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Bonnard, A. (1954). Some Discrepancies Between Perception and Affect as Illustrated by Children in Wartime. Psychoanal. St. Child, 9:242-251.

(1954). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 9:242-251

Some Discrepancies Between Perception and Affect as Illustrated by Children in Wartime

Augusta Bonnard, M.D.


Surprising though it may seem, very little has been written by those who experienced the air raids of the last war, as children. Perhaps it is still too real a subject for their elders, to seem worthy of publication, or of being read for pleasure. Ten years would, however, seem to be the required passage of time for literary romanticization of a common experience, or for a new idea to be accepted as familiar. My guess is that this is also likely to be the requisite period for certain neurotic symptoms to be attributed to wartime happenings. Yet, in my article entitled "War Trauma in Children, Real or Imaginary" (1951), I contended that no true case of traumatic war neurosis had been seen by me, during the year 1945 or onwards. The observations made, and the illustrative cases described, of faulty attribution to experiences specific to war, were all derived from my clinical work as Consultant Psychiatrist of the East London Child Guidance Clinic, situated in a much bombed area of London. Nor has a case of war trauma presented itself since, although present-day mothers are beginning to stress the traumatic significance for the patient of having been a shelter dweller in babyhood, or of its having been involved in a bombing experience. My negative finding, i.e., absence of traumatic war neurosis, was explained as follows. That a child's immediate reactions to bombing and other such war experiences (excluding those in which a love object is killed or badly maimed) are based on the behavior of familiar and trusted parent figures. In instances where the adults acted in a panic-stricken or irrational (mad) way, the child reacted with terror to their conduct, rather than to the external circumstances which caused it. However, after a sufficiency of exposure to such adult intimidation, its external precipitant, i.e., air raids, became secondarily invested with fear.

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