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Zilboorg, G. (1943). Fear of Death. Psychoanal Q., 12:465-475.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:465-475

Fear of Death

Gregory Zilboorg


Ever since the world crisis broke out, civilian and military questions have been intimately interwoven with the problem of morale. What morale actually is has not yet been clearly defined. In a general and rather vague way, morale means to people a state of good cheer, a state of popular optimism. It also means a certain level of tenacious courage, persistently maintained and cheerfully demonstrated. Whatever angle of approach we might choose for the study of the problems of morale, we must sooner or later appreciate the fact that in the final analysis morale has to do with a general sense of security in the face of hardship and danger. It has to do not so much with the positive quality of being courageous, but rather with the negative quality of not becoming discouraged; not so much with the problem of being cheerful, but with the task of not becoming depressed—in other words, with the avoidance of turning one's aggression against one's self and with the proper direction of one's aggression outward.

It is not difficult to see that the fundamental psychological issue involved in the problem of morale is reduced to the problem of how one reacts to the fear of death. For behind the sense of insecurity in the face of danger, behind the sense of discouragement and depression, there always lurks the basic fear of death, a fear which undergoes most complex elaborations and manifests itself in many indirect ways. It may appear in the form of critical disbelief in the political administration as well as general pessimism about civilization, which may seem to us to be coming to an end—as if civilization, even as the principle of life, ever can come to an end.

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