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Shell Shock Essay

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Shell shock essay

Shell shock is a phrase coined in World War I to describe the type of posttraumatic stress disorder many soldiers were afflicted with during the war. It is reaction to the intensity of the bombardment and fighting that produced a helplessness appearing variously as panic and being scared, or flight, an inability to reason, sleep, walk or talk. During the War, the concept of shell shock was ill defined. Cases of 'shell shock' could be interpreted as either a physical or psychological injury, or simply as a lack of moral fiber. The term shell shock is still used by the Veterans Administration to describe certain parts of PTSD but mostly it has entered into popular imagination and memory, and is often identified as the signature injury of the War. In World War II and thereafter, diagnosis of 'shell shock' was replaced by that of combat stress reaction, a similar but not identical response to the trauma of warfare and bombardment. Origin During the early stages of World War I, soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force began to report medical symptoms after combat, including tinnitus, amnesia, headaches, dizziness, tremors, and hypersensitivity to noise. While these symptoms resembled those that would be expected after a physical wound to the brain, many of those reporting sick showed no signs of head wounds. By December 1914 as many as 10% of British officers and 4% of enlisted men were suffering from "nervous and mental shock". The term "shell shock" came into use to reflect an assumed link between the symptoms and the effects of explosions from artillery shells.                         ...everyone had a 'breaking point': weak or strong, courageous or cowardly - war frightened everyone witless...[1]

Charles Myers first published the term in 1915 in an article in The Lancet. Some 60–80% of shell shock cases displayed acute neurasthenia, while 10% displayed what would now be termed symptoms of conversion disorder, including mutism and fugue. At the same time, an alternative view developed describing shell shock as an emotional, rather than a physical, injury. Evidence for this point of view was provided by the fact that an increasing proportion of men suffering shell shock symptoms had not been exposed to artillery fire. Since the symptoms appeared in men who had no proximity to an exploding shell, the physical explanation was clearly unsatisfactory. As the size of the British Expeditionary Force increased, and manpower became in shorter supply, the number of shell shock cases became a growing problem for the military authorities. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, as many as 40% of casualties were shell-shocked, resulting in concern about an epidemic of psychiatric casualties, which could not be afforded in either military or financial terms. During 1917, "shell shock" was entirely banned as a diagnosis in the British Army, and mentions of it were censored, even in medical journals. Chronic the treatment of chronic shell shock varied widely according to the details of the symptoms, the views of the doctors involved, and other factors including the rank and class of the patient. There were so many officers and men suffering from shell shock that 19 British military hospitals were wholly devoted to the treatment of cases. Ten years after the war, 65,000 veterans of the war were still receiving treatment for it in Britain. In France, it was possible to visit aged shell shock victims in hospital in 1960. Cowardice Some men suffering from shell shock were put on trial, and even executed, for military crimes including desertion and cowardice. While it was recognized that the stresses of war could cause men to break down, a lasting episode was likely to be seen as symptomatic of an underlying lack of character. For instance, in his testimony to the post-war Royal Commission examining shell shock, Lord Gort said that shell shock was a weakness and was not found in "good" units.

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