Shell Shock: Real or Cowardice?

Lizzy O.

Shocked by Shell Shock

Countless men have been going over seas to France to help fight in this Great War against Germany, but are they strong enough to handle it? There have been reports of men going mad from living in the trenches, talking to themselves, breaking down emotionally, and shaking violently (1). Soldiers have coined this as "Shell Shock", caused by long days and nights living combat (2) . But is this just a ploy to go home? Several have said that "shell shock" is just a way of showing a soldier's gutlessness (3), but many scientists have been studying this illness and say it's not a matter of courage (4).

All in your head, or maybe not

Researchers have discovered that shell shock could be directly related to the sound of exploding shells. The sound is so intense that there is a vacuum created in the inner ear to protect the eardrum from bursting (5). This vacuum disrupts the cerebral spinal fluid surrounding the brain and causes impaired speaking, motor skills, and muscle coordination (6). Soldiers show symptoms of cerebral spinal fluid disruption by not being able to walk, fits of emotional distress, and the thousand yard stare. This stare is common in most men suffering from shell shock. The men appear to be staring into the distance, at least one thousand yards away. They are said to look dazed and frightened at the same time (7).
"I saw a sergeant-major convulsed like someone suffering from epilepsy. He was moaning horribly with blind terror in his eyes. He had to be strapped to a stretcher before he could be carried away. Soon afterwards I saw another soldier shaking in every limb, his mouth slobbered, and two comrades could not hold him still. These badly shell-shocked boys clawed their mouths ceaselessly. Others sat in the field hospitals in a state of coma, dazed, as though deaf and dumb." -Phillip Gibbs (8)

How Do we Fix This?

Most doctors say the best way to treat Shell Shock is to isolate the soldier, and keep him in complete silence until he is able to recover (9). Commanding officers do not agree with this tactic though, viewing it as a way to get a medical discharge from service since over eighty percent of soldiers showing symptoms of Shell Shock were sent home (10). A common punishment on the front line was to tie the soldier to a stationary object in range of fire, for up to two hours a day (11). This horrible torture could last for three months, and only worsened the psychological effects of Shell Shock.

Notes

1. Simkin, John. "Spartacus Educational." Spartacus Educational. August 1, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWshellshock.htm.

2. Bourke, Joanna. "Shell Shock During World War One." BBC News. March 10, 2011. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/shellshock_01.shtml.

3. Jones, Edgar. "Shell Shocked." Http://www.apa.org. June 1, 2012. Accessed December 13, 2014. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/06/shell-shocked.aspx.

4.http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/shellshock_01.shtml

5.http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWshellshock.htm

6. Boyd, William. "Physiology and Pathology of the Cerebrospinal Fluid." Google Books. Accessed December 19, 2014. https://books.google.com/books?id=u2khAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA127&lpg=PA127&dq=shell shock cerebral spinal fluid&source=bl&ots=ALyIAne4zy&sig=OyBVgm7DNpEc0L4hK9voYLoB4wM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=am-TVJWyLMKzoQT5v4LABw&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=shell shock&f=false.

7. "The Thousand Yard Stare - WWI: Shell Shock Victims - Stills Galleries - British Pathé." The Thousand Yard Stare - WWI: Shell Shock Victims - Stills Galleries - British Pathé. Accessed December 13, 2014. http://www.britishpathe.com/gallery/shell-shock-victims.

8. Simkin, John. "Spartacus Educational." Spartacus Educational. August 1, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWshellshock.htm.

9. Simkin, John. "Spartacus Educational." Spartacus Educational. August 1, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWshellshock.htm.

10.Bourke, Joanna. "Shell Shock During World War One." BBC News. March 10, 2011. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/shellshock_01.shtml.

11. Simkin, John. "Spartacus Educational." Spartacus Educational. August 1, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWshellshock.htm.