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Shook over Hell

Shook over Hell

Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War

Eric T. Dean, Jr.

ISBN 9780674806528

Publication date: 03/15/1999

Vietnam still haunts the American conscience. Not only did nearly 58,000 Americans die there, but--by some estimates--1.5 million veterans returned with war-induced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This psychological syndrome, responsible for anxiety, depression, and a wide array of social pathologies, has never before been placed in historical context. Eric Dean does just that as he relates the psychological problems of veterans of the Vietnam War to the mental and readjustment problems experienced by veterans of the Civil War.

Employing a multidisciplinary approach that merges military, medical, and social history, Dean draws on individual case analyses and quantitative methods to trace the reactions of Civil War veterans to combat and death. He seeks to determine whether exuberant parades in the North and sectional adulation in the South helped to wash away memories of violence for the Civil War veteran. His extensive study reveals that Civil War veterans experienced severe persistent psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and flashbacks with resulting behaviors such as suicide, alcoholism, and domestic violence. By comparing Civil War and Vietnam veterans, Dean demonstrates that Vietnam vets did not suffer exceptionally in the number and degree of their psychiatric illnesses. The politics and culture of the times, Dean argues, were responsible for the claims of singularity for the suffering Vietnam veterans as well as for the development of the modern concept of PTSD.

This remarkable and moving book uncovers a hidden chapter of Civil War history and gives new meaning to the Vietnam War.

Praise

  • Shook Over Hell is genuinely revisionist on two fronts: it changes our understanding of psychiatric casualties in both the Vietnam War and the Civil War; and it does so not by sleight of hand, redefining terms while leaving the substance unchanged, but by solid research, sound analysis, and lucid...writing. Eric Dean first challenges the myth of the troubled and scorned Vietnam veteran...[He] convincingly demolishes every part of this myth. Citing numerous surveys and studies, he demonstrates that in the 1970s and 1980s Vietnam veterans had higher median incomes than their nonveteran peers and were unemployed at the same rate, had similar rates of drug use and addiction, and, in percentage terms, used more GI Bill benefits to attend college than had veterans of the Second World War...The core of this book is an application of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder concept to Civil War soldiers. Part of the myth of the scorned and troubled Vietnam veteran is the implied contrast between his postwar treatment by a hostile or indifferent society and the hero's welcome given veterans of other wars. Although many studies of Civil War soldiers have appeared in recent years, they have focused mainly on the wartime experiences of these men; their postwar history has been relatively neglected...Dean's research in Civil War letters and memoirs, postwar newspapers, and pension files was thorough and exhaustive. It has yielded more information about the mental health of Union veterans than historians had previously realized was available...The most original and important feature of this book is Dean's analysis of 291 case studies of Civil War veterans committed to the Indiana Hospital for the Insane. Most of them exhibited symptoms that would today be diagnosed as PTSD...Of this book it can truly be said, as it is all too often falsely said of other historical studies, that it breaks new ground.

    —James M. McPherson, The Atlantic

Awards

  • 1998, Joint winner of the Robert E. Lane Award

Author

  • Eric T. Dean, Jr., is an attorney with a doctorate in history from Yale University.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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