Friday, October 7, 2011

An Ignorant Hobo that Needs a Good Thrashing: Canadian Army Medical Jargon, 1942

Copp and McAndrew's Battle Exhaustion, now over twenty years old, is still the only serious work on Canadian medical psychiatry in the Second World War.  The work is full of interesting information regarding the fledgling psychiatric organization in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, and their attempts to run a system which sorted the mild and amenable stress cases from those irreparable psyches which required permanent evacuation from the combat zone.  One noted difference between the Canadian and British psychiatric establishments was that the British linked psychiatry with personnel selection and psychology, whereas the Canadians associated their psychiatrists with the medical side of war.  These difference withstanding, the Canadian Army did use some psychiatric principles in efforts to psychologically screen personnel. Copp and McAndrew's feelings about personnel selection can be summed up as such: "In Canada, staff officers of the personnel selection directorate - young men given commissions on the basis of university degrees or some university attendance - were testing, interviewing, and diagnosing other young men with the kind of assurance that only profound ignorance can provide."

An unidentified parachute candidate undergoing a medical examination at A35 Canadian Parachute Training Centre, Camp Shilo, Manitoba, Canada, 20 March 1945. Credit: Capt. Frank Royal / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-188829
In 1942, problems were identified with the young personnel examiners using pseudo-medical jargon in their assessment forms.  Bill Line, having credentials from the Toronto National Committee for Mental Hygiene, urged the examiners to avoid "diagnostic terms (or phrases that smack of diagnosis) [such as] psychopathic inferior, feeble minded, mental defective, moron, imbecile, neurotic, hysterical, sexual pervert, psychotic, [and] insane."  Line had to further outline several slang phrases of the day which should not be written in records which soldiers may have had access to.  Strictly forbidden were the phrases, "ignorant hobo", "needs a good thrashing", and "should be put through the mill." (Copp, 34).

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