National trauma

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National trauma is a concept in psychology and social psychology. A national trauma is one in which the effects of a trauma apply generally to the members of a collective group such as a country or other well-defined group of people. Trauma is an injury that has the potential to severely negatively affect an individual, whether physically or psychologically. Psychological trauma is a shattering of the fundamental assumptions that a person has about themselves and the world.[1] An adverse experience that is unexpected, painful, extraordinary, and shocking results in interruptions in ongoing processes or relationships and may also create maladaptive responses.[2] Such experiences can affect not only an individual but can also be collectively experienced by an entire group of people.[2] Tragic experiences can collectively wound or threaten the national identity,[3] that sense of belonging shared by a nation as a whole represented by tradition culture, language, and politics.[4]

In individual psychological trauma, fundamental assumptions about how the individual relates to the world, such as that the world is benevolent and meaningful and that the individual has worth in the world, are overturned by overwhelming life experiences.[1] Similarly, national trauma overturns fundamental assumptions of social identity – something terrible has happened and social life has lost its predictability.[2] The causes of such shatterings of assumptions are diverse and defy neat categorization. For example, wars are not always national traumas; while the Vietnam War is experienced by Americans as a national trauma[5] Winston Churchill famously titled the closing volume of his history of the Second World War Triumph and Tragedy.[6] Similar types of natural disasters can also provoke different responses. The 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire in Alberta was a collective trauma for not only that local community but also the large Canadian Province of Alberta despite causing no direct deaths[7] yet the much larger Peshtigo Fire responsible for thousands of deaths is largely forgotten.[8]

Responses to national trauma also vary. A nation that experiences clear defeat in war which had mobilized the nation to a high degree will almost inevitably also experience national trauma but the way in which that defeat is felt can change the response.[9] The former peoples of the Confederate South in the American Civil War and the German Empire in World War I both created post-war mythologies (the Lost Cause in the former and the Stab-in-the-back Myth in the latter) of "glorious" defeat in unfair fights.[9] The post-war experience of Germany after World War Two, however, is much more complex and provoked reactions from a sense of German national guilt[10] to collective ignorance.[11] A common national response to these traumas is repeated calls for national unity and moral purification, as in the post-9/11 United States[12] or post-war Japan.[13]



  1. ^ a b Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie (1992). Shattered Assumptions: Towards a New Psychology of Trauma. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0029160152. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
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  3. ^ a b c d Elovitz, Paul H. (Summer 2008). "Presidential Responses to National Trauma: Case Studies of G.W. Bush, Carter, and Nixon". The Journal of Psychohistory. 36 (1): 36.
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  5. ^ a b Kiernan, David (10 October 2017). "Why Americans still can't move past Vietnam". Washington Post. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  6. ^ Churchill, Winston; Keegan, John (1954). Triumph and Tragedy: The Second World War, Volume 6. London: Cassell. ISBN 978-0304929733. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  7. ^ Koziol, Carol A. "Individual and Collective Trauma: The Fort McMurray Fire". Academia. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  8. ^ Hipke, Deana C. "The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871". The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
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  10. ^ a b Davis, Mark (5 May 2015). "How World War II shaped modern Germany". euronews. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
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  12. ^ Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie; Sana, Sheikh (1 December 2006). "From national trauma to moralizing nation." Basic and Applied Social Psychology". Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 28 (4): 325–332. doi:10.1207/s15324834basp2804_5.
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  15. ^ a b Shamai, Michal (2016). Systemic Interventions for Collective and National Trauma: Theory, Practice. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 9781315709154. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  16. ^ Daly, Nicholas (2004). Literature, Technology, and Modernity, 1860–2000. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-0521833929. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  17. ^ Dabashi, Hamid (18 September 2014). "Turkish 'genocide' film: An epic too late?". Al Jazeera.
  18. ^ Abdullah, Somaya (January 2013). "Multicultural social work and national trauma: Lessons from South Africa". International Social Work. 58 (1): 43–54. doi:10.1177/0020872812461019.
  19. ^ Reeves, Richard (1 March 1987). "The Palme Obsession; The Murder Sweden Can't Forget – Or Solve". New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  20. ^ Raviv, Amiram; Sadeh, Avi; Raviv, Alona; Silberstein, Ora; Diver, Oma (June 2000). "Young Israelis' Reactions to National Trauma: The Rabin Assassination and Terror Attacks". Political Psychology. 21 (2): 299–322. doi:10.1111/0162-895x.00189. JSTOR 3791792.
  21. ^ Levine, David (3 March 2009). "The Battle of Adwa as a "Historic" Event". Ethiopian Review. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  22. ^ Wilcox, Vanda (2008). "From Heroic Defeat to Mutilated Victory: The Myth of Caporetto in Fascist Italy". In Mcleod, Jenny (ed.). Defeat and Memory Cultural Histories of Military Defeat in the Modern Era. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 46–61. doi:10.1057/9780230582798_4. ISBN 978-0-230-58279-8.
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  24. ^ Levine, Paul (May 2013). "Never Forget National Humiliation". The Chinese master narrative of the century of humiliation defines the national trauma China uses to identify itself.
  25. ^ De Haan, Ido (1998). "The construction of a national trauma the memory of the persecution of the Jews in The Netherlands". The Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences. 34 (2): 196–217.
  26. ^ Wirshing, Irene (2009). National trauma in postdictatorship Latin American literature: Chile and Argentina. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 9781433105555. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  27. ^ Neugebauer, Richard; Fisher, Prudence; Turner, J. Blake; et al. (1 August 2009). "Post-traumatic stress reactions among Rwandan children and adolescents in the early aftermath of genocide". International Journal of Epidemiology. 38 (4): 1033–1045. doi:10.1093/ije/dyn375. PMID 19204009. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  28. ^ Silver, Roxane Cohen (2005). "Exploring the myths of coping with a national trauma: A longitudinal study of responses to the September 11th terrorist attacks". Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. 9 (1–2): 129–141. doi:10.1300/j146v09n01_16.
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