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Ben Shephard - A War of Nerves

Warfare causes more than just physical wounds – but the mental side of the toll of war was really not studied for centuries (mainly because common soldiers were expendable anyway). So the study really started only around the World War One. Ben Shephard traces some of those developments, mostly based of Western European and US records.


Generals got worried when the cannon fodder begun to collapse in place without signs of physical injuries. Various theories were created, including that wider use of explosives and artillery caused "shell shock" that damaged the nervous system. (My own theory is that may have been the feeling of helplessness; soldiers were still thinking in terms of bayonet charges and close combat – in the era of industrial warfare, howitzer barrages and machineguns wiping out units hundreds of soldiers in strength).

Shephard is not a psychiatrist but a historian. He tracks the military and other attitudes to what is now known in English as "post-traumatic stress disorder" - and various forms of ideology and politics (military, psychiatric and otherwise) connected to that. Shephard skips Korean War with only token explanation and jumps to the mental effects of the Vietnam War and touches on Gulf War Syndrome.

(Finnish military was not that forgiving about combat fatigue during the World War Two - but soldiers got regular home leaves. They were called "Kellonvetoloma" "Vacation to wind up the clock".)

He also does not claim to know what is the right way to treat the condition, which in my opinion is a good thing. He does seem to have bit of a bias towards American treatment of the soldiers.
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