chapter  3
80 Pages

Mind

Alongside physical suffering there was the inevitable problem of psychological trauma. It was not so much the nature of the problem as the numbers affected that surprised the medical profession. Mental illness and psychiatric damage, like physical ailments, were sometimes mild but they could be extremely serious, life-threatening or lifelong. They ranged from a degree of numbness in situations that would have been extremely shocking under normal circumstances, through utter brutalization or intense fear all the way to severe neurosis. In his evidence before the War Office Committee of Enquiry into Shell Shock,1 Fuller said he had seen many men who were in a perfectly healthy frame of mind when they embarked for the continent whose first experience of being under fire caused physical fear, which quickly abated to be replaced by indifference. This mental state might then develop along a path that led to extreme nervousness and finally complete psychological breakdown. In other words, healthy fear degenerated first into indifference and later into obsessive fear, and the chances of this happening were greater than in previous wars because of new military technologies that increasingly depersonalized war. There was far less opportunity, after all, to work off one’s emotions in modern conditions of combat than in a face to face battle.2