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War And Psychology Essay Research Paper The

War And Psychology Essay, Research Paper The experience of war places stresses on the human spirit that can scarcely be imagined in peacetime. Dilemmas that can be largely avoided in time of peace

War And Psychology Essay, Research Paper

The experience of war places stresses on the human spirit that can scarcely be

imagined in peacetime. Dilemmas that can be largely avoided in time of peace

must be faced in a time of war. Concern for one?s own physical safety is often

at odds with concern for the wellbeing of one?s countrymen. The dictates of

the mind often fight the dictates of the emotions. In such a tug of war

situation, where practical and moral factors align themselves in strange and

ironic patterns, it is hardly surprising that individuals respond in highly

divergent ways. In this paper, the dangers that war poses to the human psyche

will be considered and an attempt will be made to account for the some of the

variability that can be seen in the way in which individuals respond to these

threats. An examination of two books suggests that certain character traits help

inoculate people in time of war, better enabling them to withstand the assaults

of war. It also suggests that the absence of certain traits makes people

vulnerable when they are placed in threatening circumstances. In examining two

literary works: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and The English Patient by

Michael Ondaatje three character traits that were necessary in order to ensure

spiritual survival were clearly shown. These traits were faith, courage, and

loyalty. In the course of this paper, special attention will be given to the

character traits described above. The significance of their presence or absence

in the personalities of a number of literary characters will be considered. In

The Screwtape Letters, Lewis? portrays an anonymous English protagonist

struggling to maintain his spiritual integrity against the assaults of

temptations of Hell during World War Two. In The English Patient, Ondaatje

portrays a group of characters, brought together by their circumstances,

reacting to what the author portrays as the tidal wave of war. The importance of

faith, courage and loyalty enable Lewis? character to spiritually survive all

the assaults of wartime. The absence of these characteristics cause Ondaatje?s

characters to flounder. Faith, courage and loyalty provide a necessary framework

for moral thought and action, enabling the soul to survive even under the

adverse conditions presented by war. C.S. Lewis deals extensively with the

dangers that war poses to the human psyche. In his wartime work entitled The

Screwtape Letters, he presents an essentially hopeful view concerning the

ability of the soul to survive the assaults of war. He proposes that having the

right perspective is the key to the soul?s survival. Lewis deals with a wide

variety of temptations that serve to undermine the integrity of man in his

journey through life. All of these temptations assert their power to some degree

in peacetime. Yet, their power is often strengthened by the pressures of war. In

The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje presents an entirely different perspective

concerning the effects of war on the human psyche. Although he never spells it

out, Ondaatje seems to take a fairly deterministic view. The fate of his

characters often seems to lie beyond their control. It is almost as if his

characters have been struck by a giant tidal wave and are helpless to resist as

they are carried away. The reader seldom gets the impression that Ondaatje?s

characters have alternatives other than to think and act the way they do. They

are presented as victims of circumstances who warrant our compassion but not our

judgment. Each leaves the war deeply scarred in the spiritual sense. In the work

of C.S. Lewis, faithfulness to God is the factor that ensures the soul?s

survival. Lewis describes the danger of being overwhelmed by ?the stream of

immediate sense experiences? (Lewis pg.12). A man?s tendency to focus on the

immediate and the personal at the expense of the universal threatens his ability

to survive in any spiritual sense. When focusing on his own inconvenience,

hunger and pain, a man tends to lose sight of broader concerns, such as his

spiritual wellbeing and the common good. Faith enables a man to focus on the

spiritual and the eternal, to face each day?s trials with commitment and

determination and to survive war with his psyche intact. Lewis grapples with the

paradox of war. Lewis argues convincingly that, while some may be destroyed by

war, others may actually experience spiritual growth through adversity. Alerted

to the finite nature of life and made more conscious of the needs of others, a

man?s faith and strength may flourish in ways that he never dreamed possible.

Lewis dispels the belief that a long, relatively peaceful or painless life is

any guarantee of spiritual survival. He expresses fear for the souls of those

who die ?in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends

who lie?promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness

excuses every indulgence, and even ?withholding a priest lest is should betray

to the sick man his true condition.? (Lewis pg. 32). During wartime, the need

for courage cannot be ignored. Lewis sees courage as ?not simply one of the

virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means the

point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to

danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was

merciful till it became risky? (Lewis pg. 148). Yet, courage must be grounded

in faith and resignation to God?s will. Lewis explains how worrying about the

future and taking precautions against the dangers of war tend to undermine

courage. When a man begins to obsess about all the things he can do to increase

his chances of survival, his commitment to doing his duty becomes ?honeycombed

all through with little unconscious reservations.? In a moment of terror,

these reservations will assert themselves and his overriding concern will be

physical self-preservation.(Lewis p150). Only by putting his full trust in God

can a man avoid the threats to the spirit that uncertainty brings and act

courageously under all conditions. Key characters in The English Patient each

possess some of the traits that Lewis deems to be important: Yet each of

Ondaatje?s characters displays certain frailties that weaken his chances of

spiritual survival. Each of the characters is profoundly influenced by the

?stream of immediate sense experiences? that Lewis analyses so vividly in

the Screwtape Letters. Each allows the pain and suffering that he has witnessed

to destroy any faith he had in God, country or the war effort. Caravaggio is a

man who possesses tremendous courage. In his role as a spy for the Allies, he

risks death and torture on a daily basis throughout the war. After being

captured by the Germans and having his thumbs cut off by them, he finds his way

to a villa in Florence where Hana, a Canadian nurse and daughter of an old

friend is caring for a burned and dying patient. There, he devotes his days to

convincing Hana and Kip, the sapper whom Hana loves, to abandon their

responsibilities. He urges Hana to leave her dying patient even though there is

no one left to care for him. Referring to the Bedoin tribesmen who rescued the

burning man, he says, ?Those men in the desert were smarter than you. They

assumed that he could be useful. So they saved him, but when he was no longer

useful, they left him.?(Ondaatje pg. 45) Confiding to Kip, he blames the war

on the rich who ? have to follow the rules of their?civilized world. They

declare war, they have honour and they can?t leave. But you two. We three.

We?re free. How many sappers die? Why aren?t you dead yet? Be irresponsible.

Luck runs out.? (Ondaatje p.123) Caravaggio is portrayed as warm, human and

very likable. Yet, he is a man who has lost his faith, his loyalty and his

confidence. The English Patient is portrayed as a man of great intellect. He is

?the wise man? who sees ?the greater picture?. Yet, at critical times,

he reacts in a manner that is narrow and self-serving. He has an affair with the

wife of friend and colleague, a man whom he claims to love. This is portrayed as

a natural response of one caught up in a tidal wave of emotion. He blames ?the

war? for destroying his research, his adopted homeland, and his friendships;

yet he makes no credible attempt to come to terms with the terrible events that

made war inevitable. He collaborates with the Germans, dooming thousands in the

desert to torture and death. He rationalizes his behaviour and abdicates

responsibility for his actions by blaming the war on international financial and

military interests rather than on Nazi aggression. Yet the English Patient is

portrayed as a thoroughly likable victim. Never is it suggested that he is the

product of the choices that he himself has made. Kipp, the Sikh sapper, is a man

of tremendous discipline. Charged with the unenviable task of diffusing bombs,

he survives against all odds through a combination of resourcefulness and a

great ability to concentrate. He possesses many admirable qualities, traits that

should have enabled him to withstand the assaults of war with integrity. Yet,

Kip never seems to reflect upon the issue of why he is at war until the end when

he falls apart . Kip?s wartime relationships with the English are

characterised by mutual respect, acceptance and, in several instances, love.

Throughout the story, Kip is glued to his radio where he would, no doubt, have

heard of the German and Japanese atrocities that were being revealed on a daily

basis in 1945. Yet, suddenly, he is swept away with revulsion at the news of the

dropping of The Bomb on Hiroshima. He literally blames the English for all of

the evils of the world, including the dropping of the bomb. In response to an

act that he sees as racist and imperialistic, he abandons his post and all

loyalty to the war effort. Hana, the heroine of the novel, is, in many respects,

the noblest of Ondaaje?s characters. After months of sustained and intensive

exposure to the pain and suffering of others, she refuses to move on with the

Allied troops as they travel north in their occupation of Italy. Instead, she

chooses to remain with one horribly burned patient who is too ill to move.

Hana?s psyche is deeply damaged by the pain that she has witnessed. She is

totally caught up in what Lewis would term ?the stream of immediate sense

experience.? She is portrayed as half-mad, prone to mania and depression. At

times she is completely overwhelmed with her sorrow and sense of helplessness.

At other times, she rejoices as the rain drenches her through the gutted roof of

the villa that she calls home. She seems to be lacking in religious faith and

feels nothing but scorn for the leaders of the Allied war effort. Still, she

remains loyal to a cause that goes beyond her own wellbeing. She risks death on

a daily basis as she fulfils her duties in a villa that the Germans left full of

mines and booby traps. Her devotion to the English Patient and her stubborn

refusal to abandon him redeem her. They help compensate for her frailties,

giving her something greater than her self to live for during the dreary spring

of 1945. Faith, courage, discipline and loyalty preserve the soul, though not

the body of Lewis? anonymous hero. The absence of one or more of these traits

weakens the spiritual immune system of each of Ondaatje?s leading English

Patient characters. Carvaggio faces post-war life lacking confidence and faith.

Kip returns to India hating the system that he has given his heart and soul for.

At best, he can see himself as a helpless pawn, a victim or a fool. At worst, he

can see himself as a willing agent of death and destruction. The English

Patient, presumably, dies muddled as much by his own rationalisations as by his

morphine. He clings to a love that he uses to excuse acts of personal and

collective treachery. Hana finds herself in an extremely vulnerable position as

she faces her post-war future. She has abandoned any faith that she ever had in

God, her country and her civilisation. She has placed all of her faith, trust

and loyalty in the hands of her patient and her lover. This has given her

something to live for as the war winds to an end. But when these two abandon

her, she has no faith in anything but herself to fall back on. She returns to

Canada, completely distrustful of human relationships. Many who have endured the

horrors of war may relate to the disillusionment portrayed by Ondaatje?s

characters. Many who would never claim to possess the virtues promoted by C.S.

Lewis clearly reflect them in the way in which they live their lives. These are

the wartime survivors who continue to inspire those who have never endured the

horrors of war. These are the survivors who show what it means to live a good

life, even under the most adverse conditions.

Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1942

Ondaatje, Michael. The Engish Patient. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996

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