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Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the…
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Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I (vuoden 2005 painos)

– tekijä: Carol R Byerly (Tekijä)

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The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people in one year than the Great War killed in four, sickening at least one quarter of the world's population. In Fever of War, Carol R. Byerly uncovers the startling impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic on the American army, its medical officers, and their profession, a story which has long been silenced. Through medical officers' memoirs and diaries, official reports, scientific articles, and other original sources, Byerly tells a grave tale about the limits of modern medicine and warfare. The tragedy begins with overly confident medical officers who, armed with new knowledge and technologies of modern medicine, had an inflated sense of their ability to control disease. The conditions of trench warfare on the Western Front soon outflanked medical knowledge by creating an environment where the influenza virus could mutate to a lethal strain. This new flu virus soon left medical officers’ confidence in tatters as thousands of soldiers and trainees died under their care. They also were unable to convince the War Department to reduce the crowding of troops aboard ships and in barracks which were providing ideal environments for the epidemic to thrive. After the war, and given their helplessness to control influenza, many medical officers and military leaders began to downplay the epidemic as a significant event for the U. S. army, in effect erasing this dramatic story from the American historical memory.… (lisätietoja)
Jäsen:LSkilton
Teoksen nimi:Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I
Kirjailijat:Carol R Byerly (Tekijä)
Info:NYU Press (2005), Edition: First Edition, 251 pages
Kokoelmat:Oma kirjasto
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Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I (tekijä: Carol R. Byerly)

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From the disaster and WWI reading programs. The other books I’ve read about the 1918 influenza epidemic mention the effects of the disease on the U.S. Army; in Fever of War author Carol Byerly focuses intensely on the military experience, only mentioning civilian influenza if the troops in France wrote letters home asking about the health of the folks left behind.


United States Army medical personnel were presented with the problem of military needs – getting the maximum number of troops to France as rapidly as possible – versus troop health. Perhaps surprisingly, the Army command did accommodate the medical staff – at least to some extent; the space per soldier in barracks and on troop ships was increased, and eventually only troops that had already had influenza or at least had been exposed to it were shipped overseas. The frustration of the medical staff comes through; they didn’t really know what they were dealing with or what to do about it. The lack of any apparent progress must have been especially galling after the accolades received by Army doctors for triumphing over yellow fever in the Spanish-American War. As much as I dislike the general idea, it seems that there should have been an “influenza czar” who could gather, organize and analyze the voluminous statistics that accumulated during the course of the epidemic. As it was, each training camp and ranking medical officer seems to have formed their own opinion as to what to do – more floor space, shields between beds, don’t transport pneumonia victims, blacks are more resistant to the flu, blacks are less resistant to the flu, etc.


Byerly discusses at length what you might call the “military sociology” of the epidemic, contending that military medical staff were not considered “real” soldiers and that flu victims were not treated the same as “real” wounded or dead from combat (I have to stress that Byerly herself does not advocate these positions but argues that other soldiers and civilians felt that way). While this is a tenable argument – and possibly correct – the evidence Byerly provides is weak, consisting mostly of anecdotes from soldier’s letters and contemporary accounts. Further, it was individual soldiers with the flu that were generally doing the complaining that they “weren’t doing their part while their buddies were up at the front” (or at least these are the anecdotes Byerly finds; I wonder if there weren’t some doughboys who were quite content to lie on a hospital bed in the rear while their buddies were getting shelled. Maybe they just didn’t write about it later, and, to be fair, severe influenza was so prostrating that the victim probably didn’t have the mental capital to contemplate his condition). The official doctrine was that a soldier dead or injured in the service of the United States got the same treatment regardless of how the injuries were received, with exceptions for venereal disease, self –inflicted wounds, and injuries received while AWOL. (On a personal note, it seems that the belief that combat injuries are somehow more “honorable” carries over – Dad was offered a Purple Heart after slamming his hand in a tank destroyer hatch cover and turned it down because “it didn’t seem right”).


Byerly notes a phenomenon commented on by all the flu historians I’ve read so far – the institutional forgetting of the epidemic. Influenza caused more casualties in the AEF than combat, by a considerable margin, and the civilian US was equally affected – yet the whole thing was dropped after the War to End Wars Temporarily. In a particularly telling note, Hans Zinsser, professor at Columbia and AEF sanitary inspector, later authored the classic Rats, Lice, and History about the historic impact of epidemic disease; he devotes only a few sentences to influenza.

In their desperation to find some way to get a handle on the disease, Army doctors did a surprisingly large number of autopsies – between 80% and 90% of Army flu fatalities were necropsied. It didn’t do much good at the time; I expect each new set of lungs full of bloody foam looks a lot like the previous examples. However, sometimes the mill does grind slowly but grinds exceedingly fine. On September 26, 1918, Private Roscoe Vaughan, age 21, died of influenza in the Camp Jackson, South Carolina base hospital. Surgeon Captain K.P. Hegeforth dutifully necropsied what used to be Private Vaughan and equally dutifully preserved a slice of lung tissue in paraffin and sent it to the Army Medical Museum. Seventy-nine years later Doctor Jeffery Taubenberger and technician Ann Reid, after two years of trying, successfully genetically sequenced the Type A H1N1 influenza virus from that little bit of Private Vaughan. So here’s to you, Private Vaughan; you are just as much a hero as your buddies at Belleau Wood and the Meuse-Argonne, and I’ll raise a glass to your memory every Armistice Day.
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  setnahkt | Dec 8, 2017 |
A significant little monograph that seeks to emphasize the impact of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 on the U.S. Army, an event that the author suggests has been greatly downgraded, if only because the medical personnel of the time didn't care to truly accept the slap to their supposed scientific and social supremacy. Further, Byerly has a good argument that at least the first week of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was badly disrupted by the epidemic; enough that it suggests that a revisionist history is in order. Byerly also seeks to analyze events in terms of the gender and racial relationships of the time, which is particularly disheartening seeing as she offers strong evidence of racial scapegoating in the wake of the disaster. ( )
  Shrike58 | Apr 14, 2010 |
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The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed more people in one year than the Great War killed in four, sickening at least one quarter of the world's population. In Fever of War, Carol R. Byerly uncovers the startling impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic on the American army, its medical officers, and their profession, a story which has long been silenced. Through medical officers' memoirs and diaries, official reports, scientific articles, and other original sources, Byerly tells a grave tale about the limits of modern medicine and warfare. The tragedy begins with overly confident medical officers who, armed with new knowledge and technologies of modern medicine, had an inflated sense of their ability to control disease. The conditions of trench warfare on the Western Front soon outflanked medical knowledge by creating an environment where the influenza virus could mutate to a lethal strain. This new flu virus soon left medical officers’ confidence in tatters as thousands of soldiers and trainees died under their care. They also were unable to convince the War Department to reduce the crowding of troops aboard ships and in barracks which were providing ideal environments for the epidemic to thrive. After the war, and given their helplessness to control influenza, many medical officers and military leaders began to downplay the epidemic as a significant event for the U. S. army, in effect erasing this dramatic story from the American historical memory.

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