The U.S. government lobotomized roughly 2,000 mentally ill veterans — and likely hundreds more — during and after World War II, according to a cache of forgotten memos, letters and government reports unearthed by The Wall Street Journal.
“They got the notion they were going to come to give me a lobotomy,” Roman Tritz, a World War II bomber pilot, told the newspaper in a report published Wednesday. “To hell with them.”
Tritz said the orderlies at the veterans hospital pinned him to the floor, and he initially fought them off. A few weeks later, just before his 30th birthday, he was lobotomized.
Besieged by psychologically damaged troops returning from the battlefields of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific, the Veterans Administration performed the brain-altering operation on former servicemen it diagnosed as depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals, according to the report.
The VA’s use of lobotomy, in which doctors severed connections between parts of the brain then thought to control emotions, was known in medical circles in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and is occasionally cited in medical texts. But the VA’s practice, never widely publicized, long ago slipped from public view. Even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it possesses no records detailing the creation and breadth of its lobotomy program.
The Journal quoted the VA’s response to its inquiry: “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 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.”
The newspaper reported that musty files warehoused in the National Archives show VA doctors resorting to brain surgery as they struggled with a vexing question that absorbs America to this day: How best to treat the psychological crises that afflict soldiers returning from combat.
Between April 1, 1947, and Sept. 30, 1950, VA doctors lobotomized 1,464 veterans at 50 hospitals authorized to perform the surgery, according to agency documents rediscovered by the Journal. Scores of records from 22 of those hospitals list another 466 lobotomies performed outside that time period, bringing the total documented operations to 1,930.
The Lobotomy Files: Inside the Mind of Roman Tritz
Published on Dec 12, 2013
Roman Tritz was one of thousands of WWll veterans who were lobotomized by the Veterans Administration. The nation forgot, but Mr. Tritz remembers. WSJ’s Michael M. Phillips reports. See the complete project at http://WSJ.com/LobotomyFiles.
Click here to subscribe to our channel:
Visit us on Facebook:
Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WSJLive
Visit the Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com
Lobotomy – PBS documentary on Walter Freeman
Uploaded on Jan 27, 2008
The Lobotomist, Walter J. Freeman
Click the links to learn more.