Shooting Disabled Soldiers: Medicine and Photography in World War I America
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 66, Number 3, July 2011
- pp. 313-346
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This article challenges conventional theories about the role of medical photography in the early twentieth century. Some scholars argue that the camera intensified the Foucauldian medical gaze, reducing patients to mere pathologies. Others maintain that with the rise of the new modern hospital and its state-of-the-art technologies, the patient fell from view entirely, with apertures pointing toward streamlined operating rooms rather than the human subjects who would go under the knife. The Army Surgeon General’s World War I rehabilitation journal, Carry On: A Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers and Sailors, problematizes these assumptions. Hoping to persuade a skeptical public that the Army’s new programs in medical rehabilitation for disabled soldiers provided the best means of veteran welfare, the editorial officials at Carry On photographed patients fully clothed, wounds hidden, engaged in everyday activities in order to give the impression that the medical sciences of the day could cure permanent disabilities. In the end, Carry On shows us that medical doctors could, and did, use photography to conceal as well as reveal the reality faced by injured soldiers. In doing so, they (like other Progressive reformers at the time) hoped to persuade the public that rehabilitation had the power to make the wounds of war disappear.