“Trauma” is a relatively new term in our language. From the ancient Greek “traûma” (τραῦμα) meaning damage or wound, it was first used in English in medical texts of the late 17th century. Physical traumas can be so devastating they cause the body to go into shock, organs shut down. Systems collapse. You die.
There comes a point where a stress is simply too much for the the body, or mind, to handle.
It wasn’t until decades after Freud first posited his theories on psychiatry that the idea of psychological trauma was described. It had always been present, recognised, but never understood. Shakespeare and Dickens wrote about it. It had a dozen names in as many languages. Surivors of railway accidents had “railway spine”, US Civil War veterans had “soldier’s heart”. French physicians diagnosed Napoleon’s soldiers with “nostalgia”, while Spanish doctors refered to men being estar roto…broken. Modern armies call it “combat fatigue”.
Soldiers in World War I called it shell shock.
The stress and fear and death and disease and rain and mud and blood and rats and shit and guns and shells. And no sleep and no food and no choice. It broke men. Thousands of them, millions.
That was over a hundred years ago, today.
It’s important to remember the truth of the Great War.
Not the muddy, bloody, rotting, mangled truth of no-mans-land.
The more distant, ephemeral truth. The part of the war we don’t think about when we’re wearing our poppies or laying our wreaths – it didn’t need to happen.
People could have stopped it…but didn’t.
And when I say “people could have stopped it”, I don’t mean Field Marshall Haig or Kaiser Wilhelm or Winston Churchill or Emperor Franz-Josef. I mean people like you and me. Ordinary people could have stopped the war.
The elites may have wanted the war, they may have started the war, they may have profited from the war…but ordinary people supported the war. Ordinary people gave white feathers to young men, bullied the pacifists and the conscientious objectors. Ordinary people encouraged their sons and husbands and brothers to enlist. Because they were told to, and never thought to question it. Because they bought into the pro-war propaganda without ever examining it.
Because it never occurred to them that they were being lied to.Armistice Day & the Resurrection of the Old Lie