College of Arts and Sciences
Department of History
Dr. Joanne Klein
During World War I, the British Military were perplexed by a strange injury that was affecting soldiers on an alarming scale. This condition soon received the designation of “shell-shock” because of its correlation with artillery bombardments. British doctors and psychologists struggled to identify and treat the injury, because of its wide range of symptoms that often displayed no outward physical damage. The ambiguity of the condition created a divide in the British medical community and the British military, with one side attempting to treat it as a psychological condition caused by combat, and the other as a character flaw or cowardice. Dr. Samuel Myers pioneered an immediate psychological treatment at the front that was successful in treating most cases, but unfortunately his work was pushed out by military leaders who viewed shell-shock as a character weakness in the soldier. After the War, the British Government commissioned a report on shell-shock whose investigations resulted in a flawed character interpretation of the injury. They concluded that by weeding out undesirables, shell-shock could be prevented. Ultimately, the character flaw view won out not just within the military but within British society, creating a stigma around those suffering from the condition.
Andersen, Micah, "Shell-Shock" (2019). 2019 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Conference. 7.