Eliminate or Recover? The French Army’s Handling of the Mentally Ill, from 1900 until the First World War

Psychiatric Weakness and Political Crisis
By Marie Derrien

Between 1914 and 1918, the French army mobilised more than eight million men. Persuaded that the number of soldiers was decisive, the army attempted to incorporate as many combatants as possible. Hence it made review committees less selective, bringing back in individuals who had been exempt from service or discharged, and sending soldiers back to the front lines after they had been wounded or ill. The army was then faced with a problem that it was ill prepared to handle, but which grew in magnitude when military service became universal in the early 20th century: what should be done with the men who were mentally ill? Should they be eliminated from the ranks? This article presents the various answers given to these questions by the army and by psychiatrists from the early 20th century and, in particular, during the First World War.

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