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Kolb, L.C. (1983). Return of the Repressed: Delayed Stress Reaction to War. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 11(4):531-545.

(1983). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 11(4):531-545

Return of the Repressed: Delayed Stress Reaction to War

Lawrence C. Kolb, M.D.

Each succeeding generation of men and women finds itself shocked with their perception through war of human brutality, agonizing mutilation, and death. With each recurrence of war, physicians as caretakers of the wounded have had to give up illusions as to the efficacy of their theories and techniques in the face of their obvious inadequacy. In doing so they have sought eagerly and often successfully to improve their art.

This forced reassessment of healing theory and art has come as well to those who observed and speculated upon the psychological consequences of the men and women traumatized during wartime. Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory were shaken deeply by the observations of the acute war neuroses observed not long after the beginnings of World War I. The multitudinous eruption in men exposed to violent combat of a well-defined and stereotypic syndrome challenged abruptly both Freud's libido and dream theories. Simultaneously its observation offered substantiation of the psychogenic origin of the traumatic neurosis of war as well as identifying dramatically the operation of unconscious forces in the generation of symptoms.

The challenge was recognized clearly by Freud. His initial response thereto is contained in that small book, Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses, for which he wrote the introduction which preceded papers by Ferenczi, Abraham, Simmel, and Jones. To quote Freud, “If the investigation of the war neuroses … has not shown that the sexual theory of the neuroses is correct, that is something very different from its showing the theory is incorrect.

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