MAYBE IT'S THE MERCURY, STUPID?
It's been nearly a hundred years since World War I and there is still no suitable answer as to what caused shell shock. It remains just as much a medical who-dun-it today as it was over the last century.
Modern advances in war technology at the turn of the twentieth century included using a volatile substance called the fulminate of mercury as an explosive initiator.
"One night on Venus leads to a life-time on mercury" - old popular saying
Though not new, as mercurial medicines can easily be traced as far back as a colonial American medical practice, WWI military service also included lots of potential mercury exposures in medicines and preparations.
The war itself was supposed to be quick.
Mechanization meant armies could cover vast amounts of territory fast. Problems with heavy metal toxicity issues like stock-piling mercury levels in and around trenches would never happen as most war planners thought the battlefields would shift swiftly across the continent. It was believed that a European war would be fought over thousands of mile's worth of landscape and be over in a matter of weeks.
And then they dug in.
While a condition called "Soldier's Heart" was observed in the late stages of the American Civil War, the condition shell shock was never medically described until the Russo-Japanese War, the first one fought with cartridge rifles and munitions.
The truth is no one on the WWI British line knew what was happening to their soldiers. An artillery shell would drop then a victim unearthed emerging from a still-smoking artillery crater unscratched, but they regressed horribly ranging from the incredibly shaking, loud, laughing crazily, nervous, commotional shaking basket of nerves to the absolutely paradoxical descriptions of still and quiet, exhibiting a startling 'a thousand yard stare'. This spectrum became known as shell shock. It would later be expanded to include somatic illness in order to dilute the initial frightening condition.
A dozen cases sent back from the front as shell-shock may prove to possess not a single feature in common - except the fact of the shell explosion. And this, as has been pointed out, may be but the "last straw." Grafton E. Smith, 1917
What scared the medical corps most was, though relatively rare among the entire army, the toughest veteran soldiers appeared just as susceptible to shell shock as the tenderfoot. "Most didn't even bare a scratch on them."
That's interesting because New Jersey Governor John Corzine once observed how Autism can be considered as an "invisible disease". Hey, shell shock was, too.
In fact, according to the evidence found in the narrative of symptoms, shell shock might be better recognized today as adult-onset Autism Spectrum Disorder, historically a very similar mysterious disease only recently associated with Thimerosal, the biocidal ethylmercury additive still currently in many childhood vaccines.
After reading observations that shell shock appeared to be a form of "monoxide poisoning", Sir Frederick Mott, a medical researcher with a knack for pathology, looked for possible environmental factors and couldn't find one.
For some reason, despite undoubtedly high levels of exposures in the battlefield trenches, his 1916 search excluded the neurotoxin mercury. There is no mention of mercury in the index of his work, but this does not remotely serve as excusing it nor does it accuse Mott from deliberately obfuscating mercury's menace. However, there was a April 9th, 2007 news report concerning volumes of work found in a skip as part of a "reorganization".
In hindsight, years after the Great War, in legion halls across America veterans recalled periodically seeing representatives from the chemical companies brought in to observe the trench conditions.
These observers kept quiet as they made notes and observations, and then were gone. Did they make a connection between the increasing levels of mercury exposure? If they did, they never told a soul.
After a while the Freudians tromped onto the battlefield to help. While they perhaps spared some human lives being wasted by the wrong practice of cowardice executions they didn't help by assuming shell shock was an outbreak of somatic illness.
They actually did help scared troops "pull themselves together" and get back into battle, but could do nothing to help shell shocked soldiers, who were failed to recover with rest and relaxation. These incurables were shipped back home, most never resumed anything resembling a normal life. Many were treated with a level of cruelty only expected of an enemy captor.
Yes, war is scary. In their reports and literature the Freudians claimed to have mental powers to cure shell shock, and it all sounded fantastic, but they don't actually document how many cases got better after simply being removed from the source of toxic exposure.
In the war narrative is mention that many thought to have shell shock were given a break from the trenches and they got well enough to return. Did this treatment allow them to rest their nerves, talk it out in group therapy, or did it allow their bodies time enough to detox levels of heavy metals? What is know is safely behind the lines they were encouraged to gobble down plenty of rose hips, a strong for of Vitamin C anti-oxidant. Yet after recovering somewhat or completely the medical personnel simply deemed them as somatic ill.
There's really no telling how many WWI shell shock victims there were. The official number provided is not correct. Still, using even the reported 120,000 or so victims, of that number, at least 80,000 spent their post-war life quietly tucked away in "nerve" hospitals. Many more shell shock cases might have been diagnosed as DAH, or disordered action of the heart.
The official total does not include the untold number of shell shock cases killed upon return to the front, or those who simply wandered away from friendly lines in the heat of battle and were never seen again. "He just got away. We never saw him again." The latter troops would have been killed in action never to receive the shell shock diagnosis.
"You are a fucking coward and you will go to the trenches. I give fuck-all for my life and I give fuck-all for yours. And I'll get you fucking well shot!" - Regimental Sargent Major HERE
As shell shock became more familiar with officers, the early signs of symptoms became more easily distinguished. According to eye-witnesses, shell shocked troops were often considered expendable by superiors. They were frequently sent across "No Man's Land", and this meant almost certainly being cut to pieces by enemy sniper or machine-gun fire. As cruel and sadistic as it gets, those showing symptoms were very often called "worthless" by their "hard boiled" superiors.
Most sadly, shell shock created nerveless victims. Concerned about maintaining theater fighting strength and perhaps as some suggest the post-war pension purse, officers called out those sick with shell shock as cowards or malingerers. The sickness, of course, made it impossible for all of these men to answer the charges. Unable to defend their illness in the fifteen minutes or so given at court-martial, shell shocked soldiers added to the totals of "men shot at dawn". Who knows just how many of those executed before a firing squad of their comrades were shell shock victims?
Many WWI veterans grew to resent their service. They used terms like "widow-maker" to refer to superiors while in reflection of trench life. Through the years after the war they wrote letters of advocacy for their shell shocked comrades. They talked openly that shooting victims of shell shock was wrong. "These lads were sick soldiers and couldn't help it", they said.
After the Great War many former troops educated themselves and searched for the answer to shell shock. They made appeals in any language they were gifted in for governments and the chemical companies to help. They questioned the scale usage of the fulminate of mercury and mercurials in the medicines.
Skimming versions of the British Treatises of Armaments, one notes that handling cautions for the fulminate of mercury usage shifted from its' explosiveness to its' toxicity.
By World War II a military mercury usage began to decline.
Society, as always, was under the influence of propaganda. While "letters" from shell shock victims appeared in editorials, the victims themselves were mostly hidden from the curious public eye. Very often the 'all's well' letters to home and loved ones were penned by well-meaning nurses as the limbs of shell shocked troops were to shaky to grasp, and minds wandered aimlessly away from coherent thoughts converted to paper. Survival of the Great War became excruciating as loved ones convinced by propagandists met the returning shell shocked troops.
Families of those executed wrongly were pretty much disowned. They became pariahs in the very land their loved ones had bravely gone off to serve. There were evictions and unbearable public shame. Widows and orphans of "mentally-weak" shell shock soldiers faced disgrace and indignity beyond a generation.
Their only consolation for the sacrifices was in 2006, several hundred executed British troops were "pardoned" by their government bringing to an end nearly a hundred year private war declared by the relatives of shell shocked troops.
Shell shock was beyond scared soldiers. It looks as though the "merchants of death" got away with mercury poisoning in pretty much the same way the vaccine marketplace today is controlling Thimerosal and vaccine research connected to the Autism epidemic.