Moral transgression during the Vietnam War: a path analysis of the psychological impact of veterans' involvement in wartime atrocities.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Involvement in wartime combat often conveys a number of deleterious outcomes, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, hostility, aggression, and suicidal ideation. Less studied is the effect of engagement in wartime atrocities, including witnessing and perpetrating abusive violence. DESIGN AND METHODS: This study employed path analysis to examine the direct effects of involvement in wartime atrocities on hostility, aggression, depression, and suicidal ideation independent of combat exposure, as well as the indirect effects via guilt and PTSD symptom severity among 603 help-seeking male Vietnam War veterans. RESULTS: Involvement in wartime atrocities was predictive of increased guilt, PTSD severity, hostility, aggression, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation after controlling for overall combat exposure. Combat-related guilt played a minor role in mediating the effect of atrocity involvement on depression and suicidal ideation. PTSD severity had a larger mediational effect. However, it still accounted for less than half of the total effect of involvement in wartime atrocities on hostility, aggression, and suicidal ideation. CONCLUSIONS: These findings highlight the heightened risk conveyed by involvement in wartime atrocities and suggest that the psychological sequelae experienced following atrocity involvement may extend well beyond guilt and PTSD.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Dennis, PA; Dennis, NM; Van Voorhees, EE; Calhoun, PS; Dennis, MF; Beckham, JC

Published Date

  • March 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 30 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 188 - 201

PubMed ID

  • 27580161

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC5299042

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1477-2205

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/10615806.2016.1230669


  • eng

Conference Location

  • England