Perhaps it is now too late to give as a holiday gift, but the fine blog Mind Hacks has just published a review of what sounds to be a most interesting book: War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists (Harvard, 2001), by the British journalist Ben Shephard. Although military psychology does not usually play a prominent roll in the history of psychology (apart, perhaps, from the intelligence testing of American conscripts during World War I), this book argues that it was the phenomenon of what was then known as “shell shock” during World War I that made physicians rethink their exclusively neurological view of the mind. Soldiers who had experienced no detectable neurological trauma during battle were found to be suffering not only enormous mental anguish, but physical symptoms, such as paralysis, blindness, and uncontrollable shaking. It was the psychological stress of battle itself that appeared to be causing these symptoms, and thus the mind began to come into focus as real object of study.
This was clearly demonstrated when a ‘gas shock’ syndrome emerged during World War I when gas attacks became more frequent.
Like ‘shell shock’, it arose from a combination of extreme stress and was shaped by expectation and fear (the descriptions of death by mustard gas are truly horrifying) even when no gas injury could be detected….
The military managed (and still manage) these forms of combat stress reactions by rest (stress and fatigue play a great part) but also by managing expectations.
The book follows the history of this condition, and psychiatrists’ attempts to identify and treat it through World War II (when it was known as battle fatigue) and the Viet Nam War (where it morphed into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
At my Classics in the History of Psychology website, you can find an important book on the topic of WWI shell shock by the famed English psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers (1920), Instinct and the unconscious: A contribution to a biological theory of the psycho-neuroses.