Fighting off a bug this weekend and catching up on my reading. So I’ve been going through a big stack of cognitive/neurology newsletters I get…why I get them I don’t recall. Brain in the News. Interesting stuff, though, all kinds of articles. There’s a lot of talk about brain injuries suffered by Iraqi veterans (this was 2008), particularly due to concussions caused by roadside bombs. Not much good news. Very profound after effects with a lot of changes in memory, skills and most fascinatingly behavior–victims can get quite nasty, vile and dangerous even. Scary. It is astounding how much damage can be caused to the brain by concussion alone. Which got me to thinking….
I wonder during the First World War, especially on the Western Front, just how many concussions were inflicted upon the soldiers who were subjected to all that shell fire? Millions of shells were fired. Hundreds of millions*. Falling in a very small area, upon enormous numbers of men, for four years. Even accounting for all the duds and the non-explosive gas shells, that is an incredible amount of explosions in a small area upon a lot of guys over a long period of time. Who knows how many of those soldiers were concussed, and how often? There must have been, then, enormous numbers of men in postwar Europe who suffered from the after effects. So……….did those after-effects collectively have an effect on post war Europe? Did those hundreds of thousands–maybe millions–of concussed soldiers with all those classic symptoms of paranoia and hostility and rage and depression and confusion—were they in numbers sufficient enough to actually alter the social and political atmosphere of societies and nations in the post-war years? Pre-war and post-war Europe were much different places. Post-WW1 Europe was much more violent, rent by extremism and sociopathic political movements. And I wonder if any of that mass brain damage among the men of Europe in the twenties and thirties somehow made Nazism possible? Would normal people ever have fallen for it? Hell, was Hitler himself a victim of post-concussion effects…is that what made him so evil? He spent time in the trenches, exposed, and was nearly blown to hell a couple times. A lucky bastard….but did he suffer after effects?
Just an idea. But the Europe of 1918 to 1945…man, that is one inexplicably berzerk place.
Another horrible phenomenon that fascinates me is all these incredibly violent ‘armies’ of boys in Africa. They seem to be raised from the masses of orphans left by AIDS. There must be tens of millions of orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in many places so many adults have died or are dying that the social structure is simply not capable of taking care of them. Hence sociopaths collect them, Manson-like, into armies and as they’re just kids they make ideal killers. Of course, HIV is becoming less lethal as the more virulent versions kill their hosts and like malaria soon it’ll just incapacitate but leave the hosts capable of bearing and raising children. The supply of AIDS orphans will drop, and those armies will disappear. Funny how that happens.
It’s interesting that the Spanish flu pandemic had a mortality demographic somewhat similar to AIDS in that it killed almost exclusively people in the 18 to 35 year range (roughly..I can’t remember the exact age range but it was young adults. The reason for this, incidentally, is that people above that age and kids below hat age had a resistance they’d developed after being subjected to a flu strain that the vulnerable group in between missed…and perhaps missed because of a strain of flu they had as children.) The flu killed tens of millions in Europe in 1918-19. I am guessing, then, that it left millions of orphans, especially combined with so many fathers having been killed in the war. It’d be interesting to see how many young Nazis in the early thirties were orphans, if the incidence was higher.
Anyway, a little something to ponder on Memorial Day I guess. War and it’s leftovers seem to linger long after the shooting stops.
* The figure of 1.5 billion has been bandied about a lot lately, that is 1.5 billion shells fired on the Western Front alone from 1914-1918. This seems like an exaggeration. The British, for example, produced 170 million shells throughout the war. The French and Germans reported firing over 40 millions rounds each in the Verdun campaign. Probably about the same was fired at the Somme. The numbers of shells fired vs. shells manufactured makes me wonder if the shells fired total isn’t exaggerated. Both sides also suffered severe shortages of shells periodically as stocks were exhausted in heavy bombardments. So there would be periods on the front when shell fire was kept to a minimum. My uneducated guess is that the total number of shells fired on the Western Front was perhaps half, even a third of 1.5 billion. Which is still a hell of a lot of shells.