The Politics of Invisible Wounds from the Civil War to the War on Terror

AHA Session 106
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Salon B (Hilton Atlanta, Second Floor)
Kyle Longley, Arizona State University
Michael Doidge, US Department of Defense
John M. Kinder, Oklahoma State University
Debra J. Sheffer, Park University
Annessa C. Stagner, University of California, Irvine

Session Abstract

All wars leave injuries, yet not all war wounds are discernible to the naked eye. This roundtable examines the cultural and political histories of “invisible” war wounds. Combatants wounded on the “inside” often lack the body signifiers traditionally associated with war injury, making it difficult not only for medical professionals to define the boundaries of such injuries, but also for soldiers themselves to access the local, state, and cultural resources set aside for the nation’s “wounded warriors.”  Indeed, because the terms used to describe “invisible” injuries—“neuralgia,” “shell shock,” “battle fatigue,” “post traumatic stress injury,” “traumatic brain injury”—have remained unfixed, such veterans have constituted a ghostly presence in US history, simultaneously unseen and yet highly determinative of American policies toward all disabled vets.  Ultimately, this roundtable contends that the historical meanings associated with war trauma cannot be attributed to medical symptoms alone. Rather, such meanings reflect national anxieties about the physical and psychological toll of American war.

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