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Re: "Shell" shock and the War of 1812

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  • John Ogden
    In thinking of the horrors of war (and there are plenty), the best image I have comes to me from the music of *The Pogues* in their song A Pair of Brown
    Message 1 of 25 , Dec 2, 2009
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      In thinking of the horrors of war (and there are plenty), the best image I
      have comes to me from the music of *The Pogues* in their song "A Pair of
      Brown Eyes". There are essentially two narrators, sitting in a pub each
      dealing with his own demons in the traditional Celtic fashion. One of them
      an old man, perhaps, considering when the song was written and the preceding
      inspirational incident, a veteran of World War One who is recalling
      standing/lying on a battlefield:

      *"...In blood and death 'neath a screaming sky
      I lay down on the ground
      And the arms and legs of other men
      Were scattered all around
      Some cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursed
      Then prayed and bled some more
      And the only thing that I could see
      Was a pair of brown eyes that was looking at me
      But when we got back, labeled parts one to three
      There was no pair of brown eyes waiting for me... "
      *
      Here we have a man who came home from the bloodletting physically
      intact and still living some sixty-odd years on, but still unable to ever
      let go of the trauma. Alternatively, Eric Bogle wrote his masterpiece "And
      the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" as his effort to make the point, in clear
      and unambiguous terms, that war is a dirty, nasty business. I sometimes
      wonder if we, as reenactors, don't sometimes do the public a disservice in
      our portrayal of war, specifically in regards to the brutality of the
      experience. I'm not advocating that we should give up this alternative
      lifestyle, but I sometimes think that a few more well-executed post-battle
      scenarios and displays of the surgeon's art wouldn't be amiss in conveying a
      full picture.

      Incidentally, one of the reasons that it will be a few years yet before
      I bring my son (age 3) with me to events (aside from the immediate safety
      issues such as abundant campfires, sharp objects and the ability to wander
      off while Dad is playing soldier) is that I want to be sure that he
      understands that we're just pretending and that in the real world people
      don't stand up, march off and become friends again all around after getting
      shot.

      My apologies if I have strayed too far from the intended subject
      matter.

      On 12/2/09, Victor Suthren <suthren@...> wrote:
      >
      >
      >
      > For 1812 what moves me most is the thought of lines of young men---British,
      > American, Canadian---approaching one another in formations so close they
      > could see each other's features; young men who would have enjoyed a beer
      > together or laughed over a common joke. Approaching one another and
      > inflicting death, dismemberment, mutilation and agony on each other; being
      > splattered wiuth the blood and brains of comrades or knocked down by flying
      > severed limbs---all the horror of it all. Its choreography is fascinating,
      > but the war's ultimate reality of appalling conflict between men who should
      > have been unshakeable friends (as they are now) is so tragic. Hard,
      > sometimes, to think of much honor/honour in it all, actually....
      >
      > Vic Suthren
      > ----- Original Message -----
      > From: nappingcrow
      > To: WarOf1812@yahoogroups.com <WarOf1812%40yahoogroups.com>
      > Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 9:36 AM
      > Subject: Re: "Shell" shock and the War of 1812
      >
      > Hello,
      >
      > I'm also not an expert on this (not by any means) but there are two books
      > I'd like to pass along for consideration. Neither of them pertain directly
      > to the War of 1812, but they may offer some insight into the question at
      > hand.
      >
      > For an interesting general take on the psychology of killing and the toll
      > it takes on the military, I'd recommend "On Killing: The Psychological Cost
      > of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by David Grossman, who is if IRC a
      > psychologist and a former Lt. Colonel in the US Rangers. He feels that much
      > of what we call "shell shock" or PTSD (I believe he lumps them together) is
      > due not merely to the stress of being subject to imminent violence, but also
      > to the stress of having to be ready to COMMIT violent acts. He backs up his
      > thesis with a fair amount of historical research, though none pertaining
      > directly to the War of 1812.
      >
      > For a study closer to our period of interest I still want to read "Shook
      > over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War" by Eric T.
      > Dean Jr. "Digging through the pension records of Civil War vets, Dean
      > documents the great number who, suffering from severe psychological problems
      > triggered by intense combat experience, were dutifully provided with
      > disability pensions by the U.S. government."
      >
      > Casual brutality of daily existance aside, I do believe that we have much
      > in common with our forebears psychologically. If we believe that they were
      > unmoved (or much less moved) by violence, then we run the risk of turning
      > them into something 'other', instead of coming to the understanding that we
      > are basically the same, only with more technology today. I do not believe
      > human nature has changed that much, and when I try to talk with people about
      > history I usually try to show them parallels rather than differences.
      >
      > Regards,
      > Brian Smith
      >
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      >
      >
      >



      --
      John J. Ogden


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • lenthecooper
      Hello Anna, I ve been looking through a number of old medical texts and cannot find a mention of anything close to worry or stress related diseases other than
      Message 2 of 25 , Dec 4, 2009
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        Hello Anna,
        I've been looking through a number of old medical texts and cannot find a mention of anything close to worry or stress related diseases other than the overuse of alcohol and occassional suicide.
        John Douglas, Asst Surgeon of the Kings Regt in 'Medical Topograhy of Upper Canada' (1819) writes about a number of diseases; cholera morbis, venereal, catarrh etc but nothing which sounds to me as an upset or excited mind. The one fear he mentions is of the lancet by some individuals.
        Dr John Davy Inspector General of Army Hospitals in 'Diseases of the Army'(1862) makes no mention of excited or disturbed minds except in cases of suicide or as part of a disease.
        Perhaps if you go through pension applications and punishment reports you might be able to find more information.
        Cheers,
        Len

        --- In WarOf1812@yahoogroups.com, Anna Snipes <annasnipes@...> wrote:
        >
        > I know that it is getting into murky territory whenever one speaks of modern medical conditions in a historical context, but I wondered recently… were there any reports of PTSD-like behavior during and after the War of 1812?  Throughout history, it seems to be that some people are more effected, emotionally and physically, by war than others.  Logic would suggest that there must have been some such cases in the War of 1812.  Are there reports of "insubordination" or "cowardice", or just plain "insanity," that could be explained by what was actually PTSD?  Any examples in literature of the time?
        >  
        > Thanks,
        > Anna
        >
        > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        >
      • Charlie Quesenberry
        I have been searching the literature also. There s an anecdotal reference here and there about a soldier verbally chastising another occasionally (one fellow
        Message 3 of 25 , Dec 4, 2009
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          I have been searching the literature also. There's an anecdotal reference
          here and there about a soldier verbally chastising another occasionally (one
          fellow who had a limb removed do so stoically and was admonishing another
          for crying out and threatening him to bear up like a man or he'd beat him),
          but so far I haven't found anything remotely resembling a clinical diagnosis
          for shell shock, battle fatigue or PTSD (even if not named for it).

          In my limited understanding, I believe the lack of such documentation is
          reflective of the culture of the times and a general lack of understanding
          pursuant to psychology/psychiatry. Even internal medicine didn't exist as a
          discrete discipline, and most treatments were superficial (as well as
          largely ineffective).

          Respectfully submitted for consideration,

          Charlie Q
          Surgeon,
          Ships Company


          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • MasterAtArms
          Of course, when a British soldier was declared worn out , it might also mean that his dental state had finally deteriorated to where he no longer had an upper
          Message 4 of 25 , Dec 4, 2009
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            Of course, when a British soldier was declared "worn out", it might also mean that his dental state had finally deteriorated to where he no longer had an upper and lower tooth that would meet to tear open his cartridges anymore.....

            IMHO, we need to be EXTREMELY careful in attempting to decipher the quasi-medical vernacular of the period. Not all "medical" judgements in the military would have been made by qualified medical personnel, but often by superior officers or perhaps even NCOs! And, even when we strive not to allow it, our modern knowledge of PTSD and other combat-related psychological disorders will colour our perspective and understanding of what we read. An interesting discussion, to be certain... but one in which we must be very cautious with regard to our assumptions.

            Dale
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