This essay explores the relationship between soldiers and their weapons. It draws upon the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Phyllis Greenacre, and D. W. Winnicott to chart the evolution of the weapon from transitional object in Basic Combat Training to fetish in combat. The author’s personal experiences as a veteran of the Iraq War, as well as testimony, literature, and artistic examples, detail the experience of the syndrome. “Phantom Weapon Syndrome” describes a symptom of the object loss that occurs when veterans return home and give up the weapons they relied upon for safety and security during combat. In Basic Combat Training, recruits must submit physically and mentally to the military institution in the first weeks, recreating elements of childhood development involved with the adoption of a transitional object. Soldiers lulled into an illusion of oneness with the military institution experience a shock when in marksmanship training “the enemy” challenges that institution’s omnipotence. The weapon emerges as the means through which recruits counter that threat and mastery of it gradually weans them from complete dependence upon their trainers. Basic Combat Training’s persecutory nature results in soldiers predisposed toward fetishizing their weapons in combat, enabling them to endure unseen and unpredictable threats psychically. Phantom Weapon Syndrome occurs when these sources of psychological safety and security are simply taken away as part of the return home.


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pp. 63-88
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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