Italian Psychiatry at the Front: The Formative Experience of the Libyan War, 1911-1912

Soldiers' Health, Between War and Peace: 1830-1930
By Marianna Scarfone

During Italy’s war to conquer Libya (1911–1912), psychiatrists – both military and civilian – were faced for the first time with the pathologies that can affect soldiers in war. Based on their experience on the frontlines or in the Italian hospitals that treated repatriated soldiers, they studied the etiology of these symptoms and their classification among known causes. A debate then arose regarding the role of emotions or predisposition within wartime psychopathology, inspired by Russian and French writers. Based on the publications of the psychiatrists involved, this paper describes this debate, as well as the questions prompted by this initial confrontation with wartime psychological disorders, such as the selection of soldiers or the psychiatric training of doctors. It also focuses on the organisation of psychiatric assistance in field hospitals. Lastly, by examining the medical records of the former Genoa asylum, the paper presents clinical cases for certain soldiers repatriated from Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, to attempt as closely as possible to recreate how these soldiers experienced these disruptions in their lives.

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