‘They just wanted to ruin my head': Records show Army lobotomized 2,000 WW2 vets
Newly uncovered documents show the U.S. Army embraced frontal lobotomy as a way to treat at least 2,000 troops in the aftermath of World War II, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“They just wanted to ruin my head, it seemed to me,” one veteran, Roman Tritz, told the Journal. “Somebody wanted to.”
Tritz, now 90 years old, told the Journal he was forcibly lobotomized on July 1, 1953, after resisting previous attempts. Though the Department of Veterans Affairs has no record of the procedures taking place, the Journal cited government records, inter-office correspondence and letters in reporting that they took place at VA facilities around the country to treat troops who were identified as gay, along with those diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression and psychosis. The records show the bulk of the procedures were carried out between April 1947 and September 1950.
The Journal reported that VA head Frank Hines approved the use of lobotomies in July 1943, two years before he was replaced at the position by President Harry Truman. The chief proponent of the procedure — which involved driving an ice pick-like instrument through the patient’s eye socket — was neurologist Walter J. Freeman, despite objections from other VA medical professionals; one psychiatrist reportedly accused Freeman of wanting to employ lobotomies to treat “practically everything from delinquency to a pain in the neck.”
However, reports indicate Freeman being hailed as a medical trailblazer for the time as far back as 1941, describing the benefits for the patients by saying, “a world that once seemed the abode of misery, cruelty and hate is now radiant with sunshine and kindness to them.”
The department downplayed the practice in a statement to the Journal.
“In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, VA and other physicians throughout the United States and the world debated the utility of lobotomies,” the statement read. “The procedure became available to severely ill patients who had not improved with other treatments. Within a few years, the procedure disappeared within VA, and across the United States, as safer and more effective treatments were developed.”
According to the Journal, Tritz, who flew 28 combat missions as a B-17 pilot in the war’s European theater of operations, underwent 66 rounds of treatment involving alternating high-pressure sprays of hot and cold water, as well as 28 electroshock therapy sessions and was put into several temporary comas through the use of insulin over an eight-year period at the department’s hospital in Tomah, Wisconsin. Tritz sought treatment after reporting hearing voices in his head following his service.
[Image via U.S. Army]
[h/t The Army Times]