Shell Shock: Break Down in WWI. Now they are free.

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An increasingly large number of men seemed to have simply lost the will to fight.

Well, before facing this topic I have been meditating and taking time for breathing, alone, in the woods. This is one of the most sensitive subject I am still willing to write about. For the side story, I am one of those who experienced panic attacks and tremors, neurosthenia, physical and mental break down, which led to occupational burn out, as a consequence of « Paris Terror », in january and november 2015. Still dealing with the aftermath. But I am confident, and I will sort it out or bust.

By the way, I lived a « fake alert », while terrorists were around the parisian region ; trauma is like you face your death, and I was still on duty when november’s attacks stroke. The hall of the hotel, where I was serving, was full of thousands of guests and some of them had lost a friend in concert hall « Bataclan ». Too much to handle for a little creature of the Universe, like me.

Our duty, my team leader told me, was to take care of the guests and their needs were priority. My hands were shacking and couldn’t make a sense of what was happening, so that I called my mother to say « It’s alright, Mum, I am okay ». In those morning hours I felt like I was experiencing a hospital battle camp. A lady firefighter told me about the girl who lost her friend, and a few minutes beside that, a guest, a spanish lady, breaks down to tears because her vacation was fucked up. How can you not go insane?

« Life is simple » a doctor of Occupational Medicine told me once, while signing for a sick leave between two temporary missions in the administration. « Something has broken ». He was refering to me and my Management. In fact, although my Manager in duty was pushing me to get back to my service at front desk, in order to boost my reaction, in a positive way, a part of me was struggling to avoid to go back, as Self preservation.

Back to 1918.

One century ago, in his office, Sigmund Freud meets the soldiers back from the war front, and he detects war neurosis or shell shock due to no-stop artillery bombing in the trenches. Men loose control of their senses, from speech to blindness, they can’t explain what they are experiencing, or want to see that hell anymore. They also develop paraplegia. Personally, I was in shock by seeing old pictures, in black and white, with soldiers hands on the ground. The Italian cinema shows a scene in the movie « The Great War » by Monicelli which shows comedien Alberto Sordi getting scared from seeing a « lost hand » in the trench. « What is that ? » he says. Italians showed to the world how to treat delicate stuff with humour, but still great poetry and humanity. Think about Roberto Benigni and « Life is beautiful » which won the Oscar touching such a topic with great bravery though respect. Humour in this case is meant to put a distance between our mind and horrific reality, as a shield or a filter of what would make you getting mad.

But WWI wasn’t just an Italian affair, of course, and we can see Germans against French on the western front in the movie « All quiet on the western front » from original book « Im Western nichts Neues » by Erich Maria Remarque, 1930. And eastern front, between Russia and Poland, when Austria – Hungary invades this territory. Personally, I have been in Mount Sabotino trenches, and mountains on the Carso, in Northern Italy where Ernest Hemingway has served and was wounded by a german artillery shell. 

In his own words, “There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you’d pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn’t dead any more.”

Hemingway’s wounding along the Piave River in Italy and his subsequent recovery at a hospital in Milan, including the relationship with his nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, all inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arm. His story “Soldier’s Home” conveys his feelings of frustration and shame upon returning home to a town and to parents who still had a romantic notion of war and who didn’t understand the psychological impact the war had had on their son.

 

 

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Shame and guilt.

In 1914, the contemporary scientists and medicine men are involved in the War, and ethically challenged. The therapy has the target to get soldiers back to combat and not to rehabilitate them. Psychoterapy is at the starting blocks and Freud, with his collaborators, mark a milestone in the human psyche’s understanding. Mental health starts to be recognised as apart from physical health.

First, what leads to modern PTSD, it’s recognising that an external event, like a shock, can damage the man’s mind, though brave, courageous and rational human being. Finally, sensitive officers can break down, after sending their men one by one to die under enemy fire to gain an uncovered lookout point. The risk to be seen as weak or wimpy was limited to a manlike system which still perdured in the military discipline. Big boys don’t cry, right ?

Second, not only there’s an enemy out there, but according to the german Psychologist, the real enemy is inside. There are the Peace Self and the Warrior Self, and second is one to watch out, the one who wants you to sacrifice and takes pleasure from it. Soldiers finally realize that they are going to loose their lives and it doesn’t make any sense any more. Their Peace Self wants to live and go home to their families. Many officers are just « boys ».

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Shot at dawn.

During WWI, shell shock is also a way to escape from the frontline battles. Sometimes, at the cost of your own life. The officers in charge of their command are often so greedy and vanish to execute their soldiers who couldn’t or wouldn’t face the bombing anymore. The sentence states cowardice. The case of Harry Farr and Jimmy Smith, to mention just a couple of these young heroes, speaks out loud. After Somme, Gallipoli and other bloody battles, they just couldn’t take it anymore. In case, shell shock victims were supposed to be commuted by the martial court. Not in that instance. They were put a blindfold to cover their eyes, cognac from the evening before, and a round of paper on their heart to mark the target. « What a way to get leave. » Wait, Private Farr, refused the blindfold, actually. And I spare other details in deep respect of those who left, and also the ones who « gained the leave » for shooting to their camerades. Pardon was given in 2006 by British Governement, to those who deserted and were executed at dawn. Will the others ever forgive them selves ?

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Inner Self.

Isn’t that a sort of « karma » ? Well, I mean, shell shock today is haunting our minds as cultural heritage and stigma makes it hard for anyone to take a sick leave, at work, just to have a rest, saying no to team leaders or managers when the task is simply too tough and we are running out of time and co-staff. The Peace Self says it clearly that we can’t take it no more, but the War Self forces us to sacrifice for the good cause. We fear to loose our job and the boss confidence, while in the meantime nobody is taking care of your healthy conditions at workplace. Sometimes we live again that nightmare of those who left their heart in a foreign trench. « Who is the real enemy ? » Listen to the inner voice, the Wise Men say, and you will get it.

With courtesy of Ryan Williams from CURE UP.ORG

Article published on 27th june 2018

 

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All quiet on the Western Front.

Special effects are far from more recent ones, but once you finish this movie, you feel like you lost a friend. Or more. Shell shock is quickly seen on a scene on the front. Face to face combat takes the stage. And dead bodies.

This book was one of my first on the WWI, as teenager. It still haunts me, over 40.

Minute 2:16:00 “But I know now, I should never come back. Out there all the things that I do, there is no other meaning of life, cos it has no meaning. My companion at the front are the only truth I know. They are my books, my family, my life. I depend on them, and don’t depend on anything else. Mother, it’s a terrible thing to say, but I feel I am going back to my real home”.

PTSD in WWI so-called “shell shock”: Coward. Sensitive beware.

“COWARD” is a 28 minute film set during World War 1 that brings to light some of the brutal treatment soldiers received for suffering what would now be known as shell-shock. It follows two cousins, Andrew and James, from their home in Northern Ireland who join the British Army to fight for their Country and make their families proud. Through their eyes we see the reality of life on the front lines.

Anna Coleman Ladd, dignity and face masks.

 

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One century ago WWI changed our way to make war forever. Powerful arms, and body-to-body combat left horrible wounds on men when they could survive.

Social anxiety was at the top, of course, so when they came back to their home, most of them were not accepted and rejected for their damaged body image. War vets with evident mutilations were compared to betrayal and cowards.

There we need the touch of a kind-at-heart and so talented woman, whose skills you can see in the rare pictures I will add above this article. She gave finally back heros the dignity they deserved on a battlefield.

God bless Red Cross ladies and artists like Anna Coleman Ladd.

xx

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to work as a sculptor

"Triton Babies" in the Boston Public Garden “Triton Babies” in the Boston Public Garden

Anna Coleman Watts Ladd (1878 – 1939) was an American sculptor in the Boston area who devoted her time throughout World War I to soldiers who were disfigured.

Anna Coleman Watts was born in Philadelphia and educated in Europe, where she studied sculpture in Paris and Rome. She moved to Boston in 1905 when she married Dr. Maynard Ladd, and there studied with Bela Pratt for three years at the Boston Museum School. “Triton Babies” (shown here, now a fountain in Boston’s Public Garden) was shown at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. In 1916 she was a founder of the Guild of Boston Artists, where she held a one-woman show.

In late 1917, in Paris, Ladd founded the American Red Cross “Studio for Portrait-Masks” to provide cosmetic masks to be worn by men who had been badly disfigured in World War…

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PTSD and Gene Kelly’s Lost Wartime Star Turn.

Since a young Italian girl, the impact of the aftermath of WWI and WWII, into music and cinema took my attention. It goes without saying, that also justifies why I am running this website in english, British and American cultures still have a huge influence on the Italian mood.

Something that was so evident, for example, was the massive musicals after WWII. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Fred Astaire were the leading Hollywood stars of a joyful, but yet moving and educational movie making. They were made to convey a message of hope and spirit up lifting after misery, loss and grief.

Today wars are dispatched all over the world, and governements name them “Peace Missions to bring democracy“. Words are important, they give a meaning to thoughts. Modern wars are lasting fifteen years? Ok, I will keep my thought silent for respect to deployed, right? But my reflection goes to music then. Which impact do these ‘missions’ have on our social and civil environement, today? None.

Movies …very good for action which guys are keen on, and then videogames. Outburst of violence which lead fragile minds to no sense. True story, I was driving through a Normandy highway, visiting Omaha, and Sainte-Mère-Eglise, when my ex boyfriend (for a reason) told me excited as a cow “Look at that, I have already been there!!!” “What you mean?” “Yes, I fell out an helicopter with my riflegun and shot all those fu*kers around on these plains.” He was serious, and seriously damaged on his cells brain. This is it. Parisian region, and especially suburbs, are made of young vulnerable minds lost in a combat videogame. What’s the purpose? None.

Before there was PTSD there was shell shock and combat fatigue and Gene Kelly’s Combat Fatigue Irritability.

Circulating Now from NLM

by Michael Sappol

Gene Kelly, in a flotation divice stands in front of a bank of gauges looking up.Before there was PTSD there was shell shock and combat fatigue and Gene Kelly’s Combat Fatigue Irritability.

Combat Fatigue Irritability was made during World War II as a “naval training film” (although, unlike most military training films, there is very little training going on in this film). First screened in 1945, it was probably only shown to two select groups: men who were being treated in military facilities for what was then called “combat fatigue” (a category that eventually gave rise to our term, “post-traumatic stress disorder“); and to health professionals who treated such men. It was a “restricted” film, only for military viewing. After the war it was forgotten. It has never received any attention from film historians, and very little from fans (a few of whom did know of it but never got to see it). It is missing from the Gene Kelly…

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