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War Veterans: Dissociative Amnesia, Memory Disturbances and Recovered Memory

The following articles provide compelling scientific evidence in support of the phenomena of dissociation and recovered memory in war veterans. In addition to supporting the phenomenon in general, these articles also counter the argument that recovered memory is (a) no more than a recent cultural “fad” and (b) specific to false accusers of sexual abuse.

Notable Study:
Amnesic Syndromes in War. (Sargant & Slater, 1941). Full Text
Abstract: Loss of memory is much commoner in soldiers in wartime than in civilian practice in peace. From the previous records of our patients, it seems that the condition is often overlooked in civilian life; in the Army a stricter routine and discipline make this impossible. Attention in the past has been mainly directed to states of fugue, and civilian practice suggests that behind these there often lies a criminal act or a situation from which an immediate, even though an illusory, escape is desired. Cases occurring in war, however, indicate that other causes, such as terror, bomb blast and exhaustion, may produce not only fugues both at the time and subsequently, but also large gaps retrospectively in the patient’s memory of the past.

Instinct and the Unconscious: a Contribution to a Biological theory of the Psycho-neuroses. (Rivers, 1920). Full Text
Impact: In this book, Rivers discusses his theories about clinical experiences treating “shell shock” and “war neuroses” among WWI soldiers. He discusses dissociation and recovered memories (described as ‘suppressed memories’ and ‘later recalled the memories’) in three chapters.
“The content which is thus suppressed does not disappear because it is uninteresting or unimportant; on the contrary, it is usually of very special interest and has a very definite meaning. It is suppressed because the interest and meaning are of a kind which arouse pain or discomfort… [it] is thus a protective process or mechanism.”

“The memories which disappear in war-neurosis are always of happenings so distressing that the most painful emotions arise when the happenings are recalled.”

Trauma-induced dissociative amnesia in World War I combat soldiers. (van der Hart, Brown, & Graafland, 1999)
Impact: Multiple studies documenting amnesia in World War I soldiers are reviewed and compared to contemporary research on trauma-induced dissociative amnesia.

Traumatic events: Prevalence and delayed recall in the general population. (Elliott, 1997). Full Text
Impact: 32% of participants that reported trauma also reported delayed recall of the traumatic event. This phenomenon was observed in combat veterans, among other populations.

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