Allan D. English | “A Predisposition to Cowardice? Aviation Psychology and the Genesis of ‘Lack of Moral Fibre'” | 1995

Sigmund Freud

“Lack of Moral Fibre” (LMF) applied to aircrew in WW2 was controversial, and the threat of being labeled LMF could inspire as much fear as operations against the enemy.

This article traces the origins of LMF from WW1 antecedents, through interwar years, into early WW2.

Bartlett, founding member in 1939 of the Flying Personnel Research Committee (FPRC) was one of Britain’s most distinguished psychologists, w/major contribution = comprehensive use of Freudian theory to explain psychological disorders of war. He stated that temperament, which he described as an “endowment,” was most important factor for individual adaptation to military. Said that “weaklings,” described as mentally unfit personnel,” should “be eliminated” from the services. He emphasized that personal will, based on temperament, allowed soldiers to combat mental illness. Read the rest of this entry »


Nafsika Thalassis | “Useless Soldiers: The Dilemma of Discharging Mentally Unfit Soldiers during the Second World War” | 2010

Intelligence test world war 1

Intelligence test administered to soldiers during WW1.

Summary. During the Second World War, an unprecedented concern with the mental fitness of troops led to new selection procedures designed to ensure that soldiers possessed a certain level of intelligence and emotional stability. Using a variety of sources, including case notes from contemporary psychiatrists, this article explores two categories of soldiers who were up for discharge: those with “low intelligence” and those with “inadequate personalities.” It suggests that many psychiatrists and combatant officers did not believe it was wise to retain the maximum number of soldiers in duty because many men were thought to be inherently incapable of becoming efficient soldiers.

Mass military deployment during 20th century brought w/it conclusion that some men were unsuitable for military service. Boer War, WW1 = men with deficient height, puny physique. After WW1, it was mental qualities that fell under particular scrutiny.

This article examines two categories of men who were discharged during the Second World War for psychological inadequacies. 1) those w/”low intelligence” 2) those w/”inadequate personalities.” People were discharged for other reasons, too. The purpose of this article is to examine these 2 categories of men, whose values as soldiers, for the first time, became questioned for the first time during WW2. Read the rest of this entry »

Matthew Hendley | “‘Help us to Secure a Strong, Healthy, Prosperous and Peaceful Britain’: The Social Arguments of the Campaign for Compulsory Military Service in Britain, 1899-1914” | 2001

William Le Quex The Invasion of 1910

Image from William Le Quex’s anti-German invasion fantasy The Invasion of 1910 (1906), a phenomenal bestseller.
“COPY OF THE ‘DAILY BULLETIN’ OF THE LEAGUE OF DEFENDERS. […] Those chosen knew that their last hour had come. Some clasped their hands and fell upon their knees, imploring pity, while others remained silent and stubborn patriots.”

Summary: The National Service League was a pressure group which argued the case for compulsory military service in Britain between 1899-1914. Initial impetus for its creation was Boer War. Concerns over British military strength, and existing schemes of recruitment, led to creation in 1902. Social arguments linking conscription to health Britain grew from fears of physical deterioration which arose from Boer War. Before 1906, National Service League pamphlets and speeches pointed to Germany as model nation combining compulsory military service with social reform. British conscription movement insisted conscription was not a departure from peaceful British traditions. Switzerland pointed to as model society.

Of all major industrialized nations of Europe before 1914, only Britain without some system of compulsory military service.

National Service League pamphlet, 1909: “Help us to secure a strong, healthy, prosperous and peaceful Britain.” Called on British citizens to join conscription movement in a wide reaching scheme which would have a variety of benefits for the nation.

This essay will examine how the conscriptionists tried to widen the scope of their appeal.


It is impossible to understand the mentality and development of the conscription movement without realizing how deeply its members were shaken by the Boer War. Read the rest of this entry »

Stephen M. Miller | “Duty or Crime? Defining Acceptable Behavior in the British Army in South Africa, 1899-1902” | 2010

Herbert Kitchener

Kitchener on horseback in The Queenslander Pictorial in 1910.

Crime committed in South Africa by British army during Anglo-Boer conflict kept hidden from public. Comments by Daily Mail’s Edgar Wallace were typical: “Whatever may be said of the Anglo-Boer War or 1899-1902, it must be confessed that never was war waged where so much humanity was displayed on both sides as in that war!” Notion reinforced three decades later, J.F.C. Fuller, The Last of the Gentleman’s Wars.

One subject that remains virtually untouched by historians of the South African War is the subject of discipline and punishment in the British army. This study shows that the army defined crime and punishment not simply to produce obedience but also to satisfy the moral conventions of Victorian society wherever it was transmitted.

Recidivism was a universal problem and drunkenness often was a gateway to more disturbing crimes. [See Alan Ramsay Skelley’s groundbreaking work in the 1970s, including The Victorian Army at Home: The Recruitment and Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859-1899. Kitchener Read the rest of this entry »

David Silbey | “Bodies and Cultures Collide: Enlistment, the Medical Exam, and the British Working Class, 1914-1916” | 2004


Article examines the military medical exam which working class volunteers underwent in the years 1914-16. The wave of enlistees at the beginning of the First World War brought the physical results of the Industrial Revolution home to doctors, the Army, and the British government in general. In a Social Darwinist age, the vision of malnourishment and physical stunting coexisted uneasily with the apparent zeal of the rush to colours of so many workers. But it was more than that. The medical exam was also an encounter for the working-class volunteers. It was, in fact, a gateway for them, in which they were measured and found either worthy of service, or wanting. Working-class volunteers fought to get into the military despite not meeting the minimal physical requirements, and Army doctors cooperated with them and even helped them subvert those physical requirements. It was thus not only a cultural confrontation for both sides, permeated by Social Darwinist attitudes that confused physical stature with moral ardor, but a moment of co-operation and negotiation between doctors and enlistees, with the careful veneer of medical science camouflaging them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Grant | “‘The Fit and Unfit’: Suitable Settlers for Britain’s Mid-Nineteenth-Century Colonial Possessions” | 2005

New Zealand Illustrated. The Story of New Zealand and Descriptions of its Cities and Towns. 1889.

New Zealand Illustrated. The Story of New Zealand and Descriptions of its Cities and Towns. 1889.

Robert Grant’s paper investigates 19th century British colonial literature urging certain British subjects to emigrate to the colonies.


1. The Colonial Condition: Arcadian or Degenerate? Discussion of what sort of person was deemed fit to go to the colonies.

2. Footsteps “Marked by a Trail of Light.” British women’s role in the colonies.

3. Landscapes of Opportunity. Imaginative, rural tropes used to entice British subjects to the colonies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Elof Axel Carlson | cont. | The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea | 2001

French convicts, late 19th century.

Degeneracy Theory: Identifying the Innately Depraved and the Victims of Vicious Upbringing. Alongside masturbation criticism was moral degeneracy discourse. 1st scholarly proposal of degeneracy: Treatise on Physical, Intellectual, and Moral Degeneration in Humans and the Conditions Producing these Detrimental States, 1857, Benedict Augustin Morel. Morel’s Theory of Degeneration. “the clearest notion we can form of degeneracy is to regard it as a morbid deviation from an original type. This deviation, even if, at the outset, it was ever so slight, contained transmissible elements of such a nature that anyone bearing in him the germs becomes more and more incapable of fulfilling his function in the world and mental progress, already checked in his own person, finds itself menaced also in his descendants.” Inferior and superior degenerates, BOTH pathological. Morel’s theory adopted by social thinkers and physicians in 2nd half 19th century. Til 1890s, near universal agreement that damaging environment leads to defective offspring.

Environmental Theories of Degeneracy. Non-biological theories of degeneracies: Jean Esquirol, insanity from social conditions; Pierre Proudhon, founder of anarchism, poverty -> stupification and criminality.

Lombroso’s Theory of Innate Criminality. Biological theory of degeneracy. Army surgeon classifying soldiers, sought affective model. Skull-type correlation, atavistic Homo delinguens, borrowing from Darwin Descent of Man 1871. 1876 L’uomo dilenquent. Subtypes = “epileptoid” who are like epileptics, “mattoid” who are mentally imbalanced but functional and hide their pathology. Genius as a Pathology. Lombroso investigated “man of genius.” Epileptoid – Caesar, St. Paul, Mohammed, Petrarch, Swift, Peter the Great, Richelieu, Napoleon, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. “Vertigo” – Marlborough, Faraday, Dickens. Very popular. Latter 19th century critics disputed: criminals were products of environments.

Nordau’s Theory of Degeneracy and Culture. Born Budapest, moved to Paris, physician, cultural critic. Conventional Lies of Our Civilization, 1884. Modeled on Morel and Lombroso, Degeneration 1895. Specified “pseudogeniuses,” writers of degenerate works [How could the WORKS be degenerate? How does he move from degenerate authors to degenerate WORKS?] – Ibsen, Nietzche, Wagner, Rodin, Verlaine, Mallarme. Like Morel, Nordau believed degeneracy worsened / generally was self-eliminating.

Zola’s Theory of Familial Degeneracy. 20 novels re degenerate families.

Degeneracy and Social Class. By beginning 20th century, consensus that unfit = products of environment that BROUGHT ABOUT hereditary degeneracy. 3 social classes were products of generations of neglect and abuse – tramps, paupers, criminals. 2 types could appear as degenerate offshoots anytime – feebleminded, insane. Consensus text, Dr. G. Frank Lydston, Diseases of Society and Degeneracy (1905), identified 20 causes of degeneracy, including alcohol: heredity and habit, defective physique, neglect of children, acquired diseases, brain injuries, alcohol, herding of criminals resulting in vicious examples to the naive, defective moral training, lack of education, unjust dispensation of laws, marriage among criminals, menopause, sexual perversions, anarchy, poverty, idleness, gambling, high cost of living, the stress of urban living, and the immigration of the ‘criminal refuse of the old world.'”