PTSD and Post Trauma Growth History… WWI “Shell Shock” Explored by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.

by | May 12, 2016


A Farewell to Arms, Earnest Hemingway…click image for larger view…

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms… Quoting…click here for more…

“A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant (“Tenente”) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.”

“Throughout A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway made it clear that Henry and his comrades were suffering mentally and physically from the hardships of war. He did so even before knowledge of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder was common. “During World War I, the shell shock theory expressed the notion of predisposition, weakened reactive capacities, and a stunned nervous system and mind. Soldiers exhibited stupor, irritability, trembling, traumatic dreams, exaggerated startle response with agitation and conversion reactions.”[21] Church notes that “Psychological studies were still in their infancy before World War I.”


Sun Valley and the Big Wood River outside Ketchum, Idaho

Hemingway’s Haunts… Quoting…click here for more…

“Author Ernest Hemingway embraced local nature and nightspots with a vigor matched only by his fictional and largely autobiographical character Nick Adams. As Adams lived in Michigan’s wilderness, Hemingway meandered the meadows of Sun Valley and the Big Wood RiverHemingway’s time in Sun Valley began in 1939 when he came to the area after Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman invited Hemingway and other celebrities to Sun Valley. In the fall of 1939, he finished his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. He worked on it while staying in suite 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge.”

Click here for Hemingway Memorial YouTube clip…


My inspiration for writing often comes while exploring the scenic and spiritual mountain regions of the west, and in living on the stunning coast of Oregon near Depoe Bay.  We picked Sun Valley for a week of adventure and relaxation this spring.  May is a transition month in Sun Valley.  The changing weather has provided days of some sun, rain, and snow flurries with temperatures ranging from the lower 30’s at night to the mid 70’s during the day.  On this day, we found a hike that was well suited for getting great exercise, while recognizing some limitations that come with bodies that do not perform the same way as in our younger years.

The hike we selected was a couple of miles outside of Ketchum, Idaho on the Corral Creek Trail, a 5 mile round trip.  At the beginning of our hike we came upon a memorial to Ernest Hemingway, where we stopped and reflected a moment and took a couple of pictures. Hemingway’s story and spirit is very much alive in Sun Valley, and inspired me to dig deeper into his life in Ketchum.  Ernest Hemingway took his own life in this beautiful valley during the summer of 1961 at the early age of 61, two weeks before his 62nd birthday.  His young adult life included significant exposure to combat as an ambulance driver in WWI Italian campaign and civilian journalist in WWII. Hemingway observed and wrote about the horrific human suffering and carnage of war, including the apparent psychological and physical wounds.    WWI was the beginning of the post-traumatic stress symptoms conversation and long before research connected the dots with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis of the post Vietnam era.

My own research and writing since 2010 shows post-traumatic stress symptoms in the mix way back to the Civil War when the term Soldiers Heart (click here for PTSD history) was used to describe the emotional behaviors of combat veterans and families of that time.  Shell Shock was used to describe the psychological and troublesome emotional behaviors during WWI.  In World War II and thereafter, diagnosis of ‘shell shock’ was replaced by that of combat stress reaction, and battle fatigue, a similar but not identical response to the trauma of warfare and bombardment.  The U.S. Navy used ‘battle fatigue’ as an official way to diagnose my father during and after his severe exposure to combat during WWII in the Pacific Theater.  There are even indications of the trauma of war and the challenges of warriors coming home from the horrors of battle during the time of Odyssey…Coming Home… click here for more…

There you have it; PTSD is not new.  History shows that mankind struggled for centuries since the time of Troy from post-traumatic stress.  Tragically, mankind assimilated post-trauma conditions into society as an invisible wound and misunderstood infliction that was buried from one generation to the next.  We have been stuck with the stigma of mental health challenges for so long that eradicating the generational curse might take several generations.  My view supports vigilance and consistent awareness, especially during early childhood.  We can save lives right now by taking steps in our own communities to end mental health stigma.  Do not hesitate, start the conversation today!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2… Click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff…


Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)





About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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