(This essay is an extract of the
11th edition of The Posture Theory pages 492-494)
There have been examples of soldiers who became delirious
after the hot sun heated their metal helmets and cooked their
brains, and some men ran stark raving mad across the battlefield
with their intestines trailing behind them after their bellies
had been sliced open by the slash of a sword.
In the middle ages some mounted knights in full body armour rode
horses at full speed and collided head on in jousting contests,
and fell to the ground senseless from the shock.
In the mid 19th Century some men returned from battle with palpitations,
fatigue, or indigestion which usually started during a bout of
typhoid, malaria, jaundice, diarrhoea, or fever, or during a
long march at double quick pace while fully laden with a heavy
knapsack. Those symptoms persisted long after the infection etc
had cleared up. The palpitations were then aggravated by effort,
where some men could walk comfortably for 30 miles, but have
symptoms if they ran, or lifted heavy weights. The symptoms were
aggravated by the tight belts of their uniform, and recurred
if they stood up or laid down too suddenly, or laid on their
left or right side, or on their back sometimes, and they would
become dizzy if they stooped down. Such problems were more common
in thin chested men and rarer in broad shouldered soldiers and
were known to have an obvious physical cause suspected to involve
disturbance to the cerebrospinal circulation, but in most cases
their was no evidence of physical injury so military doctors
put the condition in the too hard basket and relegated it to
the Pandora's box of unknown disorders.
Also they could not discharge every soldier who presented with
such symptoms because that would deplete the army of manpower
more than a full scale battle, and because it was thought that
discharging men who looked healthy would have a demoralising
affect on remaining troops. Only severe cases were discharged,
many were put on light guard duties and only those who appeared
to have recovered fully were sent back to fight.
During the Crimean War (1853-1856) between England and Russia
it was sarcastically suggested that military surgeons should
be provided with smelling salts to revive soldiers who, because
of their tight collars, were fainting by the dozens on the battlefield
and being captured by the Russians.
In 1900 there were more than 40 shops in London which dealt exclusively
with male corsetry with some corsets such as "The Carlton"
advertised as being "a great favourite with military gentlemen".
Those corsets were designed for "cultivating the figure"
but permanently changed a broad based chest into a funnel shaped
chest which restricted breathing, and would have altered the
shape and position of the heart and reduced the capacity for
effort. Corsets were still used by some men up until 1914, the
start of World War I.
In World War I there were reports of recruits who fainted while
standing on parade, or who collapsed while carrying a heavy knapsack
and sprinting along an obstacle course at training camp many
miles from the war zone.
There were also reports of soldiers who had been in several battles
and decorated for bravery and who were in a new skirmish when
a bullet whistled past their ear, or a grenade or shell exploded
nearby, and although they were not hit, they became suddenly
or imminently deaf, blind, mute, or nervous, or paralysed in
a limb, or they suddenly stood up and wandered around the battle
ground in a daze or ran toward the enemy to be shot down in a
frenzy as they yelled aloud that they were the general who had
come to declare peace. In some soldiers there was spontaneous
recovery weeks later, but in others, the condition was chronic.
The symptoms were initially attributed to shock waves which caused
microscopic haemorrhages in the brain or jolted the spinal cord
so they were diagnosed as shell shock.
However, in many instances there was no evidence of physical
lesions so the relatively new psychiatric theories were purporting
that the soldiers subconscious mind must be turning fear, or
cowardice, into a physical symptom to give his conscious mind
a respectable health reason for avoiding or leaving the war zone.
Such theories were the subject of ongoing criticism from many
doctors because the implications that the absence of physical
evidence equated with the absence of physical injury was a flagrant
non-sequitur, and because the psychiatric notions were unverifiable
and unprovable and because they appealed to prejudice rather
than to logic.
100,000 British soldiers returned from the Western Front with
shell shock and were sent for treatments such as psychoanalysis,
mental catharsis, re-education, persuasion, suggestion, placebos
etc, with various claims that the spontaneous recoveries were
the result of the treatments.
Military authorities then advised army doctors not to use the
diagnosis of shell shock because it created the supposedly false
impression that such conditions were due to physical injuries
caused by shockwaves.
The term shell shock was abandoned and the psychiatric explanations
were eventually accepted, with the symptoms being attributed
to conversion hysteria.
By World War II fashion and recruitment practices were different
and soldiers were better fed, clothed and housed and battles
were of less duration so shell shock was less prominent, except
amongst POWs who lost more than 1/3 of their body weight. Many
of them returned from the war with chronic fatigue which restricted
their future social, sporting and occupational capacity though
some are still alive 50 years later.
In the Vietnam War some shell shock victims were sent back to
battle in an experimental attempt to get a cure, however such
soldiers tended to return with more severe chronic fatigue and
move to the country for the quiet life.
During the Iraqi War world news reported on US bombs designed
to drop like freight trains, screaming in flight around the clock,
and to explode and produce shockwaves designed to concuss the
bodies and brains of the elite Iraqi republican guards and leave
them stonkered or shell shocked, with shattered nerves, unable
to coordinate their arms and legs, and bleeding from the eyes,
ears, mouth and every other orifice and too exhausted to fight.
Since then there have been reports of dolphins which are able
to survive in the Amazon River by emitting sound waves which
stun flesh eating piranha fish, and US military researchers claim
to have developed a new generation of weapon which produces sub-sonic
(low frequency) high intensity sound waves specifically designed
to loosen bowels and disable the enemy with diarrhoea or constipation.
From the history of shell shock, I conclude that the human body
contains a variety of structures which have different mechanical
properties, each of which respond to different shockwaves depending
on the intensity, frequency and direction of the shockwaves.
For example the ear drum and vocal chords could be jolted to
cause deafness or muteness. The nerves or blood vessels might
violently resonate like guitar strings to produce paralysis or
fatigue, and the walls and tissues or attachments of the brain,
heart, stomach, or intestines could violently resonate and be
damaged, resulting in a variety of ongoing symptoms.
Such problems would be more likely to affect soldiers whose internal
anatomy was already crushed, constricted, displaced and loosely
attached because of poor posture, a thin chest, tight belts or
corsets etc. Furthermore any disease or starvation which reduced
body fat would leave the anatomy loose, and also less insulated
from the affect of shockwaves and therefore more prone to damage
It would also be expected that the symptoms which occur would
be similar, but somewhat different to those caused by knife,
bullet or shrapnel wounds, and that they could be caused by other
factors and confused with other conditions.
Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that the symptoms of shell shock
are due to a temporary or chronic injury, and that the type of
injury can be produced by shockwaves, and also, by a variety
of other causes. M.B.