Chapter five of The Wretched of the Earth, titled “Colonial War and Mental Disorder” is an investigation into the negative psychological effects of the Algerian war on both the natives and the French forces engaged in the colonial war. In this chapter, Franz Fanon bares his mind about his personal experiences with mentally disturbed patients during the Algerian war. He describes the kind of mental illnesses suffered by various patients and how they were cured, through certain psychiatric procedures. In line with the essence of writing therapy (see Beth Carol Boone 2006), Fanon’s work could also be viewed as a way of relieving himself of secondary posttraumatic stress caused by the Angolan war.
In four series, Fanon investigates cases of mental disorders occasioned by the Algerian war. As Fanon bares his mind, we discover that apart from death casualties, one very sad repercussion of the war is its infliction of mental pathology. Fanon describes the war as a total war which became a favourable breeding ground for mental disorders (251). He depicts how torture and oppression upsets, most profoundly, the personality of the victims.
The procedure which Fanon adopts in the treatment of these patients is worthy of note. In chapter five of the book Fanon describes this procedure as a kind of reconstruction of the victims’ story. This procedure is similar to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, a treatment whereby the neurotic or psychotic patient is allowed to speak freely about his/her repressed traumatic experiences; and by so doing, the patient is healed.
In series A, Fanon investigates five cases of Algerians and Europeans whose mental disorders are classified as reactionary psychosis. In one of the cases, a man suffers from headache, depression, fits of absence of mind, sleeplessness and loss of appetite due to the psychological effect of discovering that his wife was raped by the French forces. Freud’s notion of repression provides insight into the causes of the patient’s neurosis, for as Fanon explains, the Algerian misfortune and dignity as an injured soldier remained in the background after his wife informed him that she was raped by a French soldier (256).
Case 3 of this same series A is a case of what Fanon describes as marked anxiety psychosis of the depersonalization type after the murder of a woman while temporarily insane. This is a case of a nineteen year old Algerian soldier who suffered from insomnia and attempted to commit suicide. He was tormented in his sleep by a woman he killed. Fanon documents the healing of this patient via dream analysis from which it was discovered that the woman in the patient’s dream is a symbolic representation of the one killed by the neurotic patient. Although his oneiroid symptoms were healed, a serious deficiency remained in his personality.
In series B, Fanon continues to bare his mind about how the total atmosphere of war inflicts mental diseases on people. In case one of this series, Fanon investigates the crime two Algerian teenagers who murdered their European playmate. In the second case, Fanon reconstructs the dramatic history of a twenty-two year old girl who suffered from accusatory delirium. The third case is the neurotic attitude of a Frenchwoman whose father was killed in an ambush. When her story is reconstructed, it is discovered that when she went home to spend the weekends, she heard screams from the unused rooms of the house Algerian were being tortured by her father in order to obtain information. When her father finally died in an ambush, she had some psychological trauma.
In series C Fanon concentrates on patients in a fairly serious condition whose disorders appeared immediately after or during the tortures. Fanon considers atrocious some of the torture methods used in getting prisoners to talk. They include injection of water by the mouth accompanied by an enema of soapy water given at high pressure, Introduction of a bottle into the anus, tortures by electricity, etc. The results of these include loss of appetite arising from mental causes, agitated nervous depression, and motor instability, electricity phobia.
Another method used in case category 4 is termed “brainwashing”. Some of the psychological problems associated with after brainwashing for intellectuals include phobia of a collective discussion and the impossibility of explaining and defending any given position. In this same method, non-intellectuals are required to declare for hours on end that they do not belong to the FLN. They are also brainwashed to recognize that they were once in the FLN and that they have come to realize that it was a bad thing. Thus, down with the FLN (289). According to Fanon, after this stage, the Algerian is made to proclaim that “the future of Algeria is French; it can be nothing other than French….Without France, Algeria will go back to the Middle Ages” (289).
Series D concentrates on psychosomatic disorders as a result of the war. According to Fanon, psychosomatic disorder refers to the general body of organic disorders, the development of which is favored by a conflicting situation (290). This comes with the following symptoms: stomach ulcer, menstruation trouble in women, sleeplessness caused by idiopathic tremours, hair turning white early, etc. Furthermore, Fanon considers theories postulated by some doctors and psychiatrics in favour of the inborn criminality, extremism and aggressiveness of the Algerian. However, Fanon counters such theories, remarking that the Algerian’s criminality, his impulsivity, and the violence of his murders are therefore not the consequence of the organization of his nervous system or the hereditary character of the Algerian, but the direct product of the colonial situation (309).
Frantz Fanon opines that Africans have the responsibility of fighting against colonial oppression, as total liberation is that which concerns all sectors of the personality. Fanon’s response to his countrymen is that they must be prudent and resolute in the light of the prospects of their nation. But his disposition toward the colonisers/Europe is that of disdain and cynicism because he considers them to have stifled humanity in the name of colonialism. He is of the opinion that rather than adopt Europe as the blueprint for Algerian, nay, African development, his fellow comrades should be creative in finding the peculiarity of their own style of development. Fanon concludes by saying that independence is not a word which can be used as an exorcism, but an indispensable condition for the existence of men and women who are truly liberated …who are truly masters of all the material means which make possible the radical transformation of society.
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