The Role of Psychologists in The Wars:
World War I:
1917: E. B. Titchner and R. M. Yerkes (then President of APA) were meeting with a group of psychologists known as the “Experimentalists,” and formulated a plan for the APA membership to offer their professional services to the war effort. The consensus was that psychologists could provide support in developing methds for selection of recruits and treatment of war victims.
1919: Yerkes was commissioned as a Major in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps. In a plan proposed to the Surgeon General Yerkes wrote: “The Council of the American Psychological Association is convinced that in the present emergency American psychology can substantially serve the Government, under the medical corps of the Army and Navy, by examining recruits with respect to intellectual deficiency, psychopathic tendencies, nervous instability, and inadequate self-control.”
1919: Army Division of Psychology in the Medical Department established at the medical training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Goergia, to train personnel to provide mental testing of large groups.
The Committee on Psychological Problems in Aviation – Including Examination of Aviation Recruits
The Committee on the Selection of Men for Tasts Requiring Special Aptitudes
The Committee on Pedagogical and Psychological Problems in Military Training and Discipline
The Committee on Problems of Emotional Stability, Fear, and Self-Control
A Committee on Morale
The Committee on Tests for Deception
Committee on Psychological Literature Relating to Military Affairs
Committee on Recreation in the Army and Navy
Committee on Problems of Vision Which May Have Military Significance
Committee on Psychological Problems of Incapacity, Including Those of Shell-Shock and Re-Education
Committee on Propaganda Behind the German Lines
Committee on Acoustic Problems of Military Importance
Committee on Adaptation of Psychological Instruction to Military Educaitonal Needs
World War II:
Napoli (1981) describes the Army problem as follows:
“In the spring of 1942 no clinical psychologists were serving in Army hospitals under the supervision of psychiatrists. In part this was due to the psychologists’ opposition to such service, in part to the limited role the army assigned to psychiatry….As the size of the Army grew and more men entered combat, the number of neuropsychiatric casualties increased. It soon became obvious that the psychiatric interview at induction, which seldom lasted over three minutes, could weed out only the severely disturbged recruits. Psychiatrists now realized that they could not predict which otherwise normal men would crack under the strain of military duties. Psychiatric wards filled and the demand for clinical psychologists grew. In the spring of 1942 the surgeon general commissioned six psychologists in the Sanitary Corps as an “experiment” and assigned them to army hospitals….But the army developed no unified program for the use of clinical psychologist until 1944. Only in the summer of 1945 did the supply of clinical psychologists catch up with the demand. By then 450 clinical psychologists were serving in the army.”
The Korean War marked the first time clinical psychologists served overseas, some in hospitals, some in combat zones. There was much uncertainty and lack of clarity about the role of Navy clinical psychologists in this conflict. Retired Naval Captain Frederick L. McGuire (from whose book much of this historical information has been extracted) reports his personal experience as the lone psychologist at the Marine Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 1952. He asked the commanding officer what kind of work he would be doing. The CO replied, “I don’t know – go do what a psychologist does!” However, the Army and Air Force provided detailed job descriptions for psychologists, outlining the tests and procedures for evaluating recruits that were to be used.
Due in part to the slow escalation of the conflict and lack of complete logistical support by the military for several years into the fighting, the use of psychologists to support combat troops were slow to be provided. The mental health teams usually consisted of one psychiatrist, one psychologist, and three or four enlisted corpsmen. While it is generally recognized that soldiers must have a minimum of combat experience to gain senior rank, the same standards are not held to members of the medical corp. Therefore, medical officers (psychologists included) were often working in extreme conditions with little or no field experience. Despite their training, many psychologists who served in-country during the Vietnam Era did not remain on active duty and are thought to have suffered combat-related stress reactions themselves.
This site was constructed by Kirsten Michels, M.A. (email@example.com) for a History of Psychology course (PSYC6180) at The University of Georgia, Spring 2004