Book Review: “War’s Waste”

amputees blogOn Nov. 11, while the rest of the countries involved in WWI hold Remembrance events, the United Sates celebrates Veterans Day. Sometimes there are parades or ceremonies honoring the flag; sometimes the day passes only with the banks and post office being closed and kids getting  day off school.

Caring for veterans is a serious concern for any country. Here Len Shurtleff reviews Beth Linkner’s book about the aftermath of WWI.

War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America, by Beth Linker, University of Chicago, 304 pages, photos, tables, index, ISBN 978 0 2264 8253, $35.

Review by Len Shurtleff

In post-Civil War America, veterans’ pensions were the largest line item in federal budgets, taking up some 50% of that budget by 1900. By 1915, these pensions had cost $3 billion, more than the cost of the war itself. According to Linker, this created a virtual pork-barrel welfare state for Union veterans of about $3 million annually.

These pensions and an accompanying system of national soldiers’ homes had support from the politically powerful Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans’ organization upon whose patronage Republican politicians depended for votes and campaign funding. Progressive Era reformers saw this as wasteful of public funds and a disincentive to productive work and self-improvement among veterans.

The outbreak of World War I prompted progressive reformers to apply their social gospel and work ethic ideals to veterans’ benefits in an effort to reduce the drain on the public purse. The War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 created a new board to adjudicate claims for war damage or loss that was independent from the corrupt Treasury Pension Bureau.

The system grew in complexity with America’s entry into the war in 1917, adding provisions for mandatory allotments for dependents, life and disability insurance, and mandatory restorative rehabilitation for wounded troops.

The aim became one of rehabilitation; returning wounded men to productive civilian lives, teaching them new skills if necessary and providing amputees with serviceable prostheses.

As a result of this dramatic turnaround in treatment of wounded veterans, the Army Surgeon General’s Office constructed some 149 new hospitals with 100,000 beds with ample facilities for treatment and long-term rehabilitation. Amputee veterans were looked upon not as objects of pity, but as candidates for total rehabilitation and reintegration into civilian life as productive wage earners and husbands and fathers rather than swelling the welfare rolls.

Still, this new effort saved no money. By 1920, the federal government was spending as much on World War I veterans it was on Civil War survivors, and veterans benefits still took up half the federal budget.

By 1935, New Deal recovery programs had, of course, vastly reduced this share as federal budgets expanded mightily.

This system now is a complex mix of war risk insurance, physical rehabilitation and vocational training managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The several iterations of the post-World War II GI Bill have added both benefits and costs that dwarf any previous veteran pension scheme dating back to the War of 1812.

Poppies at the Tower

Here are the photos I took at the Tower of London of the art installation “Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red.” I photographed the workers installing poppies, people watching and the spill of poppies from the Tower onto the moat.

It was very moving to walk around and overhear conversations: My granddad was in the King’s Rifles, my great-uncle was in the Navy, my grandmother always said, and more.

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Over hill, over dale 2014

Lost sonsI’m on my way to London, and then to France. I’ll see the poppies at the Tower, an amazing photo exhibition and, of course, the Great War exhibit at the Imperial War Museum.

And then I’m going back to the Front.

I’ll be blogging from my adventures on the road, so keep an eye out for my updates.

Centennial Countdown to the Great War

Battle on the Prussian-Russian border 1914/15 in present-day Lithuania. From the Flickr collection of

Battle on the Prussian-Russian border 1914/15 in present-day Lithuania. Jens-Olaf Walter photo

Are you following this blog by Dennis Cross? This is the clearest explanation of how the dominoes fell in July 1914.

http://centennialcountdown.blogspot.com

He said, then I said, then he said, then I said, etc.

Dennis tells a lot of stories that you might not have connected to the march toward war, including a famous murder trial in France that delayed the country’s attention to the approaching disaster.

Henriette Caillaux, the second wife of former French Premier Joseph Caillaux, was tried this month for the murder of Le Figaro editor Gaston Calmette following the magazine’s publication of private letters between herself and her husband written when both of them were married to others.  She claimed that she had not planned to kill Calmette, only to teach him a lesson, but had been overwhelmed by passion.  She told the court the shooting was an accident: “It is terrible how these revolvers go off when they begin shooting — one can’t stop them!”

 

No kidding, lady.

My thanks to Dennis for this blog post.

WW1HA 2013 Symposium speakers:

Martha Hanna is a history professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her book “Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War,” a collection of letters between a French soldier and his wife, has won multiple awards.

Booklist wrote: “[Paul and Marie Pireaud’s] letters are a remarkable source for observing World War I from the vantage point of the French peasantry, for analyzing the impact of the conflict on rural France, and for resurrecting the human face of war. Drawing on hundreds of letters, Hanna offers a fascinating look at one peasant couple separated and in love, compelled to carry on their marriage by correspondence. ”

Here is Hanna’s page at the WW1HA website:

http://ww1ha.org/2013symposium/martha-hanna.html

WW1HA 2013 Symposium speakers: Pierre Purseigle

Pierre Purseigle is Marie Curie Research Fellow at Yale University and an associate professor  in modern European history at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England.

He is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Lyon, France, and the University of Toulouse.

Among other publications, he is the author of “Mobilisation, Sacrifice et Citoyenneté, Angleterre – France, 1900-1918 (Mobilization, Sacrifice, Citizenship: England — France, 1900-1918),” published by Editions Les Belles Lettres. The book contains a comparative study of two medium-sized towns in England and France between 1914 and 1918.

Purseigle is a co-founder and president of the International Society for First World War Studies and Editor-in-Chief of First World War Studies.

Here’s the link to his page at the symposium:

http://ww1ha.org/2013symposium/pierre-purseigle.html

In honor of Women’s History Month

The National Women’s History Museum has an online exhibit on women’s roles during World War I. The exhibit includes a small gallery of photos of women building machine guns and so forth.

Here’s the link:

http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/progressiveera/womenworkingworldwarI.html

Here’s a collection of links:

http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/womenww1_seven.htm

And here they are, chopping down trees, among other things.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XonhwLrAUVs

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Would you have the courage to hammer on an artillery shell that way?