“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.” – Merriam Webster
Here’s the second of three excerpts from this author’s draft article mss about the successful effort by a clandestine, multi-national, public-private partnership to rescue from German-occupied Europe the bombardier of a B-17 downed over Holland in 1943.
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“. . .
“Among American airmen forced to undergo lobotomies were “Melbert Peters, a bomber crewman given two lobotomies—one most likely performed with an ice pick inserted through his eye sockets. And Mr. Tritz, the son of a Wisconsin dairy farmer who flew a B-17 Flying Fortress on 34 combat missions over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe.”
“But like a friend who drinks naively from a cocktail of radiator fluid and rat poison and then tells his friend, “Try it, you’ll like it,” American doctors encouraged British psychiatrists to take up the practice. As Hugh Levinson writes in his 2011 BBC News Magazine article The Strange and Curious History of Lobotomy, “From the early 1940s, it began to be seen as a miracle cure here in the UK, where surgeons performed proportionately more lobotomies than even in the US.”
“Naming the procedure for the sharp instrument that’s thrust into the brain, practitioners in Britain performed more than 1,000 leucotomies a year at its peak. “It was used to treat a range of illnesses, from schizophrenia to depression and compulsive disorders.” As recently deceased historian Ben Shephard pointed out in poignant detail, the Crown’s heroes from World War II were not spared the irreversible procedure.
“It’s disturbing to watch a combat veteran who beat terrible odds to make it home alive only to have his brain benevolently “stirred” with a sharp spike. And history has already begun to judge the procedure and its proponents with a declarative “WTF?”
“But if we’re to be honest with science and with history we might at least consider what Mr. Levinson says about why the procedure became so favored in Britain:
“’The reason for its popularity was simple – the alternative was worse.
‘When I visited mental hospitals . . . you saw straightjackets, padded cells, and it was patently apparent that some of the patients were, I’m sorry to say, subjected to physical violence,” recalls retired neurosurgeon Jason Brice.
‘The chance of a cure through lobotomy seemed preferable to the life sentence of incarceration in an institution.
‘We hoped it would offer a way out,’ says Mr. Brice. ‘We hoped it would help.’”
“. . . .”
(end of excerpt)
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The following information is from the endnotes that accompany the above text (content originally appeared on Facebook, which did not include foot/endnote numbering. However, sequence and content are the same as in the original draft mss):
Lobotomy Practitioners in the United States proselytized psychiatric communities elsewhere, including in Mandatory Palestine and Israel. Rakefet Zalashik and Nadav Davidovitch. Last resort? Lobotomy operations in Israel, 1946-60, History of Psychiatry 17(1) 91-106. Sage Publications 2006.
Hugh Levinson. The strange and curious history of lobotomy. BBC News Magazine, 8 November 2011; http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-15629160
See Ben Shephard, A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the 20th Century (Jonathan Cape 2000). See review by Philip Hoare in The Guardian: “And they called them cowards.” https://www.theguardian.com/…/nov/12/historybooks.firstworl…
One of the more intuitive reviews of War of Nerves appeared in The Village Voice:
“Shephard didn’t write A War of Nerves with Iraq in mind; the bulk of it focuses on the two world wars and Vietnam, with a short section on the Falklands and the 1991 Gulf War at the end. But its unflinching look at the awkward intersection of psychiatry and the military offers a fascinating left-field perspective on war and its hidden costs. Weaving together a panoramic array of source materials (official reports, soldiers’ diaries, interviews with doctors, Pentagon memos, snatches from novels and academic treatises), he catalogs 20th-century attempts to lessen the agony of war, at least for the troops—an unenviable task.”—Joy Press, The Village Voice
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(B-17F Flying Fortress and Crew 8th Air Force. Image attribution: https://www.worldwarphotos.info/gallery/usa/aircrafts-2-3/b-17/b-17f-flying-fortress-and-crew-8th-air-force/ )