The Impact of Participating in British Counterinsurgency Campaigns on British Armed Forces Personnel: The Malayan Emergency as a Case-Study

Probert, Thomas (2020). The Impact of Participating in British Counterinsurgency Campaigns on British Armed Forces Personnel: The Malayan Emergency as a Case-Study. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001157a

Abstract

The end of the Second World War saw a retreat from empire and a period of decolonisation. During this time Britain’s military became embroiled in a series of protracted counterinsurgency campaigns. Counterinsurgency engendered a different set of concerns and stresses than the previous world war, not least that operations took place under a set of Emergency Regulations that purported to control the use of force. The longest running of these campaigns was in Malaya where a State of Emergency was declared in 1948 and did not officially end until 1960. Using the Malayan Emergency as a case study, this thesis will investigate the immediate and long-term psychological impact of participation in Britain’s postwar counterinsurgency campaigns on its service personnel. In order to understand impact, this thesis will employ two main concepts: resilience and psychopathology. It will suggest that morale was an earlier analogue of resilience. It will argue that training, which privileged the use of force, was used to instil morale in service personnel and that regimental culture reinforced and sustained morale while on operations. This thesis will then go on to look at when resilience, or morale, gave way to breakdowns. Within the history of military psychiatry, the psychopathological conditions seen during war were largely thought of in terms of predisposition or weakness. This would change in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, with the creation of the diagnostic category, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD shifted the emphasis away from predisposition toward the traumatic event and reduced the stigma surrounding mental illness. At the time of the Malayan Emergency, however, service personnel were subject to a culture that expected resilience. Finally, then, this thesis, will argue that stigma had an immediate and ongoing effect on whether symptoms were reported.

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