War And Psychology 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 ones own physical safety is often at odds with concern for the wellbeing of ones 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 Ondaatjes 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 souls 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 Ondaatjes 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 souls survival. Lewis describes the danger of being overwhelmed by “the stream of immediate sense experiences” (Lewis pg.12). A mans 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 days 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 mans 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 Gods 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 Ondaatjes 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 ha …