The “Baden System” and Its Discontents: German War Neurosis in the First World War

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Columbia Hall 9 (Washington Hilton)
Juliet C. Wagner, Vanderbilt University
After two years of improvised treatments and fervent debate between the psychiatrists and neurologists employed by the German armies, the ‘Baden System’ emerged in the latter half of the First World War as the model treatment method for war neurosis in Germany, and was widely emulated. The primary treatment centre at Hornberg received so many illustrious visitors that its supervising physician, Ferdinand Kehrer, wrote irately to his superiors in Karlsruhe to complain about disruption to the ordinary functioning of the hospital. The same hospital was chosen in 1917 as the subject of National Hygiene Museum film for a travelling exhibit on working veterans. Despite its military acclaim, however, the Baden treatment method remained controversial and became the subject of heated public debate in the town of Überlingen, where the method was practiced, when reports emerged of patients being forced to complete drills in their underwear in front of female nurses, for example. Tensions ran so high that authorities considered closing the centre altogether and were only able to save the hospital by replacing the senior doctor and providing assurances to the people of Überlingen that certain policies would be altered. This case study provides a fascinating example of a military-medical debate of national significance spilling into a local, public discussion. Extensive military correspondence on this case held in the Baden archives in Karlsruhe provides insight into the decision-making process at the Baden war ministry and the battle for public opinion in the small towns where the hospitals were deliberately located. This paper argues that war neurosis treatment became a site of debate between Germans and their government on the relationship between the ordinary citizen-soldier and the state, and explores the associated role of the military psychiatrist, who mediated that conflict through his dual responsibility to his patients and the military.
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