By Susan Kingsley Kent
Aftershocks reviews how meanings of shellshock and imagery offering the traumatized psyche as shattered contributed to Britons' understandings in their political selves within the Twenties. It connects the strength of feelings to the political tradition of a decade which observed impressive violence opposed to these considered as 'un-English'.
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Additional info for Aftershocks: Politics and Trauma in Britain, 1918–1931
1 The violence and upheaval of the Great War seemed to continue even after hostilities between Britain and Germany ceased in November 1918. Frontsoldiers returned home in a violent frame of mind. “All was not right with the spirit of the men who came back,” Philip Gibbs wrote in 1920 of the veterans. Something was wrong. They put on civilian clothes again, looked to their mothers and wives very much like the young men who had gone to business in the peaceful days before August of ’14. But they had not come back the same men.
In this context, it is not surprising that anxiety about the war frequently took shape as anxiety about sex, or was articulated in sexual terms; as the war effort worsened attacks on women, and especially on women’s sexuality, increased. Women who labored in the munitions factories and served in the auxiliary forces excited adverse comment; many implied that their earnings came from working an “extra shift,” by which they meant prostitution. ” Making no distinction between prostitutes infected with venereal diseases on the one hand, and young girls or women infected with “khaki fever” on the other, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to The Times in February 1917 of “vile women .
Most intangible, but most powerful, were the fears of aliens threatening to overwhelm the boundaries that safeguarded Britain’s and Britons’ very existence; references to breaches in the defenses of the country permeated the language employed by MPs to argue their positions. Britain would be “overrun with hordes” who “come in by the million;” this “tide of immigration” placed the country in “even greater danger of invasion than we were in 1914,” announced Pemberton Billing. 20 The imagery conjured up in the 1919 debate contrasted markedly with that of the debate over the Aliens bill of 1905, in which language tended to be that of a controlled ﬂow, of precision and order, of easy containment.