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The University of Southampton

Research study seeks society's views of British wars and conflicts

Published: 5 March 2007

War veterans who talk to comrades and/or family members about their traumatic war experiences, and who feel supported by members of society, find it easier to come to terms with what they have been through than those veterans who do not.

Researchers at the University of Southampton have been interviewing formerly-serving veterans of a number of wars and conflicts, from World War Two through to the ongoing war in Iraq, as part of a study looking at the impact on veterans of society's opinions and the media's portrayal of war.

Initial findings show that, whilst some veterans find talking about their experiences rewarding, others would like to talk but feel unable to do so. These veterans said they felt misunderstood by family members, and did not have a local veterans' association to turn to.

In addition, the study shows that both negative media coverage of a conflict and negative interaction with people on a veteran's return also makes it harder for them to deal with their memories. It appears that a supportive environment, which encourages communication, is necessary for veterans to readjust. World War Two veterans cite strong societal support as very important in coming to terms with their experiences and memories, whereas Suez veterans experienced negative responses which made things more difficult for them.

Karen Burnell, a PhD student in the University's School of Psychology who is leading the research study, says: "Opinions differ greatly across society about the value of various wars and conflicts. We are exploring how the views and opinions of the media and wider society of those conflicts, negative and positive, directly affect the way that veterans cope with the traumatic aftermath of their involvement."

First-hand written accounts from civilians of their opinions of specific wars and conflicts are also being researched to complement the one-to-one interviews with veterans. The accounts form part of the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex and cover all wars from WW2 to Iraq. The Archive contains records of the work of the social research organisation Mass-Observation, which was founded in 1937 to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain.

Researchers are now seeking to find out more about the impact of society on veterans and are asking people across the UK, especially older people, to complete a short online questionnaire about their views of war and the media's portrayal of war.

The study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is also looking for more veterans to take part and be interviewed. Volunteers should have served either between the 1950s and 1979 in Suez, Aden, Korea, Malaysia, or Northern Ireland, or any time in the 1980s and 1990s in Northern Ireland, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, or Iraq. They must either have come to terms with their traumatic experiences or must still be dealing with them.

Notes for editors

  1. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. It is one of the UK's top 10 research universities, offering first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering. The University has around 20,000 students and over 5000 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £310 million.
  2. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2006/7 is £169 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at
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