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Remembered Today:

Forgotten Lunatics of The Great War


salientpoints

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Coming soon:

"Forgotten Lunatics of The Great War"

Although the shell-shocked British soldier of Word War I has been a favoured subject in both fiction and nonfiction, focus has been on the stories of officers, and the history of the rank and file servicemen who were psychiatric casualties has never been told. This profoundly moving book recounts the poignant, sometimes ribald histories of this neglected group for the first time.

Peter Barham draws on reports from the front lines, case histories, personal letters, and war pensions files to trace the lives and fortunes of a large cast of ex-servicemen who suffered mental breakdowns. He describes the confines of their asylums, the reactions of families to their relatives' plight, the turmoil of the soldiers when they returned home - and the uphill struggle they faced trying to secure justice from the bureaucratic labyrinth that was the Ministry of Pensions. His book gives a new perspective to the impact of the Great War and to current controversies about disputed postwar maladies.

Peter Barham is a psychologist an social historian of mental health. He has published widely on mental health issues but this is his first full-length historical work. ISBN: 0 300 10379 4

Cloth: £25.00*/$40.00*

Publication date: 19th August 2004

Pages: 368pp.

Illustrations: 12 black-&-white illustrations.

Size: 234 x 156mm.

Ryan

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Thank you for drawing this book to our attention, Ryan.

I’m perplexed and saddened by Peter Barham’s choice of title. There has been a lot of work over the past four years or so to raise awareness of the stigmatising effect of using expressions such as ‘lunatic’ (or loony, psycho, nutter, and so on) to describe people with mental illness or diagnoses of psychiatric disability; the Royal College of Psychiatrists has been active and influential in its campaigning. Consequently writers and publishers in most media are generally careful to avoid stigmatising language, although cynically, I suspect that the furore among newspaper readers about the ‘bonkers Bruno’ headlines was because Frank Bruno is held in public affection, not because of the expression ‘bonkers’.

Stigmatising language about mental ill health is disrespectful and hurtful. It undermines people’s self respect and it colours others’ attitudes towards them. Further, it sensationalises what is a very painful and tormenting illness from which people die. In my opinion, it seems equally disrespectful towards men whose experiences in the Great War precipitated their mental torture. Presumably some of them have surviving relatives who remember with pain their loved one’s mental trials. I should be interested to know why Peter Barham has chosen such provocative and archaic language for his title.

I am interested in mental health in the context of the Great War and I think the contents of the book sound promising.

Gwyn

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Here Here Gwyn. I wonder how much say the author had in the the choice of title. The fact that Peter Barham is 'a psychologist and social historian of mental health' jars somewhat with the book's repugnant title.

Paul

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Thank you, Paul.

If Ryan is able to supply the publisher, I might email and ask.

Gwyn

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Hello All

Although the use of 'Lunatics' in the title appears a pejorative and disrespectful, especially in relation to shell-shocked soldiers of WW1, it was no doubt well chosen. We are told that the the Author works in the field of mental health and has published many contemporary clinical works, so he would be better informed than most of current trends in diagnostics and terminology: 'Lunatic' is a vague and often unhelpful label within the mental health field and I am sure the Author is well aware of this. (Regarding the term 'Lunatic': I have professional knowledge in this area and have noted that a New or Full Moon does appear to have a detrimental effect on some people with organic mental disorders; although whether this would effect those suffering from environmentaly-acquired mental disorders, such as extreme stress and nervous exhaustion I do not know, but would hazard that it would not.)

Therefore, I would assume that the Author carefully chose his title in an effort to reflect the then wider social prejudices and off-hand treatment often meted out to these men by the Establishment, rather than displaying his ignorance of the subject.

Richard

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so he would be better informed than most of current trends in diagnostics and terminology

What are you implying, Richard? Better informed than, say, me?

'Lunatic' is not 'often unhelpful', it is always unhelpful.

It certainly does reflect the wider social prejudices. Indeed, it reinforces them.

Gwyn

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Hello

Sorry, Gwyn, I don't know your background; do you work in this field?

I was just trying to ascertain the Author's intentions from the information provided on the Forum; not defend the use of the term nor the Author's/Publsher's decision to put such an insensitve term in the title of a book dealing with a very sensitive aspect of WW1.

Undoubtedly, when taken out of context the term is just as offensive as any other derogatory, generalised term directed at any 'group' within society. Agreed, it can cause the perpetuation of such terms within mainstream society: had I written the book I think that I would have serious doubts about using the term, even if - as I believe is the case - my intention was to highlight the often poor treatment given to such casualties. As I stated in my last post, the term 'Lunatic' is vague and unhelpful when dealing with this subject in addition to being offensive to many.

However, judging by the Author's credentials I do not believe that he used the term in the off-hand, unthinking and derogatory manner that has been ascribed (or though maybe it was an unwise) decision. I am sure that his Publisher questioned him about the choice ot title for fear of upsetting those who would be the most profitable purchasers - i.e people like us - and it must be remembered that he still works in this field: unless he had a good reason for using the term, I am sure that his card would be marked. For these reasons, I believe the term was used:

i) As being indicative of the insensitivity shown to these men during and after the war. It is an unnecessarily offensive title and I believe intended to be so - albeit in the fashionable 'ironic' sense - to impart their suffering at the hands of a supposedly grateful nation.

ii) As a marketing tool. A thread has developed due to this term being used in the title.

I am not saying that he was correct to use that term, since it is considered offensive and often demonstrates the lack of education and empathy of the writer; I am just stating that I believe, from what has been revealed about him, that the Author used the term advisedly.

I am not defending the Author by any means, just trying to offer a possible reason for his decision.

Cheers

Richard

(And they say there is no such thing as bad publicity, Gwyn: here we are talking about - and probably going to buy - the book because of its rather unfortunate title. :lol: )

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I am aware of a study in Finland in 2000 which sought to investigate any connections between suicides and the phases of the moon and the seasons. However, concerning the use of the term ‘lunatic’ in modern psychiatric practice, I would refer to page 11-12 (in my copy) of ‘Mental illness: stigmatisation and discrimination within the medical profession’, Report CR91, 2001, Royal College of Psychiatrists, BMA and RC of the Physicians of London.

(There is indeed such a thing as bad publicity: consider Ratners and Railtrack for starters.)

Gwyn

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so he would be better informed than most of current trends in diagnostics and terminology

What are you implying, Richard? Better informed than, say, me?

Just meant that if his background was other than within the field of mental health it would make his use of the term far more dubious and probably indicate a lack of medical knowledge as well as compassion.

'Lunatic' is rightly deemed an offensive term, like many other such vague terms to pigeon-hole a diverse society into simplistic factions, stereotypically used by those who lack knowledge on the subject. Given his no doubt considerable knowledge regarding the correct psychiatric terms for these cases, the Author would be most likely to use it as a reflection of early twentieth century attitudes to these men rather than his own.

Richard.

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I think the title has a two fold aim,

1) To immediately raise a discussion between people of a more 'sensitive' awareness in this age of political correctness - the marketing edge.

2) To reflect the attitude towards mental health of the period.

The author/publisher has won on both fronts ;) (agreed Chris!)

I personally do not think any malicious intent is meant and would be very sad to see a book title changed to suit the PC age. Publishing is one of our few sanctuaries left.

If anyone does want to discuss the title with the publisher though I am please to advise it is:

Yale University Press

47 Bedford Square

London WC1B 3DP

Tel: 020 7079 4900

http://www.yalebooks.co.uk

I shall follow this with interest!

Ryan

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I suppose we must read the book in order to decide on the writer's motives, but I'm sure that he's using the term "lunatic" to draw attention to the differences between attitudes to mental health issues then and now.

In the same way, Gerard Oram titled his book on race, eugenics and the death penalty, "Worthless Men." He didn't mean to imply that he thought of them as such, but wanted to make the point that those in authority at the time did.

Tom

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Indeed. 'Forgotten Lunatics...' could be a dual reference; both to the lack of works presently dedicated to them and also their place in society during the period.

It must be remembered that this was an age when young unmarried mothers could

be sectioned and held indefinitely; the Victorian idea that female orgasm was a necessary part of procreation was still evident, leading to rape cases being dismissed if they led to pregnancy since the woman was understood to have consented; homosexuals were given barbaric treatments in an attempt to 'cure' them; and those with the slightest physical (e.g. blind) or mental (e.g. epileptic) disabilities could be sent away from their families to specialist institutions. In many of these cases, after several years many became institutionalised; their former conditions compounded by an inability to ever cope outside the walls of the compounds.

Once the War had become a distant memory and people wished to forget their losses, the fate of those in long-term institutional care can be imagined.

Richard.

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I feel the expression ‘political correctness’ is being used here pejoratively, as if a person who chooses to use an insensitive term (in this case, ‘lunatic’) is bravely standing out from the conformist sheep.

I am wary of the linguistic circumlocutions which are sometimes adopted to avoid inappropriate expressions. I believe that in mental health issues, there is almost always a simple and accurate alternative to stigmatising language.

I expressed the point that the word ‘lunatic’ saddened me. I can speculate on the author’s linguistic choice, but I will attempt to find out. As it stands, the title reinforces in the mind of a casual observer that it is acceptable to describe ill people as lunatics. Whether or not it is a successful marketing decision depends on the human factor; some readers may be intrigued, others may be repelled.

An author has to take responsibility for his or her own title and if, in this case, he is choosing to use language which reflects the context of the time, a subtitle to diffuse the apparent insensitivity of the main title would be desirable. We have not been told whether there is one or not.

The synopsis quoted by Ryan in his opening post suggests that more recent cases of post war mental illnesses (which I suppose will include PTSDs) are examined. On these grounds I would question the author's choice of title.

Ryan, you said that you ‘would be very sad to see a book title changed to suit the PC age. Publishing is one of our few sanctuaries left.’ Sanctuaries from what?

Gwyns

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charliebabbage

I'm glad to hear about this forthcoming book. As the niece and grandaughter of two 'lunatics', locked away after being POWs in the First and Second World Wars I grew up being aware of the shame and confusion surrounding these men's difficulties-and 'society's' failure to help them. Fortunately the Second World War also led to new developments, study and understanding. Pity that services can't always reflect that understanding and knowledge.

I winced when I saw the title and had some sympathy with Gwyn's comments. The battle to change attitudes to mental health problems has been going on for decades, not just the last four years. It goes beyond language. I'm more bothered by attitudes to and treatment of people, than by the use of language. I've seen people who talk about 'nutters' being infinitely more kind and supportive to some people with mental health problems than others who wouldn't dream of using such words. Sure, it's significant in everyday use but I don't see this title as particularly offensive. Comments so far make sense. It hits home and will draw more attention. "Regeneration" was powerful. Anything that helps us to remember the rank and file sufferers should be helpful.

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As it stands, the title reinforces in the mind of a casual observer that it is acceptable to describe ill people as lunatics.

Hello Gwyn

Whilst I agree with much in your last post and can appreciate your sentiments with those that I don't, I do not feel that a book title should be entirely unambiguous in case its meaning is misunderstood and gives offence.

In any case, I would suggest that most casual observers noting the title would be put off by the using term 'Lunatic' in association to these men - the social scars of WW1 are still with us after all - than assume that it is an acceptable or even semantically correct description of either them or their condition.

Had that view been given paramount importance before now, would a newspaper in the 1930s(?) have asked for the most sensational made-up headline ever? The winning entry was (and I paraphrase): 'Arch Duke found alive - Great War was fought in error'. :)

Richard

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By four years I meant the RCPsych Changing Minds campaign which began in 1998 for five years. (I was a year out in my recall of the date.)

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/campaigns/cminds/mental_health.htm

Gwyn

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charliebabbage

PS I regret my post on this topic. Had forgotten to go away and think before posting on the net. 'Lunatics' used ironically et al would have been fine talking to colleagues in mental health. It wasn't OK on this forum speaking about my own family. So, apologies to them, though it's too late for that. Language does matter and the context is all important.

A pity because this is an interesting subject. Over and Out.

Carol

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Ryan, you said that you ‘would be very sad to see a book title changed to suit the PC age. Publishing is one of our few sanctuaries left.’ Sanctuaries from what?

Gwyn

Hi Gwyn,

I simply meant that British Book publishing especially has more 'freedom of speech' as it were than any other type of media and allows for far greater diversity of views and thoughts on such a massive amount of information we can possibly absorb. Any attempt to control or restrict this would be bad for everyone. I know there are exceptions to the rule but even Salman Rushdie is still fairing well!

Did you know that there are over 23,000 registered book publishers in the UK and that over 50,000 new titles are published each year in the UK... now that's great for all of us :)

Ryan

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As it stands, the title reinforces in the mind of a casual observer that it is acceptable to describe ill people as lunatics.

You may be right, Gwyn, but what immediately sprang to mind when I read the title and Ryan's synopsis of the book is that the author is saying just the opposite - that it is not acceptable at all to so label people and then dismiss them. The book appears to be a sympathetic attempt to consider the uphill struggle faced by these men and the writer appears to be firmly on their side.

Tom

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Within the community of an Internet forum, people have reacted differently to the wording in the title. This underlines my opinion that it’s possibly as likely to misfire as succeed.

I’ve no quarrel at all with the interesting subject matter or the content as described. I have a particular interest in the response of the human mind to trauma and have been involved in it for six years or so. Most people are fortunate never to have been in a situation sufficiently threatening or appalling to precipitate mental collapse and permanent psychiatric disorder(s). The closest most people come to acute psychiatric care is a packet of anti-depressants. This has the consequent effect that many people are (happily for them) unaware of the distress and pain caused by thoughtless or insensitive use of language; and have never experienced first hand the negative and demeaning attitudes which pervade everyday life for some people.

I don’t wish to come across as over-sensitive or guilty of another sort of bigotry. I can truthfully say that for some people whose lives have been turned upside down by the sort of trauma which leads to a PTSD or a CAD [chronic adjustment disorder], seeing the word ‘lunatic’ used in a title is heart-stopping. It chills. It reminds some people how they have been hospitalised; or how close they have been to being sectioned and completely without power over their own destiny; or the possibility of being medicated or subjected to ECT without their informed consent; or simply the terrifying semi-awareness that their mind is completely out of their control and generating its own reality.

It is also a reminder that language shapes other people’s opinions, which may range from a local community labelling a neighbour as dangerous because s/he has a psychiatric diagnosis and wishing to have the person removed, or the disrespectful attitude of a clerk in a temporary position of power. Whenever the word ‘lunatic’ (or nutter, psycho, loony, barmy, bonkers, etc) is used, it goes into the public subliminal consciousness so that it becomes part of an acceptable vocabulary. From there, it shapes behaviour and attitudes.

Clearly this title disturbs or distresses some potential readers, and would deter them from picking it up to look at it. Alienating half your potential purchasing public doesn’t seem a very sound marketing move to me.

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Clearly this title disturbs or distresses some potential readers, and would deter them from picking it up to look at it. Alienating half your potential purchasing public doesn’t seem a very sound marketing move to me.

'Dasani', now that's a bad marketing move.

One could argue titles like 'Hitler, Nemesis' or 'Making Friends With Hilter' offend some folks and 'The Satanic Verses' or 'The Bush Haters Handbook' etc etc we could be here forever :)

I know its nothing new, especially in this forum, but its like the TV, if you don't like it you turn it off or simply don't buy it...

Coming from a publishing background, I personally do not think this will deter any potential reader of the subject matter. Its caused some level of consternation here and plenty of discussion. I wonder what the next book in the genre of military history to do this will be?

Ryan

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Gwyn,

I don't find the title offensive. From the blurb, it would appear that the author is very sympathetic to these men. I sure that he (or his publisher) has used the term 'lunatic' to remind modern readers of the prejudiuces that these unfortunate individuals encountered. Afterall, society is far more understanding of such matters than it used to be.

As a matter of interest, what do you think would be the most appropriate title for such a book?

Regards

AGWR

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[

'Dasani', now that's a bad marketing move.

One could argue titles like 'Hitler, Nemesis' or 'Making Friends With Hilter' offend some folks and 'The Satanic Verses' or 'The Bush Haters Handbook' etc etc we could be here forever :)

I know its nothing new, especially in this forum, but its like the TV, if you don't like it you turn it off or simply don't buy it...

Coming from a publishing background, I personally do not think this will deter any potential reader of the subject matter. Its caused some level of consternation here and plenty of discussion. I wonder what the next book in the genre of military history to do this will be?

Ryan

Dasani was a marketing failure because the product didn’t correspond with the expectation created by the packaging (ie it was widely believed to be bog-standard tap water). The title ‘Forgotten Lunatics…’ creates a negative expectation of the product (the book) in the eyes of some potential buyers.

Titles of books about Hitler or Bush are not a matter of argument, they are fact.

It isn’t like the television. It isn’t the content which offends, it’s the title. The book will be on display in a bookshop and unless it’s wrapped up in opaque shrink wrapping, it’s impossible not to see the title. Therefore, unless one walks round a bookshop with eyes averted from the book stands, it may deter even before it is picked up.

It isn’t potential readers who are important to a publisher, it’s potential buyers. It’s evident from the discussion that several potential buyers are already deterred.

The next book about Great War soldiers? How about ‘Forgotten Cowards of the United Kingdom’. FCUK. Inviting?

Gwyn

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