Shell Shock: The Racket and the Fear

‘Shell shock’ is associated in particular with the First World War. Stuart M. Archer recounts the often brutal treatment meted out to sufferers of the condition and looks at how use of the term fell into disrepute. 

Looked after for many years by a sympathetic doctor, he became a celebrity. The courts and the press constantly pursued his identity for he was one of the living inconnus or disparus. Doctors argued over the causes of his amnesia, some trying to deny that it was due to shell shock, for that would have made him eligible for compensation. Anthelme eventually starved to death in an asylum during the Vichy regime in 1942. Such were the rewards of shell shock and amnesia in France.

Shell shock has become one of the most common phrases used in the description of military experience in the First World War. The Southborough Committee of 1920 attempted to define it as: 

An emotional shock, either acute in men with a neuropathic disposition, or developing as a result of prolonged strain or terrifying experience, the final breakdown being sometimes brought about by some relatively trivial cause, or nervous and mental exhaustion, the result of prolonged strain or hardship. 

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