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April 25, 1986

Dostoevsky and the Healing Art: An Essay in Literary and Medical History

JAMA. 1986;255(16):2223-2224. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370160125040

In his book Six Armies in Normandy, John Keegan describes the exploits of SGT Harrison Summers of the First Airborne Division of the US Army. Soon after his unit had parachuted behind German lines during the Normandy invasion, it was endangered by gunfire from a cluster of stone farmhouses occupied by German troops. Accompanied by only two other men, Summers attacked them. Keegan describes the attack as follows:

Summers charged... and kicked the door open to find inside, inexplicably deaf to the fight raging around them, 15 German artillerymen seated at mess tables eating breakfast. He paused neither to reason why nor think of mercy; battle-crazed, he shot them all down in their places.

When the battle was over, Summers collapsed from exhaustion. When someone asked how he felt, he replied, "Not very good. It was kind of crazy."

If one puts aside for a moment considerations of Summers' bravery