The Limits of Endurance: Shell Shock and Dissent in World War One


  • John Horrocks



Soldiers serving on the Western Front had few opportunities to question the situation in which they found themselves. Censorship limited what they could tell people at home, though there were acceptable forms of dissent such as grumbling, jokes, poems and songs. More serious responses to the intolerable conditions of modern warfare were the nervous conditions variously described as shell shock, concussion neurasthenia, hysteria, exhaustion, pithiatism, and psychasthenia. The need to provide treatment for many servicemen after they returned to New Zealand revealed the extent of the psychological damage among these veterans. Such consequences are now better understood in terms of concepts like post-traumatic stress, but a purely medical model of these effects can overlook the degree to which "shell shock" could also be an expression of an involuntary protest against military service.   


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