Small Wars Journal

History of Combat Trauma Bibliography

Sun, 02/03/2008 - 12:28pm
The history of combat trauma is one which draws fire every time. It is a topic wrapped in politics, both conventional and those internal to both the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and history. I hope this brief annotated bibliography will help some come to understand the foundations, the arguments, and the various issues in play on this topic. This list is rank-ordered in what I believe is their utility to those interested in the study of war, particularly my fellow historians and journalists, but also my peers in the military.

1. Ben Shephard, War of Nerves. I must confess, this is one of my favorite works of history on a couple of different levels. On the first, and most obvious, it is a favorite because it is damned fine academic work. Shephard digs into primary sources, and traces the history of the IDEA of combat trauma from the period immediately preceding the First World War through the mid-1990s. I also love this book because it exemplifies why military historians cannot afford to be snobs. Shephard is not a military historian, but a historian of psychiatry. Although the book leans heavily towards British developments in WWI and WWII, this is understandable since he himself is British. His chapters on the political/psychological mélange which resulted in the DSM diagnosis of "Post Vietnam Syndrome" (later renamed Post Traumatic Syndrome, or PTSD) are instructive in a way that only a non-American could write about without strong bias.

2. Peter Leese, Shell Shock. This book is narrow, focusing exclusively upon the WWI syndrome (which it should be noted was different from things which went before, and came after...a point to ponder) of "Shell Shock" is a good foundation for understanding what Shephard was talking about. Namely, that it appears that often the behavioral reaction to extreme stress (of combat) is somewhat socially induced. "Shell Shock" syndrome closely paralleled the late 19th C and early 20th C phenomenon of "hysteria," as it was reported in the contemporary other words (gulp) journalists are both the reporters of, and partial creators of, the reaction to combat. The source material is excusively British.

3. David Gerber, ed., Disabled Veterans in History. Not an easy book to find, despite it being a relatively recent publication. It is an edited collection of academic papers dealing with the title topic. The essays herein start with the mid-19th C, and continue through Vietnam. They cover issues such as physical disabilities (and the developing belief that the State was responsible to compensate veterans for wounds suffered for the State), as well as the fights to extend this definition of "wounded" to psychological casualties. (And State resistance thereof, mostly on financial grounds.) Academic but readable with patience.

4. Eric Dean, Shook Over Hell, PTSD in the Civil War. I like this book, despite my reluctance to allow retro-active diagnosis. Dean gives solid case study examples of PTSD in Civil War veterans, but he also over-reaches, lumping all psychological reactions to combat under the rubric of PTSD, which is ahistorical. But Dean is a military historian, writing before Shephard. One would hope that if the book is ever reprised, he might present a more nuanced understanding of psychological reactions to combat. In any event, he backs up our historical "start date" to the Civil War, which could therefore fairly easily be extrapolated backwards at least through the military historian's period the "Age of Limited War" (roughly 1648-1793).

5. Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam and also Odysseus in America. Full disclosure: I know and am a personal friend of Jonathan's. These two books are a labor of love. Jonathan is a psychiatrist who has worked with PTSD claimants in the VA system for at least 20 years. The books are his attempt to get the military to do what is right, in training and preparation, to minimize psychological casualties. Jonathan's credentials are solid. Some of his sources, in the first book, are not. (See next.) That being said, I think Jonathan's work is on the correct track.

6. B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley, Stolen Valor. Again full disclosure: I know BG, and Glenna, and find their work crucial and critical. In fact, I use this book as another exemplar about why we military historians cannot be snobs, because BG is a stockbroker and Glenna is a journalist. Yet using FOIAs (a tool practically unknown among academic historians) they demonstrated that huge numbers of traumatized Vietnam Vets were neither traumatized nor veterans. In the course of this they damage Shay's work, Achilles in Vietnam fairly convincingly, or at least his case studies. This is a book about fakes. Fake veterans of Vietnam who claimed PTSD for the VA benefits, or personal sympathy, or notoriety. They expose more than a hundred cases where journalists were taken for a ride because they did not check the story of a "veteran" who made claims about the horrible things he saw or did in Vietnam. Some were veterans, but served in the States or Germany. Some were not even that. More than a few were complete scam artists. And journalists fell for all of them. Towards the end Burkett's personal politics (which incline to the right) come through a little too clearly, but in general it is THE cautionary tale which all journalists dealing with stories of PTSD must read before they write. Burkett even explains, in detail, how to check on the status of a "veteran."

7. Peter Barham, Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. A solid work of history by a non-traditional historian. Barham is a psychologist. But his work is a solid recounting of the "People's Lunatic" and the fight for compensation for British soldiers who had "lost their minds" through fighting for their country in WWI. It traces the interwar (1918-1939) evolution in the UK and tracks alongside Shephard's book. Two extremely useful (if short) appendices, and more than 40 pages of source notes and documentation which meet (and exceed) academic standards.

8. Robert Bateman (uh, that's me), No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident. This book is divided into two parts. The first half tells the history of what happened in July 1950 at No Gun Ri, South Korea. The second half tells the "Story of the Story" and how journalists writing about the event fell victim to a complete and total fraud of a "witness", one Edward Daily. Daily claimed to have been a machine-gunner in the 7th Cav, who later won a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant, was captured by the North Koreans, escaped, won the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor) and three Purple Hearts. In reality, Daily was a jeep mechanic, and made up his account of No Gun Ri from whole cloth. In the process fooling the AP (though they won a Pulitzer at least partially based upon his account.) Daily went to prison in 2002, shortly after my book came out, when the government prosecuted him for fraud. You see, Daily had been collecting 100% disability payments for PTSD stemming from his horrific experiences in Korea. Daily had been, in reality, a jeep mechanic, far behind the lines and was never in combat.

9. Jean-Yves Le Naour, The Living Unknown Soldier. This is, in a way, the French version of Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. Le Naour tells the story of a French soldier who showed up in a train station one day in Feb 1918, with complete amnesia. He was obviously a combat veteran, but had no idea who he was. Over the ensuing two decades various families claimed he was a long-lost brother/husband/son (over 50 families initially responded to an add asking, effectively, "Do you know this man?"). Woven into this is the story of how France dealt with combat traumatized victims.

Read these nine books and you'll be as close to an expert to the broader situation, historically speaking, as it is possible to be at this time.

Bob Bateman


SWJ Editors Links

Combat Trauma Bibliography - Kings of War

Post-Traumatic Presidency - Jules Crittenden, Forward Movement

History of Combat Trauma Bibliography - Actually, I Thought I Was Helping...