Abby Algeier’s report on the podcast “Britain: The Psychology of War”

The BBC has a series of podcasts about World War I (aptly called “World War One”) that include episodes of different topics. I listened to the “Britain: The Psychology of War” episode that discusses why men volunteered to go to the front and what drove them to the edge.

The first thing Amanda Vickery and her guests Dan Todman and Michael Roper talk about is the drastic increase in men joining the army, from 100,000 at the beginning of the war to 100 million towards the end, 80,000 of whom had shell-shock. There was not much patriotism among young British men until after Britain joined World War I, and while there was a small rush to the recruitment offices beforehand, at the end of August 1914 men joined the army in droves.

One segment I found particularly relevant to our class occurred about 18 minutes, 41 seconds in. The speakers spoke about the 8 million letters per week sent home from the Western Front and how many of them contained shopping lists; the situation at the Front was very domestic, leading into an interesting topic: men in maternal roles. One speaker read aloud what a man named David wrote about a comrade who was hit by shells. He held him in his arms, and kissed him twice on his brow — once for the man’s mother, and once for himself. This immediately reminded me of the scene in All Quiet on the Western Front with Paul and Franz (we all know the one). There are many accounts of dying men crying out for their mothers, and some men wrote about the ground being their mother’s arms, which also called to mind All Quiet.

The topic moved to the influx of poetry by men about the war, made possible due to mass literacy. They delved further into poetry and gendered points of view about the war and patriotism before bringing in Joanna Bourke, the third guest, to discuss shell-shock.

Bourke explained that shell-shock as a term is similar to “soldier’s heart” from the American Civil War and PTSD from Vietnam. She states that shell-shock was a uniquely United Kingdom experience, but I disagree. Shell shock affected Allied and German powers alike — the speakers later remarked that other countries had shell-shocked soldiers too. The term itself originates from the theory that a shell exploding nearby released shockwaves that strongly affected the brain by shattering their nerves. Diagnoses determined whether men received pension, treatment, or were “shot at dawn.” Lower-ranked privates were considered womanish while higher-ranked. higher-class officers had anxiety disorders.

One audience member spoke about his grandfather, a doctor during WWI, who was traumatized by caring for soldiers, and he said something very profound: the war did not end in 1918. His grandfather’s children were affected by the trauma, too. The speakers noted that at first, discussion about the war, its effects, and shell-shock skyrocketed but fell off after some time. Children often wet the bed and had night terrors.

The speakers briefly spoke about male vs. female shell-shock. While women experienced identical symptoms, especially nurses, V.A.D.s, and ambulance drivers who saw destroyed men, they were largely ignored. This reminded me of Not So Quiet‘s…everything! Nellie knew her mother would think her hysterical, yet at the end of the novel, she lost her soul.

None of our novels were mentioned at all in this podcast, but I still recognized elements from All Quiet and Not So Quiet — even though the former was German, not British. It’s easy to separate the fictional war books from real-life events. The themes we discussed in class are real for men and women in WWI, and to me, this is absolutely mindblowing!

Hemingway Hate? (Open Discussion)

In the 2 PM section, we always roast Hemingway and his writing. But I wanted to open a blog discussion about him to gauge what all of us think.

Personally, the only other Hemingway book I’ve read was The Sun Also Rises (1926) (which I forgot even was a Hemingway book until I looked it up, so I don’t know what that says about me), and I really enjoyed that one. I’ve come around to A Farewell to Arms lately. It’s weird, but I don’t hate it.

I don’t know much about Hemingway himself (and someone has posted an article about his 4 wives), so along with what I glean from Google, I’d like to hear from everyone in our class: what’s the deal with Ernest Hemingway?

Abby Algeier’s Reading Questions on Hemingway Part III for 2/22

  1. We talked in class a little today about symbolism of rain and the relationship between Frederic and Catherine. In Book 3/Part III, Frederic is back on the front. In chapter 28, the army retreats to the city of Udine and experiences start-and-stop traffic (something we still deal with). On pages 171-172, Frederic lost himself in a day dream where he says “blow, blow ye western wind” and asks for the rain to bring Catherine to him, then having a “conversation” with her. What do you make of his longing for Catherine — is he tired of the front/wartime situation already, does the rain make him think and worry about her, etc.?
  2. The carabinieri were collecting, questioning, and shooting officers who had crossed the bridge because they believed that any officer was a German in disguise. Piani and Frederic encountered some Brigata di Pace soldiers before this. Compare the attititudes of the carabinieri and the Peace Brigade to killing officers: “‘The war won’t go on,’ a soldier said. ‘We’re going home. The war is over (p. 189).'” and “‘Down with the officer! Viva la Pace (p. 190)!'” vs. “‘It is you and such as you that have let the barbarians onto the sacred soil of the fatherland (p. 193).'” and “‘It is because of treachery such as yours that we have lost the fruits of victory (p. 193).'” Do either/both/neither propagate or inhibit the war?
  3. “Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation (p. 200).” Considering the paragraph before talking about lying with guns and Frederic’s frustration over the carbinieri, as well as sections in the novel previously, does flowing/moving water symbolize something now for him as it does Catherine?

Gassing Up the Great War

The creepiest WWI equipment (Photo via World Atlas).

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime …
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

— Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum est”, 1917

Chemical warfare developed rapidly during World War I. Eager to attack their enemies fatally and quickly, scientists across Europe began isolating and packaging gaseous poisons to add to their arsenal. While gas only caused 1% of deaths overall, its fear-inducing effects were so psychologically impactful that the Geneva Protocol banned it in 1925 (Gas in The Great War). There were several kinds of gas used in the war, from relatively innocuous to life-ruining and deadly.

France was the first country to use gases as weapons of war. In 1914, they used xylyl bromide (C6H4(CH3)(CH2Br) and ethyl bromoacetate (CH2BrCO2C2H5) for their effects as lachrymators (Gas in The Great War). These compounds, known as tear gas when aerosolized, are irritants of the eyes and lungs — they cause tearing (hence the name), temporary blindness, and can restrict breathing. Symptoms clear within 30 minutes, so tear gas was overall not effective (Gas in The Great War). Tear gas is still commonly used today in various forms, such as pepper spray or mace, for self-defense or crowd control (“Tear Gas”).

Germans took the concept and ran with it. In April of 1915, German troops deployed chlorine (Cl) gas against the Allied forces in Ypres. British and French troops fled their frontline trenches because they had no countermeasure — at high concentrations, this chemical damages airways and leads to asphyxiation through pulmonary edema (“Chemical Weapons in World War I”). This is because chlorine reacts with water (H2O) to form hydrochloric acid (HCl). Pulmonary edema causes wheezing, blue lips, frothy spit mixed with blood, heart palpitations, and, of course, death (“Pulmonary Edema – Symptoms and Causes”).

One British soldier, according to, had this to say about chlorine gas: “A panic-stricken rabble of Turcos and Zouaves with gray faces and protruding eyeballs, clutching their throats and choking as they ran, many of them dropping in their tracks and lying on the sodden earth with limbs convulsed and features distorted in death (City et al.).” Chlorine is extremely conspicuous in both odor and color, and wind easily shifts its path, so its use quickly fell off (Gas in The Great War).

The next compound war-scientists turned to was phosgene (COCl2), a colorless gas with a slight odor. Although it is deadlier than chlorine, phosgene symptoms often took over 24 hours to appear. Phosgene is also an asphyxiating agent with toxicity caused by its effects on the -OH, -NH2, and -SH groups of proteins found in the alveoli of lungs, disrupting gas exchange and ultimately causing pulmonary edema (“Phosgene”). Its odor does not manifest until it is past lethal concentrations, so it was stealthier than chlorine (Gas in The Great War). Phosgene caused the most deaths by chemical warfare in WWI (“Chemical Weapons in World War I”).

The most infamous gas of the Great War was mustard gas (commonly given with the formula (ClCH2CH2)2S). Mustard gas gets its name from the presence of sulfur, a chemical known for its yellow color (“Mustard Gas”). Sulfur mustard is a blistering agent, and it creates oozing blisters on the skin and in the lungs (Gas in The Great War). While other war gasses killed its victims near-immediately, blisters from mustard gas exposure prevented soldiers from battling on the front lines (Fitzgerald). This gas is heavier than air and water, so it contaminated deep areas like trenches for extended periods of time. Treating blistered lungs was more difficult than treating phosgene and chlorine gas-affected lungs; the long-term effects are described by Harry L. Gilchrist as follows:

At first the troops didn’t notice the gas and were not uncomfortable, but in the course of an hour or so, there was marked inflammation of their eyes. They vomited, and there was erythema of the skin. . . . Later there was severe blistering of the skin, especially where the uniform had been contaminated, and by the time the gassed cases reached the casualty clearing station, the men were virtually blind and had to be led about, each man holding on to the man in front with an orderly in the lead. (Fitzgerald)

Many conflicts following World War I involved gas attacks against unprepared people (“Chemical Weapons in World War I”). Chemical warfare is terrifying, yet it remains used even in modern times. The astonishing willingness to use these messed-up tactics set precedents for a century and more to come — German scientist Fritz Haber’s work led to Zyklon B, a gas used against Jewish victims of the Holocaust (Gas in The Great War).

It was remarked as a joke that if someone yelled ‘Gas’, everyone in France would put on a mask. … Gas shock was as frequent as shell shock.

— H. Allen, Towards the Flame, 1934

Works Cited

“Chemical Weapons in World War I.” Wikipedia, 4 Feb. 2022. Wikipedia, City, Inscription on the Liberty Memorial Tower in Downtown Kansas, et al. “Collection Spotlight: First Usage of Poison Gas.” National WWI Museum and Memorial, 24 Mar. 2015, Fitzgerald, Gerard J. “Chemical Warfare and Medical Response During World War I.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 98, no. 4, Apr. 2008, pp. 611–25. PubMed Central, Gas in The Great War. Accessed 8 Feb. 2022. “Mustard Gas.” Wikipedia, 10 Feb. 2022. Wikipedia, “Phosgene.” Wikipedia, 4 Feb. 2022. Wikipedia, “Pulmonary Edema – Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, Accessed 14 Feb. 2022. “Tear Gas.” Wikipedia, 5 Jan. 2022. Wikipedia,