Plenty of literature has been written regarding the experiences of war among the soldiers. The idea of war implies bloodshed and putting at stake ones life such that only the cautious, and the toughest can survive and handle the implications that occur after a war. The perspectives shared by scholars range from the impact of war on women and children, the soldiers (mostly during and post-war experiences), the political and economic situations and so forth. In brief, the First World War is among the most tragic events that occurred in history. The war was aggressive and destructive as it physically and mentally affected the soldiers and their families. Most of the survivors obtained severe injuries including blindness in addition to mental instability from what they had observed during the war. The focus of the analysis is on the implications that the First World War had on the mental state of the soldiers and the role of plastic surgery in their mental state.
From a general perspective, life after the war was difficult for the soldiers due to the mental torture that they underwent as a result of their experience at war. They experienced plenty of flashbacks regarding the experiences and hence required mental help. They had witnessed their friends dying in war, people being blown up, experiencing life-threatening situations and had the fear that they would not lead normal lives particularly those who had lost their limbs and other parts of the body. They feared suffering from financial constraints as the limitation made it challenging for them to engage in economic activities; resulting in more depression. The gases that were exposed to them also contributed to their mental incapacitation. It became the responsibility of women to take care of their families; both the children and the husband. An interesting term that emanated to describe the mental effects of the First World War is the shell shock. The shell shock is described as a state that involves varied psychological and physical symptoms. The condition is regularly affiliated with trauma genealogy and is recognized as a significant indicator of the developing mental implications which are affiliated with combat.
At the end of the nineteenth century, passengers who witnessed a tragic train accident were viewed to contain railway spine to explain the psycho-somatic symptoms that persisted despite their physical bodies being healed. The medical views regarding the situation were uncertain on whether the mental condition was influenced by being naive to stress or were associated with damages to the central nervous system. During the First World War, the soldiers who showed similar signs as the train accident victims were termed to experience shell shock. The associated argument involved the invalidity cause and the adequate management strategy. Assertive medical practitioners held the view that soldiers who experienced mental breakdown during the war such that they refrained from going back to the field after some time indicated the lack of determination which is affiliated to military discipline rather than the need for medical attention. However, psychologists such as Charles Myers held the view that each patient required to be evaluated as per his evidence. Myers described shell shock as a real illness that required skilled care and attention. The exposure to dangerous and prolonged dangers during the war resulted in plenty of psychological implications from an industrial perspective.
It is important to note that during training, the soldiers were advised to hide their insecurities and fears due to the common nature of panic among them. Nonetheless, a military man could only do little to save himself when shelled. They survived by luck. Most of the soldiers were overwhelmed by the emotional requirements associated with the trench warfare especially due to the lack of the possibility of the war ending early. Shell shock became a priority of the military after the Battle of Somme whereby there was a huge number of casualties who required psychiatric care. Various centers were structured next to the war zones to provide immediate treatment to the soldiers in addition to assuring them that it was not their fault that they were away from duty. Furthermore, new rules controlled the utilization of diagnostic concepts with the focus being on stemming the casualties streaming in from various channels.
From a theoretical perspective, the medical facilities in Britain were set aside for serious cases regarding shell shock. The teams of medical practitioners and psychiatrists engaged in research regarding causation and did various experiments regarding the treatment. The focus resulted in the development of several schools that focused on trauma therapy. It is perceived that about 250,000 servicemen from the U.K. experienced several cases of psycho-somatic illnesses which were affiliated to the war. A majority of them found it difficult leading normal lives after the experience and hence not recovering from the shell shock. The end of the war was not any better as they experience continued to challenge their mental capacities. The government took part in funding treatment programs for the veterans. Also, the Ministry of Pensions put up several special medical facilities in the provincial towns as a way of providing a national psychotherapy treatment for the veterans. The government took part in the treatment programs by providing funds. The Ministry of Pensions also opened up several special medical facilities in all provincial towns to establish a national psychotherapy service for all the veterans. The presence of shortages of practitioners specialized in dealing with trauma resulted in the establishment of a training institution under the supervision of Lt Colonel R.G. Rows who was also a Maghull medical superintendent.
By the end of 1920, about twenty-nine clinics were operating, and in 1921, more than fourteen thousand men experiencing shell shock were seeking services from the treatment clinics and the assessment attending boards. However, government cuts made it difficult to run the clinics and hence most of them were closed. The clinics were later reestablished after the onset of the Second World War.
The trench warfare was perceived to result in further complications which were as bad as dying in the field. Most of the western front servicemen who lifted their heads from the trenches would drop down with missing jaws, nose or faces. The disfigured men were being identified as miles. After returning home from war, plastic surgeons were faced with an immense task of making them presentable again. The men were unrecognizable to their family members and friends including themselves. At that time, the advanced esthetic procedure involved fixing cleft lips. The men felt that the disfigurement made them lose their social identity and the ability to lead normal lives. In England, some hospitals handling the ex-servicemen painted their benches blue as a warning that the men to sit on them will exhibit horrifying and unpleasant looks. The men felt unpresentable, a view that resulted in depression and further psychological implications. The stigma accorded to them contributed to frequent self-loathing. Before the introduction of transplants, most of the plastic surgery practitioners provided them with sophisticated masks that hid the disfigurement. The image below illustrates before and after masking.
Anna Ladd is accredited for sculpting appealing masks that assisted most of the men to re-adjust in their home environment. Apart from molding the casts from the mens facial outlines, the specialists would use their past photos to develop the masks for them to recognize themselves in addition to being recognized by others. It can be perceived that the masks played a significant role in the mental health of the ex-servicemen as it enabled them to readjust back to their normal lives without feeling inadequate or unattractive. The masks gave them confidence and the sense of belonging.
As stated earlier, the focus of the analysis is on the implications that the First World War had on the mental state of the soldiers and the role of plastic surgery in their mental state. The mental state of the veterans was associated with shell shock which is described as a state that involves varied psychological and physical symptoms and is regularly affiliated with trauma genealogy and is recognized as a significant indicator of the developing mental implications which are affiliated with combat. A majority of the veterans experienced shell shock which resulted in the development of schools and medical facilities that specialize in trauma. The use of plastic surgery is perceived to be influential in the mental state of the veterans as it provided them with confidence and the opportunity to readjust to their normal lives.
Bate, Jason. At the Cusp of Medical Research: Facial Reconstructive Surgery and the Role of Photography in Exchanging Methods and Ideas (1914-1920). Visual Culture in Britain 17, no. 1 (March 2016). A75-A98. Art & Architecture Source
Harrison, Mark. The medical war: British military medicine in the First World War. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010. UCF Library Catalog.
Leese, Peter. Shell shock: traumatic neurosis and the British soldiers of the First World War. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Loughran, Tracey. Shell-Shock and Medical Culture in First World War Britain. Cambridge, United Kingdom: New York, New York: Cambridge University Press 2017.
United States. Surgeon-Generals office. :Review of war surgery and medicine. United States Army Medical Department (1918). HathiTrust.
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