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Chapter XXVI


Part V



Problems of Adjustment in Return to Civilian Life

Norman Q. Brill, M.D., and Herbert I. Kupper, M.D.


Probably, the great majority of the "average" veterans, those without physical or psychological disability, met with no serious emotional problems in the course of their return to civilian status. To be sure, some, for many possible reasons, such as not finding preferred employment or a proper place in life, reacted adversely. Nevertheless, while most veterans were not "problems" in themselves, it would be playing ostrich not to recognize that they had problems, both big and little.1

Before entering the Army, a great many soldiers had never been away from home. Many had not matured emotionally or intellectually. Many had never before been threatened with serious danger. Many had never been required to assume real responsibility. Many had come from farms and rural communities and, for the first time, met people from all sections of the country, or for those who went overseas-from various parts of the world. They met girls different from the ones in their hometowns. Their lives were completely different. They endured hardship; they were confronted with death; they killed the enemy and saw their own buddies dying. They had read and heard of strikes and high wages and on returning home were disillusioned to see the extent to which business went on as usual-as if there were, or had been, no war. They witnessed complacency and selfishness and were convinced that people at home could never understand what they had been through.2

The phantasies of home which had helped them tolerate misery and suffering while in service were exploded by the less attractive realities of their homes, their families, and their girls. Some were bitter about the sacrifices they had made at a time when others, not in the service, continued to live in comfort and to prosper. Upon arriving home, they were confronted with the need to reinstate themselves in an establishment that seemed to be running well without them.

The variety of adjustments defy description.3 There were problems

1Menninger, William C.: Psychiatry in a Troubled World: Yesterday's War and Today's Challenge. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1948, p. 365.

2Brill, N. Q.: Veterans With Problems. J. Home Econ. 38: 325-328, June 1946.
3The problems that were encountered by female military personnel were not unlike those experienced by men. They were described by Solomon, P., and Winfield, M. C.: Needs and Problems of Military Women in Readjusting to Civilian Life. Am. J. Orthopsychiat. 15: 454-462, July 1945. See also chapter XV, "The Women's Army Corps."-N. Q. B., and H. I. K.


for some of relinquishing positions of authority; of readjusting to a life without excitement, where each individual action was not important; of being freed from military discipline, once again to make decisions and plans; and of assuming, again, the responsibilities of husband or father.

It was all these considerations that made many fear that the man who had been taught to kill by the Army would return to civilian life without the restraints society had, previously, so carefully built into him. Possibilities of "epidemics" of crime and violence were predicted by some who believed that the hostile aggressive forces which had been released by war could not be suddenly turned off.

In the service, new attitudes and standards toward many things were developed. Preciseness, cleanliness, and attention to detail were emphasized. Obedience and self-discipline became necessities. Anger, frustration, and rage could no longer be expressed as directly as could have been in civil life. Separation from women and living in an essentially male environment resulted in glorification of pin-up girls, in idealization of the "girl he left behind," and in rough talk and scatological jokes. One's "buddy," one's unit, the best "goddam army," the "toughest" general, and a common danger bound young men together in mutual love for and dependence upon each other for a leader or a father figure. These feelings came into direct conflict with wishes to be independent and to survive in combat, which engendered deep feelings of guilt that were so commonly uncovered in cases of "combat fatigue" where ambivalent underlying feelings could not be faced.

Immediately after the war ended, there was joy at imminent homecoming, but there followed a period of uncertainty in both soldier and civilian. Slowly, anxiety mounted about the possible emotional and psychological problems of demobilization. Families and communities became worried over how much their men had changed, and the public press with a hue and a cry began to publish "scare" articles. The word "readjustment" came into vogue, with public realization that young men had been sent into situations in which they were bound to change.


A study by Corwin4 revealed that 20 percent of a sampling of 100 officers and 32 percent of a sampling of 100 AAF (Army Air Forces) enlisted men, returning from overseas, had had some concern about how civilians would feel toward them. Their anxiety was provoked by rumors they had heard of conditions in the United States, by doubts about how they would be treated and regarded by their families and friends, and by the existence of illness in their families. Their concerns were, for the most part, relieved by the sympathetic and satisfying welcomes which

4Corwin, W.: Attitudes of Soldiers Returning From Overseas Services. Am. J. Psychiat. 102: 343-350, November 1945.


were accorded them upon their return. Corwin believed that their anticipatory anxiety was to some extent the result of the breaking of ego-strengthening relationships with their units; of an awareness of further emotional demands to be made upon them by their friends and families; and of a return to earlier conflicts, the solution to which was postponed and not solved by the war.

Chisholm,5 in his study of the emotional problems of demobilization, stated: "Cessation of hostilities was experienced as a major emotional shock by soldiers generally * * * a very extensive loss of orientation, a feeling of being lost." He believed that soldiers might become highly labile in mood, unstable, and unpredictable-that "the sudden release from fear of death would leave them disorganized and uncertain."

Menninger6 and Burton and his associates,7 however, held a contrary view. They recognized the magnitude of the problems of readjustment for the individual and the community but believed the alarmist's description of the problem was exaggerated. They also believed that, all in all, only a small number of men, some discharged for neuropsychiatric reasons, would present serious adjustment problems in the civilian situation. They seemed to have confidence in the resilience of the ego or personality of these men as well as of the capacity of families, Army, and community to aid the wavering personality.

Menninger seemed to believe that the capacity of these men to adapt to soldiering and then to battle, if handled well, provided a reasonable expectation that they could readapt to civilian life. Therefore, he thought that the process of civilian adaptation might produce little if any more damage for the majority with intact egos.


At any rate, the Army attempted, within its resources and capacities, to effect a satisfactory transition. A separation qualification record was made of each man.8 This provided a summarized personnel data sheet with education, work history, aptitudes, physical condition, and positive aspects of his military record which could be used in seeking employment. Military specialties were related to civilian skills.

Counseling was offered but only 50 percent of the men accepted. Help was offered by selected officers and men specially trained to give advice about jobs, domestic details, or when necessary, to make referrals to psychiatric treatment facilities.

5Chisholm, G. B.: Emotional Problems of Demobilization. In Military Neuropsychiatry. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Co., 1946, pp. 63-69.

6Menninger, W. C.: The Problem of the Discharged Neuropsychiatric Patient. In Military Neuropsychiatry. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Co., 1946, pp. 70-77.
7Burton, I. F., Eaton, M. T., Jr., and McMahan, H. G.: Incidence of Neuropsychiatric Disease in the Demobilized Veteran: Study of 10,000 Army Separatees. Am. J. Psychiat. 103: 165-171, September 1946.
8Bender, W. R. G.: Rehabilitation and the Returning Veteran: the Man as He Leaves the Service. Ment. Hyg. 29: 1-7, January 1945.


Chisholm9 advised the Canadian Army to institute a number of talks to all men. He believed that talking of their anxieties, aggressions, and doubts would be helpful preparation for the future in much the same way as the men who were to participate in the North African invasion were helped before the invasion to understand the customs of a strange land and people. No such talks were broadly instituted in the U.S. Army, and there were no statistical data from which to determine whether the talks were helpful in the Canadian Army. Chisholm10 also urged families of returning servicemen to assume their share of the responsibility for readjusting.

Cities like New York with advanced social service agencies immediately established civilian service centers to give advice and to work with Federal, State, and other city agencies. Ethel Ginsburg11 described the Veterans Service Center in New York which was opened to give information on community resources for employment, counseling, and similar help. Braceland12emphasized the need for psychiatric treatment facilities, while Smith and Wood13 urged local county medical societies and general practitioners, especially in rural communities, to assume their share of the responsibility for the treatment of veterans who developed emotional disorders in the process of readjusting to civilian life.

Campbell,14 in a report on 434 veterans hospitalized in the Kings Park State Hospital, from August 1945 to June 1946, stated that, of these, 110 developed their illnesses after discharge from the service. The prospect of separation, he believed, buoyed up many military personnel and obscured personality disorders which might otherwise have been noted before discharge. Some patients admitted feeling "let down" as their separation approached. He believed that these men suffered severe feelings of loss when they left their Army units. He concluded that part of the reasons for these severe reactions were that the complexities of civilian life were too much for them and brought to light or aggravated latent symptoms. They had broken down after discharge and after personal maladjustments. He believed that they might have been aided by further orientation before discharge, although this, he agreed, was speculation.

It was noteworthy that studies in training camps overseas revealed that only a relatively small percentage of men asked for help with their domestic and emotional problems. This was further borne out by counseling agencies at home which found that a majority of men would not

9See footnote 5, p. 723.
10Chisholm, G. B.: The Soldier's Return. Psychiatry 8: 103-105, February 1945.
11Ginsburg, E. L.: Rehabilitation and the Returning Veteran; Veteran Into Civilian: The Process of Readjustment. Ment. Hyg. 29: 7-19, January 1945.

12Braceland, F. J.: Psychiatry and the Returning Veteran. Ment. Hyg. 30: 33-46, January 1946.
13Smith, L. H., and Wood, H. C.: The General Practitioner and the Returning Veteran. J.A.M.A. 129: 190-193. 15 Sept. 1945.
14Campbell, J. A.: From VJ * * * Mental Disorder Following Service Discharge. Psychiatric Quart. 20: 375-380, July 1946.


take advantage of counseling for domestic problems or that they quickly left counseling as soon as immediate anxieties subsided.15

Kupper16 was of the opinion that the ego of the veteran had been altered in military life and consequently "weakened" for civilian living. The tendency of men who wore a victorious uniform, and belonged to a "team," was to regard all civilians as "they." Implied was a distrust of a group of strangers and unconsciously a feeling of inadequacy when one's uniform was discarded and the "team" dispersed. Therefore, there was an increased likelihood for using primitive mechanisms of projection and displacement. Corwin17 found that some men, while overseas, had expressed violent bitterness toward labor unions, selfishness, and lack of sacrifice on the part of civilians.

Domestic problems were often greater than the realistic situations warranted. There were some good reasons for this. A 3- or 4-year absence tended to make for concrete and baffling changes. A baby became a child. A wife who had been a girl was a woman and a mother. Friends, relatives, and one's hometown changed. However, a basic difficulty of decreased flexibility seemed to exist in the veteran himself.

The veteran's fright and dependency needs pushed the vast majority of men to join veterans' organizations which provided closeness and understanding as well as practical advice. It was noteworthy that memberships were often dropped within 3 to 5 years after the war's end.

Col. Howard A. Rusk, MC,18 of the Convalescent Training Section, AAF, spoke in many communities to audiences of as much as 11,000 after showing them films on "Combat Fatigue" and "Out of Bed into Action" which depicted to civilians how and why their returning men might have transient violent gripes. The National Committee for Mental Hygiene, in 1944, set forth a series of rules for civilian behavior which were excellent.19 As adjuncts in the professional field, a "National Neuropsychiatric Institute Act" was introduced and passed by Congress, for the purpose of coordinating psychiatric activities, making grants-in-aid and the like. It provided the assistance that was needed to staff such facilities as community clinics and veterans' installations.

There was some suggestion20 that sexual readjustment in marriage was a transient problem. This was because tender loving feelings and sexual expressions during the war were so often disassociated from one another and had to be reassociated with consequent difficulties. Excep­

15Burling, T.: Community Organization for Meeting Problems of Psychiatrically Disabled Veterans. Am. J. Orthopsychiat. 14: 680-698, October 1944.

16Kupper, Herbert I.: Back to Life: The Emotional Adjustment of Our Veterans. New York: L. B. Fischer Pub. Corp., 1945.
17See footnote 4, p. 722.
18Rusk, Howard, in New York Times, October 1945.
19Rennie, Thomas A. C., and Woodward, Luther E.: When He Comes Back and If He Comes Back Nervous: With Guide to Community Resources. New York: Rehabilitation Division, Nat. Com. Ment. Hygiene, Inc., 1944.
20See footnote 15 above.


tions were instances where latent difficulties aggressive as well as sexual were reopened leading to more difficulties than usual.

The question of conscience or the superego was a key one. Without a stable individual set of morals, values, and ideals, the veteran tended to be prone to outbursts of irritation and to seek solace in veterans' groups where "old times" could be discussed. Although there were no statistics to prove this, all war writers, including Erich Maria Remarque,21 eloquently and inevitably predicted this. The veterans' attitude as depicted by Remarque was: "There they stand and propose to teach us again. What can they teach us? We know life better than they. We have gained a harsh, cruel knowledge. We could teach them. If a raid were made on us, they'd all be rushing about * * *." Little wonder that parents complained of how their sons had changed and seemed to be uncertain as to values, civilian rules, morals, and the like.


The slow reestablishment of a stable superego was vital just as it was for his growth at age 6 when he entered school and the outside world. A survey by the Office of Education of the Federal Security Agency indicated that about one million men and women wanted to go to school (13 May 1945, New York Times). In part, the GI bill of rights came into being because of this. Even the youngest veterans at school often felt aloof and far removed from campus activities. Colleges noted their seriousness and also the inordinate number who married. This was rather unusual since they and their children lived on so little.

The desire to return to school in such numbers did not arise just from the serious wish to study to improve oneself and was not always an evidence of an increased maturity. Too often, there were immature needs to channel sexual and aggressive urges in a combination of being married as well as of being dependent schoolboys. Initially, it seemed to help overcome feelings of instability.


It has been repeatedly alleged that every postwar period seems to have shown an increase in violent impulses and delinquency. There are no figures that could be used to substantiate this.22 Those men who were discipline problems in military life sometimes continued a life of crime outside the service. The insufficiency of recorded data on all such problems following demobilization is significant. The complexities of the human factor and

21Remarque, Erich Maria: The Road Back. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1931.
22Dixon Wecter (When Jonny Comes Marching Home. Boston: Houghton Muffin Co., 1944, p. 462) concluded "that a normal man is ever turned into a killer must be gravely doubted * * * in general the homicide rate after * * * wars, so far as it bears any known relation to the soldier, is far from sensational."-N. Q. B., and H. I. K.


his interaction with the mores of his society were almost impossible to judge accurately. Almost all prophets and soothsayers erred somewhat because only the broadest speculations could be made. The chief asset of all returning men seemed to be their trend toward self-readjustment, and one of the chief aids in this seemed to have been vocational placement with counseling.23


The GI bill of rights and related laws were a bonus in advance. The U.S. Employment Service set up a nationwide job hunt to enable men to reenter a competitive society. The Veterans' Administration guaranteed $50 million worth of low-interest loans. There was special unemployment pay; about 8 million veterans took on-the-job or school training. The net result of this was that veterans overtook nonveterans their own age in earning power. All but 8 percent returned their Government loans. Only one in eight joined the American Legion versus one in three of the World War I veterans. Most fused their talents and opportunities so well that they provided a major national asset.

In retrospect, one can see that the social and economic planning helped enormously with many problems which previous postwar epochs led everyone to expect. There certainly must have been many personal problems which were brought about by dislocation and readjustment. But by enlightened Government aid, the majority of such problems were overcome by the opportunities and help that were proffered.

23(1) Rosenzweig, S.: Emotional Implications of Military Rejection and Discharge. Psychiatric Quart. (Suppl.) 19: 11-19, 1945. (2) "Time" magazine, in its 5 January 1959 issue, published a revealing article entitled "Whatever Happened to the Veterans." They observed that many ominous prophecies came to naught because of the comeback the Nation provided-N. Q. B., and H. I. K.