen it contributed to the fundamental mission of the forces, whichis conserving the strength of the soldiers to fight (Kindsvatter,361).

TheAmerican screening programs in both WWI and WWII were based on thehypothesis that “vulnerabilityfor “nervous breakdown” was related to relatively stablecharacteristics within the individual, including constitution,genetic makeup, and temperament, or the effect of early childhoodexperiences”.However, there were massive challenges in detecting the traitsindicative of mental health issues in deployment. Prior to the UnitedStates forces involvement in World War II, leading Americanpsychiatrists were considering ways in which they would makecontributions to the war. Their attention was then focused onassisting in the selection process by screening volunteers andinductees so that they could weed out those that were more prone tobreakdowns. They believed that eliminating the mentally unstable oneswould decrease or totally eliminate the mental health problems oftenencountered in deployment. In 1940, a psychoanalyst named Harry StackSullivan was appointed member of the selecting system to assist indeveloping the screening program. He was of the opinion thatindividuals suffering from maladjustment and neurosis must not beallowed to join the war. In addition, he claimed that individuals whowere not able to cope well with the demands of the American societywould not be in a position to adjust to life in the army(Kindsvatter, 165).

Atthe onset, military officials approved the screening programs sincethey promised to deliver the most able men for the forces. In thespan between 1941 and 1944, the screening methods designed bySullivan eliminated nearly 2 million (12 percent) of the 15 millionmen that were examined. Compared to World War I, the rejection ratewas 6 times more in WWII. 37 percent of those eliminated on medicalgrounds were said to exhibit neuropsychiatric symptoms. However,despite the efforts put forward, the expected effects of screeningfailed to materialize in World War II, with the resulting war-relatedneurosis rate in the US army alone doubling in comparison to thatexperienced in World War I. This unexpected rate of failure coupledwith the imperative need for power caused massive criticism on thepsychiatrists, with subsequent abolishment of the screening processin 1944. The earlier rejected men were then inducted, andsurprisingly, only a meager 18 percent of the initially rejectedgroup suffered mental health after recruitment (Polsand Oak, 2135-2140).

Combatstress reaction is a military term that describes severe behavioraldisorganization, and seen by medical practitioners as directlyresulting from war trauma. Other terms used to describe it are‘combat fatigue” or “battle neurosis”. In relation tocivilian psychiatry, the symptoms more of less overlap those of acutestress reaction.CSR is historically related to shell shock, and mayoften precurse PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). The conditionconstitutes a range of behaviors that come as a result of thestresses experienced in battle, decreasing the fighting efficiency ofthe combatant. The most common of these symptoms include fatigue,decreased reaction times, inability to make decisions, disconnectionfrom surroundings, as well as the inability to prioritize. Generally,the condition is short term although as stated earlier, it could bethe beginning of the more severe and long term disorders(Kindsvatter,163).

Inaddition to mental health matters, morale in combat was another issuealtogether. Nobody anticipated the challenge that would arise withfailing morale, and the need to maintain it at all levels. After thewearing off of the initial patriotism surge and fervor, it becameimportant, if not the only option, for the American soldiers tosubstitute it all with high morale. This was a difficult thing to doand the army often struggled to maintain particularly where it wasmost crucial: the frontlines. To the soldier fighting at thefrontline, each day was a struggle to survive the deadly conditions,with high levels of morale often contributing to the survival andperformance rates. High morale was regarded as essential for successwhile low morale was always possible grounds for failure, a factorthat is catastrophic in military circumstances. Unsurprisinglythough, more cases of low morale and resulting negative effects havebeen recorded as opposed to those of high morale. One such incidenceof extremely low morale was about a group of soldiers [Infantrymenfrom the 9thDivision] who had a two-week beard growth. In addition to this, theuniforms they wore were worn slick and extremely dirty, not tomention how tired they were at the moment since they had beencontinuously fighting and moving on foot for close to three weekswithout any rest. They slept on the ground that was wet 90 percent ofthe time. Conditions caused lots of tension, they would cold rationsand saw their friends and colleagues die in large numbers. One of thesoldiers complained“Why don’t you tell the folks back home what this is like? Allthey hear about is victories and a lot of glory stuff. They don’tknow that for every hundred yards we advance somebody gets killed.Why don’t you tell them how tough this lie is?”(Kane, 2134). This was just a representation of the feelings sharedby all soldiers in that group who just felt that they needed a breakand that their outfits needed to be sent home since they had done alot of fighting. However, despite the fact that this wasn’t thecase since other different divisions had engaged in more fiercebattle and taken more casualties, this particular group wasexhausted, fatigued and lacked he morale to go on. Such a situationalways makes an individual assume that they are worse placed thanother people, therefore lack the drive to forge ahead (Kindsvatter,272).

Soldierswho feel that they have had enough of combat usually exhibit negativeattitude, and this is rather common amongst the veteran combatsoldiers. For instance, the above soldier is clearly vocalizing hislow morale levels. Such a situation could pose dangerous situationsfor commanders should a soldier elect to disobey orders, jeopardizingthe mission and even the lives of other soldiers. It is also possiblefor such a soldier, or more of such soldiers, to break under theaccumulated frontline combat stresses if they failed to receive therequired rest. Such a situation would automatically result in combatexhaustion casualties that would require the individual soldier(s) tobe evacuated from the frontline.

Accordingto John Appel, the average American infantryman was already exhaustedand worn out after 200-240 days. This led to the conclusion thatAmericans only fought for their friends, or until that time thattheir self respect could not allow them to quit. This meant thatafter months in combat, there was no more reason to fight since theyhad lost most of the initial soldier colleagues, and also becausethey felt that they had proven their bravery. This is indicative ofdwindling morale levels. However, in a bid to increase morale, theywere encouraged to continue fighting to protect their families fromwhat had happened in other countries. Some psychiatrists and otherexperts blamed communication from home as the sole source of lowmorale. The letters sent by families to the soldiers were said todiscourage the soldiers because they increased nostalgia, whileneedlessly discussing problems that were out of the soldiers’control. At one juncture, one of the experts was of the opinion thata nation wide educational course should have been undertaken to teachpeople how to write letters to soldiers. The letters, especially frommoms (as opposed to mothers) were said to damage the morale ofsoldiers.

However,it was not always low morale at the battlefields. There was massivemotivation of the American soldiers in World War II, a factor thatoften left a mystery to the generals and enemies. The matter wasfurther complicated by a culture of the GI that tirelessly deniedexplicit optimism, and instead emphasized that what they did was worklike any other American. This was further explained with thementality of the Great Depression era that made a job something morethan forty hours a week of time lost for life. In combat, soldiersoften had the strong sense of fighting for the sake of their buddies.This not only meant that they felt a strong obligation for comrades,it also meant that they possessed a stronger desire of fighting forthe American cause. There exists significant evidence proving thatAmerican soldiers firmly believed in the uprightness of their cause.Massive references in form of diaries, letters and interviews withveterans are indicative of the belief that Americans had in the warefforts. The attitude here is revealed in the determination thesoldiers had to push through to victory. A particular amount ofhatred for the enemy, the Axis power, is exhibited to the extent thatthe soldiers believed they were fighting for the Allied cause againstthis enemy (Kane, 20-23).

Lotsof reports also exist on other negative behavior by American soldiersthat include sexual injustices among others. Secret files from thetimes of war only made public in 2006 have revealed that the AmericanGIs committed over 400 sexual offenses in Europe. These included morethan 120 rapes in England in the period ranging between 1942 and1945. A research study conducted by Robert J. Lilly estimated that14,000 civilian women in Germany, France and England were raped byAmerican soldiers during the Second World War. It was furtherestimated that approximately 3,500 rapes also by American GIsoccurred in France between June 1944 and the end of the war.


Baker,A.P. American Soldiers Overseas: The Global Military Presence.Greenwood Publishing Group. 2004. Print.

Kane,K. Morale maintenance in world war II US Army ground combat units:European theater of operations, 1944-45. University of Richmond: URScholarship Repository. Web.[Accessed 30thAugust 2016].

Kindsvatter,P.S. American Soldiers. University Press of Kansas. 2003. Print.

Parker,Dana T. Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los AngelesArea in World War II. Cypress, CA. 2013.

Pellegrino,N. Embattled belief: The religious experiences of American Militarycombatants during World War II and Today. Web.[Accessed 30thAugust 2016]

Pols,H. and Oak, S. WAR &amp Military Mental Health. The US PsychiatricResponse in the 20thCentury. 97 (12): 2132-2142. 2007

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