In This Review

Diagnosing Dissent: Hysterics, Deserters, and Conscientious Objectors in Germany During World War One
Diagnosing Dissent: Hysterics, Deserters, and Conscientious Objectors in Germany During World War One
By Rebecca Ayako Bennette
240 pp, Cornell University Press, 2020
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German veterans of World War I were treated callously when they exhibited symptoms of shell shock, labeled “war tremblers” or branded as hysterics and cowards. Some psychiatrists described forms of conscientious objection—defying conscription and refusing to fight on ethical grounds—as a medical pathology. All of this foreshadowed the later practices of the Nazis. Drawing from meticulous research into patient records, Bennette complicates this picture. She shows that many psychiatrists were actually more sympathetic than previously imagined to those patients suffering from the trauma of their time on the front. Her investigations also reveal that many more Germans were conscientious objectors than had been assumed. Although they could be harsh and dismissive, many psychiatrists provided a space in which traumatized veterans and dissidents could express themselves.