Aftershocks: Politics and Trauma in Britain, 1918–1931 by Susan Kingsley Kent

By Susan Kingsley Kent

Aftershocks experiences how meanings of shellshock and imagery providing the traumatized psyche as shattered contributed to Britons' understandings in their political selves within the Nineteen Twenties. It connects the strength of feelings to the political tradition of a decade which observed outstanding violence opposed to these considered as 'un-English'.

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British society as a whole constructed its coherent narrative through a variety of developments and events designed to tell a particular story of the nation, one that involved the separating out of forces to whom blame for British ills could be assigned so that safety could be established: Jews and blacks had behaved ignominiously during the war, seeking out refuge while native Britons conducted themselves with honor, and took jobs that rightfully belonged to returning soldiers; Irish and Indian nationals had betrayed the country by taking advantage of the war to advance their agendas for independence, and in the case of Ireland, the Easter Rising of 1916 had required a redeployment of troops badly needed at the front.

Britain would be “overrun with hordes” who “come in by the million;” this “tide of immigration” placed the country in “even greater danger of invasion than we were in 1914,” announced Pemberton Billing. 20 The imagery conjured up in the 1919 debate contrasted markedly with that of the debate over the Aliens bill of 1905, in which language tended to be that of a controlled flow, of precision and order, of easy containment. Britain seemed possessed of clear, solid, defined boundaries for MPs in 1905.

For many, the opportunity to contribute to national life, to work and to be well paid, was a rewarding and exhilarating experience, one that they would not easily have turned their backs on upon the conclusion of hostilities. The independence and autonomy they had found during the war could be construed as having been achieved at the expense of men, to whom they had no intention of relinquishing their freedoms. ”6 Lady Rhondda recalled that we found ourselves in an utterly changed world. Across that gulf of chaos whose memory we needed above all else to wash away, the frontiers of 1914 were already dimmed and half forgotten.

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