Mass Psychological Casualties in Warfare

WWII Vets are called the “Greatest Generation” and they are (were). The object of this post is to point out that the American public’s fear of veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is over blown; by many.

Hollywood and the news media think they are doing the right thing by educating the public about PTSD, but they do not point out that 99% of those diagnosed with PTSD will be absolutely fine; many with limited help – from their buddies.

In every war in which American soldiers have fought since the 19th century, the chances of becoming a psychiatric casualty – of being debilitated for some period of time as a consequence of the stresses of military life – were greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire.

The only exception was the Vietnam War, in which the chances were almost equal (Richard Gabriel – No More Heroes). Richard Gabriel, in his excellent book, No More Heroes, tells us that in the great battles of World War I, World War II and Korea, there were more men pulled off the front lines because of psychiatric wounds than were killed in combat. As a matter of fact, more soldiers were lost from psychiatric casualties than all of the physical casualties combined.

There was a study written on this phenomenon in World War II entitled Lost Divisions, which concluded that American forces lost 504,000 men from psychiatric collapse. A number sufficient to man 50 combat divisions! Worst of all were those rare situations in which soldiers were trapped in continuous combat for 60 to 90 days. In those cases, 98 percent became psychiatric casualties.

Fighting all day and all night for months on end is a post 19th century phenomenon. It was not until the 20th century, beginning with World War I, those battles went day and night, for weeks and months without end. This resulted in a huge increase in psychiatric casualties and it got vastly worse when soldiers were unable to rotate out of the battle.

On the beaches of Normandy in World War II, for example, there were no rear lines, and for two months there was no way to escape the horror of continuous fighting, of continuous death. It was learned then that after 60 days and nights of constant combat, 98 percent of all soldiers became psychiatric casualties. What about the other two percent? They were aggressive sociopaths; they were having fun.

The goal of this body of warrior science research is to be better trained and prepared, in order to prevent that from happening to us. The point is that even though it appears we have a large percentage of PTSD cases coming out of the current conflicts, they are no more than any other war. This is important because the public was never scared of returning vets before and they should not be now.

The moral of the story: As usual, the media and Hollywood get everything wrong.


By David Devaney

David K. Devaney SgtMaj USMC Retired 2009 City of Hit Iraq with PTTDavid was born in Geneva New York and graduated from Geneva High School in 1980. He joined the Marine Corps on a guaranteed Infantry contract in April of 1983. After graduating boot camp he was stationed in Hawaii with 3rdBattalion 3rd Marines (3/3). While assigned to 3/3 he held billets as a rifleman, fire team leader, and squad leader. During 1986 Corporal (Cpl) Devaney was selected as a member of Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) Platoon, 3rd Battalion 3rd Marine. Upon graduation of Scout Sniper School he was assigned to the Scout Sniper Section of 3/3 STA Platoon. During his second deployment as a Scout Sniper with 3/3 he was promoted to Sergeant (Sgt). After a tour on the drill field from 1989-1991 Sgt Devaney returned to STA 3/3 were he deployed two more times. During 1994 Sgt Devaney was selected to the rank of Staff Sergeant (SSgt) and ordered to III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF), Special Operation Training Group (SOTG); while at SOTG SSgt Devaney was assigned as a Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) and Urban Sniper Instructor and Chief Instructor. At the time III MEF SOTG Instructors were members of Joint Task Force 510 (JTF 510 CT); a Counter Terrorism Task Force. In 1998 he deployed to Operation Desert Fox with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/4 and was attached to Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 572/594 as a sniper. SSgt Devaney deployed again, during 2000, with ODA 135/136/132 to Malaysia as member of JTF 510, working with the Malaysian National Police. After leaving SOTG Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) Devaney was assigned to Company A 1st Battalion 7th Marine, and spent much of his time training the Scout Snipers of 1/7. Just before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, he was selected to the rank of First Sergeant (1stSgt) and led 270 Marines, sailors, and soldiers during combat – receiving a Bronze Star Medal for destroying the enemy and their will to fight. During 2004 1st Sgt Devaney was ordered to duty as the Inspector Instructor Staff 1st Sgt for 2nd Beach and Terminal Operations Company, Savannah, Georgia. During 2007 he was selected to the rank of Sergeant Major (SgtMaj) and received orders to Electronic Warfare Squadron 4 (VMAQ-4) stationed at Cherry Point, NC. There he trained a CADRE which in turn trained a massive Quick Reaction Force in combat operations. After two more deployments to Iraq SgtMaj Devaney received orders to Weapons Training Battalion, Quantico, VA. SgtMaj Devaney retired from the Marine Corps on 31 December 20013. He now works as an adjunct combat instructor at the “Crucible’’ in Fredericksburg, VA. David is also on the Board of Directors of the Marine Corps Scout Sniper Association. David’s published work: Books Devaney, D.K. (2007). Surviving combat: Mentally and physically (3rd edition). 29 Palms, CA: USMC. Devaney, D.K. (2015). They Were Heroes: A Sergeant Major’s Tribute to Combat Marines of Iraq and Afghanistan. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. Articles Devaney, D.K. (2011) Enough Talk of Suicide, Already! Proceedings Magazine. Devaney, D.K. (2011) Can PTSD Be Prevented Through Education? Proceedings Magazine. Devaney, D.K. (2012) PTSD Is Not Cancer. The Marine Corps Gazette. Devaney, D.K. (2012) Women in Combat Arms Units. The Marine Corps Gazette.

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