Shell Shock by Wendy Holden

by stephenpalmersf

In Wendy Holden’s superb Shell Shock, the history of mental conditions in the armed services is examined, starting (after a brief introduction to 19th century and earlier references) with World War 1, then going forwards.

Although I read this book for research, I think I likely would have read it anyway, as it deals with psychological issues that can affect anybody – and because it opens up the near absurd world of masculinity, war, repression and sheer blind stupidity.

The three chapters dealing with World War 1 are particularly revealing because they show the barbaric attitudes of officers and the armed services generally at the beginning of the 20th century, which, combined with widespread ignorance, led in many cases to a worsening of already terrible mental crises. The chapters dealing with World War 2 are also excellent. Personally I was less interested with latter chapters, but they were uniformly excellent and fair-minded, highlighting the continuing avoidance of humanity and responsibility in the armed forces.

Although this book has a specific remit, it in fact deals with the childish, inhumane and delusional attitudes of men as much as anything military. The folly of men is clear on every page. With the exception of such fine characters as W.R. Rivers and Tom Pear, it is virtually a manual on how not to be a human being.

Highly recommended as an introduction to this area, and as an insight into extreme times. This book will be a vital support to my soon-to-be-written novel Tommy Catkins.

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