Friday, October 17, 2008

Folly - World War One and PTSD

The night Rae spends in Friday harbor, after she finds Uncle Desmond, she reflects on what she read in his journal. When he was having difficulties, he made endless lists, often of depressing topics.

One of the lists he made was short:
Gas
Shrapnel
Trench Foot
Sniper Bullet, left shoulder

That was the list of Desmond's own injuries from the first world war. Those few words speak a world about Desmond's experiences, and go a long way toward explaining his subsequent bouts with what we know as PTSD, depression and mental illness.

While there is no "good" war, World War One introduced some particularly horrific variations on the theme. WWI was the first to introduce Gas warfare. Trench Warfare. The almost endless artillery bombardments. And "Shell Shock", "Battle Fatigue", aka, post traumatic stress disorder. The Brits had a charming practice of shooting sufferers at dawn, to "set an example" for the other men, so they wouldn't continue the cowardly practice.

World War One was also the first where we had the technology to film the conditions and the results. Here are some links for you to consider. (I'll continue the discussion below.)

Shot for cowardice, desertion and insubordination - or murdered for shell shock?
Combat stress, war neurosis, shell shock

Article that explores the British attitude that sufferers of shell shock were just "malingerers".

Shot at Dawn: Cowards, Traitors or Victims
BBC article about the British practice of executing "malingerers" and the ongoing effort to have those soldiers' records cleared of the judgement of "cowardice"

Laurie R. King takes a long (and incredibly sad) look at the "Shot at Dawn" issue in her book Justice Hall. While her character did not suffer from PTSD, but was executed for a different form of "cowardice", it's a fascinating view of World War I and the practice of executing "malingerers."

Excerpt from War and Gender:
How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa

A very readable explanation of the immediate and long-term effects of PTSD

Shell Shock during World War One
BBC article about Shell Shock during World War One - the identification, symptoms, treatment, etc.

Shell Shock Verdun - 1916
You Tube video of actual shell shock victims from WWI

Shell-Shock and Awe
On the Past—and Present—of Military Psychiatry

Village Voice article on the past and current views about PTSD

Laurie R. King takes a long look at the long-term symptoms of PTSD in Keeping Watch, the quasi-sequel to Folly. Jerry's brother, Allen, comes back from Vietnam with a raging case of PTSD which destroys his marriage, sends him literally to the gutter, and ends up with his trying to retain his sanity in a pretty frightening way. Great book.

Desmond mentions frequent lung problems - a holdover from having been gassed during the war:

Weapons of War - Poison Gas
A readable article about the history of gas warfare

Medical aspects of WW1 Gas Warfare
Brief page with links - breaks the types of gas used in WWI into four general groups:
Tear Gas
Sneeze or Vomit Gas (they used this to try to force soldiers to take of their gas masks to expose them to:
Lung Irritants (Like Chlorine gas - how many times have you heard about entire CITIES being evacuated because of a chlorine tanker leak?)
and Skin Irritants, like mustard gas. The damage done by these last two is pretty much irreversible.
The links on this page take you to information about the types of gas.

Gas - the Great War
90 second YouTube showing gas attacks during WWI and the effects. That "fog" you see is actually poisonous gas. And the shells are gas shells.

The Great War - GAS!

57 second You Tube with narration

Ypres: The Gas Inferno
10 minute You Tube - part 1 of 5 - long detailed show about Gas in WWI, if you really want to go into detail.

All this leads finally to Wilfred Owens' poem Dulce et Decorum Est. We're all familiar with the famous last lines, but the short (and very readable poem) is actually about a gas attack, and pretty much takes you to the event.

That trip to Friday Harbor, to me, was Rae's turning point. For a while, on the island, it was looking like Rae was all better, mentally. Then she got to Friday Harbor, and suffered relapses of her fears and panic attacks. However, you could see that she was starting to get a handle on it. Jerry was able to pull her out of her panic attack. She called Gloriana.

How much of what Rae was experiencing was a form of PTSD? The parallels to Desmond's experiences are pretty clear. When we think of PTSD, we think of war. But Rae's experiences, over those months following Alan and Bella's deaths, take her to that level of horror.

Combine the elements leading to PTSD with someone with the predisposition for depression and mental illness, and the results aren't pretty.

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