Psychological Discourses and the Israeli Military

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At base of most scholarly works about the effects of war is the assumption that this event is a major crisis, a transformative event. As expressed in the synonyms of the word “crisis” – disaster, calamity, catastrophe – the overwhelming stress in such works is on the negative, the destructive potential of war and war-making. In contrast, along with a friend and colleague – Edna Lomsky-Feder – we developed a number of suggestions about how war is socially and culturally “normalized,” that is, turned into a “natural” – albeit important – part of society through examining psychological discourses on war. The general background to our analysis is the expansion of psychological discourses in order to explain, guide or orient behavior in contemporary industrial societies.

Our contention is that these psychological discourses variously blur, conceal, sanitize, as well as naturalize or pathologize issues related to the effects of armed conflict, thereby “normalizing” the reality and effects of war and war-making. In other words, our contention is that each set of discourses “handles” the core element of the military as the legitimate bearer of the means for effecting violence in a different manner. Concretely, we show how debates and discussions about, and practices related to, the armed forces are closely related to three main kinds of psychological discourses the psychotherapeutic that centers on the “traumatic” implications of war for individual combatants; the developmental discourse focusing on how military service is a “natural” stage belonging to youth-hood; and a discourse on organizational or management psychology that by equating the military with “any other” organization takes the “sting” out of the military’s use of violence.


Edna Lomsky-Feder and Eyal Ben-Ari Trauma, Therapy and Responsibility: Psychology and War in Contemporary Israel, In Aparna Rao, Michael Bollig and Monica Boeck (eds.): The Practice of War. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Pp. 111-31, 2008.

Edna Lomsky-Feder and Eyal Ben-Ari Psychological Discourses and the Normalization of War in Israel. In Gabriel (Gabi) Sheffer, Oren Barak and Amiram Oren (eds): An Army that has a State? New Approaches to Civil-Security Relations in Israel. Jerusalem: Carmel. 276-300, 2008. (Hebrew)