In This Review

Hysterical Men: War, Psychiatry, and the Politics of Trauma in Germany, 1890-1930
Hysterical Men: War, Psychiatry, and the Politics of Trauma in Germany, 1890-1930
By Paul Lerner
Cornell University Press, 2003, 328 pp

This historical study takes on the critical issue of whether soldiers who suffer trauma on the front lines are to be treated as unfortunates who have reached their breaking point or malingerers who have failed a test of character. Lerner also addresses the question of whether the first responsibility of military doctors is to their patients or to the forces as a whole, which need to maximize their fighting strength. He considers the case of Germany from the late nineteenth century until the end of Weimar, where these debates came to a head at the 1916 "war congress" of the German neurological and psychiatric establishments in Munich. There, the conservatives defeated those arguing for the more humane view and opted instead for treatments, often coercive, that would meet the army's voracious manpower needs. After the war, progressive German psychiatry gave way to a discourse increasingly dominated by notions of degeneration and eugenics and a reluctance to accept the reality of mental illness. This is a first-rate book, speaking to issues that return with every war.