Call for short stories and flash-fiction

Call for fiction on the theme “PTSD and Close Encounters in War”

Close Encounters in War Journal (www.closeencountersinwar.org) is a peer-reviewed journal aimed at studying war as a human experience, through interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches ranging from the Humanities to the Social Sciences. The third issue (n. 3) of the journal will be thematic and dedicated to the experience of PTSD as a consequence of war and conflict, and titled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as Aftermath of Close Encounters in War”.

In connection with the publication of Issue n. 3, the website www.closeencountersinwar.org will host a brand new section devoted to fiction. We therefore invite authors to submit unpublished short stories (between 2500 and 5000 words) and flash-fiction (up to 500 words) on the topic of conflict-related PTSD. We accept stories in English, typed in Times 12, and double-spaced. Please submit by 31st March 2020 to ceiw2018@gmail.com. Please send doc, rtf, or odt files only. Please bear in mind that the CEIWJ is an independent project run by volunteers and that we cannot pay for your stories. Submission is free of charge and each author can submit only one story. Copyright for short stories and flash-fiction remains with the authors. We can accept multiple submissions (but please inform us immediately in case your story is accepted for publication elsewhere). Please write your full name, email address, title of the work, and word-count on the first page of your stories. Make sure that you mention in your email whether you wish to apply for the section “short stories” or “flash-fiction” when you submit.

We will publish your stories on our website in autumn 2020. Thank you for allowing us the privilege of reading your work!

Call for Articles – CEIWJ, Issue n.3 (2020): “Close Encounters in War and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

Call for articles

Close Encounters in War Journal is a peer-reviewed journal aimed at studying war as a human experience, through interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches ranging from the Humanities to the Social Sciences. The third issue (n. 3) of the journal will be thematic and dedicated to the experience of PTSD as a consequence of war and conflict, and titled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as Aftermath of Close Encounters in War”.

Wars in general are cultural phenomena, among the most ancient and deeply rooted aspects of human cultural evolution: investigating their meaning, by reflecting on the ways we experience wars and conflicts as human beings is therefore essential. Conflict is deeply intertwined with language, culture, instincts, passions, behavioural patterns and with the human ability to represent concepts aesthetically. The concept of “encounter” is therefore fundamental as it involves experience, and as a consequence it implies that war can shape and develop our minds and affect our behaviour by questioning habits and values, prejudices and views of the world.

The notion of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was first introduced in the early 1980s by the American Psychiatric Association in order to describe a psychiatric condition occurring to people who have been involved in traumatic events as victims or witnesses. Although PTSD is not exclusively related to war and conflict, in common imagery it is mostly connected with veterans, with particular insistence on those who served in the American and British Forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few decades. Military personnel, civilians, NGO operators, journalists, and displaced people are equally exposed to PTSD as an aftermath of being involved in war. Over the most recent years, figures have grown, demonstrating that PTSD remains a major factor of the negative impact of war on society, together with environmental destruction, human and economic loss.

The label PTSD has replaced, in the field of combat-related conditions, previous definitions that were aimed at describing the psychiatric and bodily state of distress of combatants who, despite not being physically injured, were nonetheless unable to keep serving and needed medical assistance. Although scholars have attempted to date back PTSD to ancient warfare, even Greek,[1] the first attempt to clinically define the state was made during the Napoleonic wars. The state of shock in which soldiers were left by passing-by cannonballs was called vent du boulet, or “cannonball wind”.[2] During the American Civil War, the state of combat-related mental distress was called “soldier’s heart” and during the Great War the label was changed into “shell shock”, although the condition was not limited to casualties of explosions. During WWII the more generic definitions of “war neurosis”, “combat fatigue”, and “operational fatigue” spread in the English-speaking psychiatry, while German and Russian doctors coined their own formulas to describe one same phenomenon shared by thousands of combatants (and civilians as well): a state of confusion and hyperarousal, amnesia, dullness, with outbursts of rage and fear, hyperkinesis and tremors that could appear immediately as well as after months from the trauma and persisted as an impairing condition.

Nowadays, combat-related PTSD is addressed by national medical institutions (military and civilian) as a major cause of social distress, suicide, violence, antisocial behaviour, depression, and addiction to substances among a relevant number of veterans, with a significant negative impact on the quality of life of families and relatives, not to mention the deterioration of life-expectancy for the veterans themselves. The main fields of study in which PTSD is addressed today are neuropsychiatry and cognitive psychology with thousands of publications, while the Arts and Humanities have so far provided a modest contribution to the understanding of the topic. Historical research has largely focused on WWI and “shell shock” and the number of scholars (especially in the US and the UK) who study PTSD in connection with the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan is growing. Sound interdisciplinary research is still wanted and a broad spectrum of disciplinary fields have not yet been covered in the framework of PTSD-studies.

Issue n. 3 of CEIWJ will aim to investigate the theme of close encounters in connection to the experience of PTSD by exploring its facets both on a micro-scale, by studying individual testimonies and experiences, and on a theoretical and critical basis throughout history. CEIWJ encourages interdisciplinary approaches and the dialogue among different scientific fields. We therefore welcome articles on conflict-related PTSD that frame the topic within the context of close encounters in war from the perspective of Aesthetics, Anthropology, Arts, Classics, Cognitive Science, Ethics, History, Linguistics, Politics, Psychology, Sociology, and other disciplines relevant for the investigation of the topic.

We invite articles which analyse the experience of PTSD from ancient to modern and contemporary periods, from the perspective of the encounter, reaching beyond the study of military tactics and strategy and focusing on the way human beings ‘encounter’ each other with and within the experience of PTSD. Contributions are invited to promote discussion and scholarly research from established scholars, early-career researchers, and from practitioners who have encountered conflict-related PTSD in the course of their activities.

The topics that can be investigated include but are not limited to:

  • Violence and trauma
  • Cultural, ethical, social, political, and psychological response to conflict-related PTSD
  • PTSD and colonial wars, civil wars, international conflicts
  • War captivity and other forms of deportation
  • War crimes, ethnic cleansing, gendered violence
  • Representations of otherness, race, and gender
  • Cognitive aspects of conflict-related PTSD
  • Testimonies, personal narratives
  • PTSD in the arts
  • Oral history and memory studies

The editors of Close Encounters in War Journal invite the submission of articles of 6000-8000 words (endnotes included, bibliographical references not included in word-count: please see submission guidelines https://closeencountersinwar.org/instruction-for-authors-submissions/) in English by 20th June 2020 (although we are willing to allow a certain flexibility) to ceiwj@nutorevelli.org. Decisions will be made by mid-July 2020, and the selected articles will undergo a process of double-blind peer-review. The authors invited to publish will have to submit their fully revised articles by 1st November 2020.


[1]    Helen King, Recovering Hysteria from History: Herodotus and the First Case of “Shell-Shock”, in Contemporary Approaches to the Science of Hysteria. Clinical and Theoretical Perspectives, ed. by Peter Halligan, Christopher Bass and John Marshall, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 36-48.

[2]    Marc-Antoine Crocq and Louis Crocq, From Shell Shock and War Neurosis to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A History of Psychotraumatology, «Clinical research», 2, 1 (2000): 47-55 (p. 48).

A fatal encounter in war. A case of impact of PTSD on civilians in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”

by Gianluca Cinelli

Dunkirk (2017) as a war movie seems to direct itself toward a new way of representing war on the screen. No gore, no mangled bodies are to be seen. It seems as though the director meant to say that horror in war does not only depend on the amount of terrifying visions of slaughter, but rather on the psychological perception of fear as an overwhelming emotion that constantly drives the combatant to choose between two basic actions: fighting or fleeing.

Dunkirk tells a story of flight rather than fight. Between the end of May and the early days of June 1940 about 400.000 encircled British and French soldiers were evacuated in a few days from the beaches of Dunkerque, in northern France. Every available ship was employed for the rescue, including a number of private yachts and fishing boats. In the movie the crew of one of these private yachts play a major role, and their story suggests these few lines of reflection about a case of lethal encounter between combatants and civilians.

The small boat rescues a British soldier who has remained stranded at sea for some time, his boat having been sunken. This young soldier is affected by a serious form of PTSD. Fear has taken hold of his mind and he categorically refuses to be taken back to the coast of Dunkirk, insofar as this is the route and task of the small boat. He struggles with the captain and eventually with one of the two young boys who are sailing on the yacht from England to Dunkirk to rescue the stranded troops. In the fight the young boy, a captain’s family friend, falls and is concussed. It is an ugly accident from which he will eventually die.

The British soldier will never grow conscious of the tragic aftermath of his revolt. He acted out of utter fear and his strong desire to escape the madness of being encircled, trapped between the German troops and the sea, bombed and chased like a sitting-duck. He meant no harm, but his action was violent enough to easily overcome the young boy. He does not acknowledge the death of the boy and will eventually leave the boat, after they reach the English shore, without being fully aware of the gruesome effect that war has been having on him.

In fact, in order to save himself he involuntarily kills one of those fellow citizens, to defend whom he had gone to war: a young brave man who put his own life at stake to save him and his comrades from peril and death. How does it come to be? How does war change the mind and even the personality of those who are involved in it? Does war make people more courageous, morally stronger or ethically wiser? Such questions the movie raises that are worth answering.

And finally, how should we judge such a character as this young soldier? Is he vile? Is he a felon? Is he to blame?

In the end, the captain’s son does not reveal to the soldier that his young unlucky friend died. He just says to comfort the traumatised soldier that his friend will be all right, and then he lets the castaway go to join his comrades. It seems a profoundly human action, full of piety and understanding. One could wonder whether some disguised rhetorical claim is embedded here. I do not believe it. Dunkirk is more than just a war movie, rather a work that chooses war to represent the wonder of human ethical response (in its broad variety) to a basically moral quest: what should one do, when the moment demands that everyone be involved into great and dangerous events, which the vast majority is not ready or willing to take part into? Although someone else is supposed to go abroad to fight and die, we could be called up to back those who are over there, because their failure could mean our doom as well. Being brave is not necessarily a matter of exquisite heroism. It could just have to do with taking up one’s own responsibility, to the very end no matter what.