Psychiatry and Race during World War II

TitlePsychiatry and Race during World War II
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsDwyer, Ellen
JournalJournal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Volume61
Issue2
Pagination117-143
Date Published04/2006
Abstract

Although the American literature on “war neuroses” expanded during World War II, psychiatrists remained more interested in dramatic instances of “combat fatigue” than in the problems of soldiers who broke down far from the field of battle. This bias in the medical literature shaped both diagnosis and treatment. It had an especially powerful effect on African American soldiers who, in the “Jim Crow” army of World War II, were assigned in disproportionate numbers to service units. When military neuropsychiatrists did write about troubled young African Americans, many revealed a racial conservatism that was surprising given the liberal environmentalist paradigm of the day. (Here, a particularly useful source is the two-volume history of Neuropsychiatry in World War II, produced by the Medical Department of the U.S. Army.) The major challenge to such views came from the National Medical Association (NMA). Despite its many criticisms of military medicine, the NMA argued that African American soldiers and veterans needed more, not fewer, psychiatric services. NMA members also joined their white counterparts in the campaign to diminish the stigma of mental illness, especially among the families of soldiers returning home. We need more investigation of the subsequent history of race and psychiatry, especially within the Veterans Administration.

URLhttp://jhmas.oxfordjournals.org/content/61/2/117
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