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1944

Ike warns of the risk of “shell shock”

On this day in 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower distributes to his combat units a report by the U.S. Surgeon General that reveals the hazards of prolonged exposure to combat. “[T]he danger of being killed or maimed imposes a strain so great that it causes men to break down. One look at the shrunken, apathetic faces of psychiatric patients…sobbing, trembling, referring shudderingly to ‘them shells’ and to buddies mutilated or dead, is enough to convince most observers of this fact.”

On the basis of this evaluation, as well as firsthand experience, American commanders judged that the average soldier could last about 200 days in combat before suffering serious psychiatric damage. British commanders used a rotation method, pulling soldiers out of combat every 12 days for a four-day rest period. This enabled British soldiers to put in 400 days of combat before being deleteriously affected. The Surgeon General’s report went on to lament the fact that a “wound or injury is regarded, not as a misfortune, but a blessing.” The war was clearly taking a toll on more than just men’s bodies.

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