10 February 2011

Sometimes You Get the Bull ...

When you're a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail. And, when you're steeped in months of research and writing--like the Red Bull Rising blog--everything tends to look like it's connected with your topic.

Take, for example, a couple of recent posts at Tom Ricks' "Best Defense" blog at Foreign Policy magazine, which regarded the World War II origins of combat psychiatry and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.).

The blog posts mention the early published work of Army Dr. (Capt.) Herbert X. Spiegel, a psychiatrist assigned to an unnamed infantry battalion in World War II Tunisia.

The 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division participated in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. My interest was piqued: Perhaps the doctor was a member of a Red Bull unit?

Spiegel ended up a clinical-research pioneer and popularizer of the use of hypnosis. He was once even involved in the treatment of the multiple-personality patient on whom was based the book and movies "Sybil."

Finding out whether Spiegel and the Red Bull were connected turned into a lunch-hour filled with frenzied Internet searches. The academic papers didn't seem to offer specifics of his military service, nor did news articles or obituaries. Ultimately, the 90-percent answer came in the words of his wife and research partner, Dr. Marcia Greenleaf, posted on a 2010 web-tribute to Spiegel:
Herb’s experience in World War II shaped his clinical thinking and research ... As a combat surgeon with the 1st Infantry Division in the invasion of North Africa, he used hypnosis on the battlefield ... Wounded when a German tank broke through the allied ranks, he was awarded the Purple Heart and shipped back to the US ... Assigned to teach military psychiatry at Mason General Hospital, he used hypnosis to treat pain, trauma and anxiety, began his research and his amazing journey with hypnosis and short-term psychotherapy ... He was always ahead of his time. [...]

As an author, Herb’s first publications focused on his experience as a battalion surgeon during the North African campaign in WW II. ... He wrote his first papers on combat psychiatry and physio-neurosis – the first clinical identification of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. [Emphasis added.]
So, there I had it. Spiegel was most likely part of the 1st Infantry Division--the "Big Red One"--still red, but not a Red Bull. The 1st and the 34th divisions hit different beachheads. One went toward Oran, the other toward Algiers. "Sometimes, you get the bull. Sometimes, the bull gets you."

On the other hand, Spiegel seems to have established a professional beachhead of his own, one that launched his later work in hypnosis. He changed--or began to change--how we view PTSD as a military and as a society.

Speigel's early work resonates even to present-day. In addition to Ricks' musings, for example "War" author Sebastian Junger cites Spiegel (see excerpt here) when exploring the battlefield behavior of Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta:
During World War II, the British and American militaries conducted a series of studies to identify what makes men capable of overcoming their fears. A psychiatrist named Herbert Spiegel, who accompanied American troops on the Tunisia campaign, called it the "X-factor": "Whether this factor was conscious or unconscious is debatable," he wrote for a military journal in 1944, "but this is not so important. The important thing was that it is influenced greatly by devotion to their group or unit, by regard for their leader and by conviction for their cause. In the average soldier, which most of them were, this factor ... enabled men to control their fear and combat their fatigue to a degree that they themselves did not believe possible."

You can see Ricks' blog posts that inspired my little lunch-hour research junket here and here.

Regarding a third PTSD post, less related to WWII, those with an interest in the National Guard would do well to overlook Mr. Ricks' uncharacteristic sleight toward citizen-soldiers--he hypothesizes that "disturbances [may] run even deeper in Guard and Reserve units coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq," citing a 1972 (?!) study that observed "older, less experienced and less educated soldiers were high risk for the development of psychiatric symptoms"--and delve deep into the reader comments. Specifically, be on the lookout for comments from "Hunter." There's some great insights in there!

About that "older and less experienced and less educated" comment, however? I'm not sure that the draft-age U.S. Army National Guard of 1972 is comparable to the operational-reserve National Guard of 2011. At risk of falling into one of my own pet petards regarding blog commenters--too many of us relish argument based on personal experience rather than research--I'll say that I've seen Army National Guard soldiers generally best their active-duty counterparts in terms of maturity, education, work- and life-experience, and established emotional support networks.

I'm not saying that we're perfect--too many of us are dying at our own hands--I'm just saying that we may have different problems. We invite further study.


  1. I'll say that I've seen Army National Guard soldiers generally best their active-duty counterparts in terms of maturity, education, work- and life-experience, and established emotional support networks.

    Our medical company has had numerous dealing with our active duty counterparts in the last few months. Although there are exceptions, we've become intimately familiar with people who have a very high opinion of themselves based on the employer, rather than their abilities. Somehow, the ability to manage a civilian career or full-time class load, monthly drill, bi-annual EMT recertification, and the demands of the civilian labor market is deemed a weakness by our brethren on the full-time side. Combine this with the RA's capacity to over-regulate and bureacratize even simple processes, and the result is a number of young troops amazed by sheer mass of ineptitude and self-interest on display.

  2. ummmm.... most "older national guard members" have years of active duty experience under their belts, so that kinda kicks the stool out from under that argument.

    I think like everything else, each component has strengths and weaknesses. Active duty- better at punching a hole through the north korean defensive line. Nat Guard- better at COIN ops.
    As for PTSD- ive seen my share of people tweaked by war from both components, and frankly I dont see a difference between them, EXCEPT for the fact the Nat Guard deals with it MUCH MUCH MUCH better than most active duty chains of command, specifically in the area that Ive never heard a Nat Guard guy say "My career was hurt because of my PTSD", yet Ive heard that from alot of active duty guys with PTSD

  3. @ Mauser: Dude! Glad to hear from you! I can only imagine the topsy-turviness that you now get to witness on a daily basis. Depending on my own mood, your observations regarding the institutionalizing/infantilizing effects of military bureaucracy are either amusing or distressing!

    @ Benjamin: Good point about differing attitudes (stigmas?) regarding PTSD in the active and reserve components. That seems another good area for some smart guys and gals to study ... I'd hope that someone out there is researching factors such as this!

  4. "operational-reserve"

    Oh how I loath that term...


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