Blood/Lust: Freud and the Trauma of Killing in War

Nolen Gertz


During World War I, Sigmund Freud and his followers held a special symposium in Budapest entitled "Psycho-Analysis and the War Neuroses." Their contributions centered on the importance of trying to understand what can cause a soldier to become traumatized in war by investigating the individual factors of each case as opposed to merely the situational factors. Thus by redefining such ambiguous illnesses as shell shock and war strain into the Freudian framework of the traumatic neuroses, they were able to do what the neurologists could not—explain the meaning behind the soldiers' symptoms and treat them with successful results. However, as the programmatic strategy of the symposium led the contributors to focus almost exclusively on the soldier's fear of death as opposed to the anxiety over killing, this paper will explore the few places where killing is discussed in order to attempt to find a place for it within this framework. This investigation will then allow us to better understand the role that factors such as military training, discipline, and patriotism play in mediating the trauma of killing so that we can use such research to find ways to reduce the suffering of soldiers.

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