The battle of Civvy Street: Falklands memoirs study offers fresh view of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Statue commemorating the role of the Royal Marines in the Falklands conflict, Portsmouth, UK

The return home from war is often the beginning of a whole new battle for servicemen and can trigger exactly the traumatic reactions to war they hope to escape, suggests a new study of the Falklands War on the eve of its 30th anniversary (2 April 2012).

Historian Dr Lucy Robinson analysed Falklands War memoirs to gain insights into combatants' experience of conflict – and she concludes that personal histories can complement scientific understanding of the causes of the distressing, debilitating condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The study, due to be published in the Journal of War and Culture Studies, compared the servicemen's descriptions of their individual experiences with the standard scientific model of PTSD.*

Dr Robinson’s historical analysis found that the memoirs highlighted:

  • Camaraderie – the group relationship arising out of a sense of shared experience of combat – offers a defence against the traumatic impact of combat;
  • Homecoming – how the challenges of  trying to adjust to normal everyday life, work and relationships can trigger PTSD if the individual is isolated from and does not have the support of the group or access to the shared rituals and routines that helped to keep combat stress at bay;
  • Isolation and shunning – some veterans are still haunted by the treatment they received back home, attributing the onset of PTSD symptoms to the resulting feelings of alienation and humiliation.  Writers recount, for example, being asked to refrain from wearing their uniforms in civilian hospitals and being hidden from view at public ceremonies as well as lack of resources for those suffering long-term psychiatric reactions to some of the fiercest battles of the campaign – Goose Green and Mount Longdon.

Dr Robinson says: “Veterans’ memoirs show that combat trauma is something experienced at a group level and therefore needs to be alleviated at a group level. Groups and individuals rely on each other’s resilience to resist the negative effects of PTSD. Therefore examination of the narratives of Falklands combatants can add to our understanding of PTSD and should form part of the ongoing dialogue of how best to deal with it in future.”

Dr Robinson, who lectures in modern British history at the University of Sussex, studied memoirs written by soldiers (including A Soldier’s Song by Ken Lukowiak and Forward Into Hell by Vincent Bramley) and interviewed others who fought against invading Argentinian forces in the Falkland Islands in 1982 and who witnessed or suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD (referred to generally in previous conflicts as shell shock or battle fatigue) had been identified as a diagnosable condition affecting servicemen just prior to the Falklands War. Falklands veterans were the first British veterans to confront, respond to and experience the traumatic combat experience as a labelled, medicalised condition.

The research article arose out of collaboration with Sussex neurobiologist Dr Sarah King for a University of Sussex-funded project called Translate Trauma. The project brought together historians, neuroscientists and Falklands veteran writers and artists to examine the relationship between veterans’ descriptions of combat trauma and scientific and historical explanations of trauma.

Dr Robinson is currently working on a Mass Observation Project examining public attitudes to war and is writing a book on the cultural and social history of 1980s Britain. There are also plans to work further with Dr Sarah Maltby of City University and veteran artists, photographers, writers and poets who feature in Dr Maltby’s MARS (Morality and the Representation of Suffering) Project and who took part in the University of Portsmouth-funded 2010 conference on and City University’s exhibition of War and Body

 


Notes for Editors

*PTSD is characterised by feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror, with the sufferer experiencing the traumatic event as if still present and reacting accordingly. This can lead to depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, loss of confidence, violent behaviour, relationship breakdowns and withdrawal from society. Psychological or neurobiological research highlights an individual’s background or genetic make-up in the development of PTSD.

‘Explanations of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Falklands Memoirs: The Fragmented Self and the Collective Body’, Lucy Robinson, will be published in the Journal of War and Culture Studies, Vol 5 Issue 1 2012.

Dr Lucy Robinson lectures in Modern British History at the University of Sussex. Other work on Falklands memoirs includes ‘Soldiers' Stories of the Falklands War: Recomposing Trauma in Memoir’, in Contemporary British History, Vol 25, Issue 4, 2011. The article provides an analysis of Falklands memoirs by ex-combatants and their therapeutic value and of what happens when soldiers sell or tell their stories.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email: press@sussex.ac.uk

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Last updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2012

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