Impotent warriors : the emergence, construction and moulding of Gulf War Syndrome
From September 1990 to June 1991, the UK deployed 53,462 military personnel in the Gulf War. After the end of the conflict anecdotal reports of various disorders affecting troops who fought in the Gulf began to surface. This mysterious illness was given the name "Gulf War Syndrome" (GWS). This thesis is an investigation into this recently emergent illness. It sets out to describe and report the way in which the illness has emerged and become characterized by specific motifs. The symbolic wealth of GWS is that it is about much more than itself and this thesis explores the way GWS has become a potent symbol and a way to talk about a plethora of issues, anxieties and concerns. The various metaphors and themes contained in narratives of GWS are explored in order to better understand the condition. At present, the debate about GWS is polarized along two lines: there are those who think it is a unique, organic condition caused by Gulf War toxins and those who argue it is likely a psychological condition that can be seen as part of a larger group of illnesses. Although necessary to contextualize GWS through situating it amongst other emergent illnesses and widespread health beliefs, there is a need to bring back the particular. This thesis seeks to make sense of the cultural circumstances, specific and general, which gave rise to the illness. Narratives of sufferers and those around them are examined to unravel the way the illness is a unique expression and way of making sense of the life-worlds of a particular group of people. The methods and perspective of anthropology, with its focus on nuances and subtleties, are used to provide a new approach to understanding GWS.