Stopping Our Intergenerational Transmission of War Humiliation

Hubris, humiliation, and revenge: the downfall of societies.

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“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”

- Albert Einstein

Why yet another commentary about the 20th anniversary of 9/11/01 tomorrow, when we have already been flooded with so many good ones, including those posted on Psychiatric Times? The only excuse I can think of is what we psychiatrists often do, that is, dig deeper into the past for more psychological understanding, as we do in depth psychotherapy. Can that possibly be applied to society? We know it does with the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Can it also be applied with humiliation, which arguably is traumatic?

The analyses of 9/11 often stop with the historical connection of what seems similar in the Vietnam War. Yet, what about the Korean War, also not won? Collectively, these have been bipartisan warring. We go from the heroism of World War II to the humiliating outcomes of these “wars” over much smaller nations. Perhaps this is reflected internally with our “war on drugs” and “battles” with the pandemic and climate instability, all of which we are still fighting.

Hubris has brought down societies in the past. No one, and perhaps no country, likes to be humiliated. Humiliation begets fear and a sense of vulnerability. So, we look for opportunities of revenge and setting things right.

Like a therapist with a humiliated patient, what we may need are governmental leaders who will stop and humbly process this history for introspection, understanding, mourning, and reframing of our narrative. Germany has been doing it since World War II. Anyone for a national Task Force on War Reassessment that would include us?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.