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Disabled veterans, the state, and the experience of disability in Western societies, 1914-1950.

Social scientists and historians have found it difficult to conceptualize the processes of identity and group formation among disabled veterans of military service. The inadequacy of their analysis is rooted in an inability to make sense of the disabled veteran's history, social position, and representation in culture and discourse. This inadequacy manifests itself in at least two particularly important ways. First, in contrast to the experience of disability among the civilian disabled, at least until recent decades, the disabled veteran's experience of post-disability social integration has been a collective one that is intensely shared with his cohort of conscripted and professional military personnel. The meanings of this collective orientation have not been seriously explored. Second, problems with the conceptualization of the disabled veteran result from an inability to come to terms with his relationship, both as an individual and particularly as a member of veterans organizations, to the state. Increa singly since the nineteenth century, the state has undertaken to provide all veterans, but especially disabled veterans, with generous pensions and a vast array of medical, rehabilitation and reintegration services. It has done so with an understanding that profoundly valorizes the disabled veteran's status, for these benefits came to be conceived as a right, not a privilege, or charity, or "welfare," as that word is used pejoratively in the contemporary United States to reference public assistance grudgingly provided those considered the unworthy poor. Indeed in the twentieth century, veterans, and especially disabled veterans, whose numbers greatly increased because of a combination of the lethal violence of modem warfare and the progress of military and civilian medicine in saving lives, became both a project of the modem Western welfare state and pioneers on the frontiers of social welfare policy. Their public provisioning not only was more generous than that available to the civilian and general veterans populations, but also prefigured some programs and benefits that would become available to both the general veteran and the civilian populations at later dates, as Western welfare states expanded the scope and scale of their obligations. (1)

How this broadly ramifying relationship to the state is understood significantly influences, in turn, the understanding of the rise of group identities and group formation, including the creation of formal organizations, among disabled veterans. The goal of this article is to analyze these relationships among group, identity, and the state in the case of disabled veterans. In doing so, it challenges the view of disabled veterans prevailing in social welfare policy history, and instead advances a view of that history that is centered as much on the individual and especially the peer group experience of disability as on the state as a provider of pensions and services to disabled veterans. In making its case, the article draws on comparisons and contrasts between disabled and able-bodied veterans and between disabled civilians and disabled veterans.

Perspectives of Social Welfare Policy History

The disabled veteran's experience of disability is collective, because it has been rooted in cycles of public processes and events that provide a context for identity and group formation and formal organization on the part of the cohorts of the population that experience disability in consequence of military service. These cycles repeat themselves on a significant scale with each war through which a modern Western nation and its people pass. There have been three sources of this development: an epic historical event with significant individual and social meanings (participation and injury or illness in a war in specific historical, cultural, and political contexts); an interaction with government (as a provider of services, material benefits and symbolic recognitions); and medical treatment, rehabilitation, and social reintegration as a disabled individual. These three sources of the history of disabled veterans do all have in common a relationship to the state, for it is the state that has made war, put men in uniform and sent them into battle, provided them with all of the services that care for them when injured and ill, and assisted them in their return to civilian life. The scope of the state's presence in the lives of these veterans has led the German historian Michael Geyer to observe that the social identity of the disabled veteran has been above all else a product of interactions with the state. This argument contends that veterans organizations have primarily been created in order to make demands on the state for enhanced benefits, services, and recognitions. In the struggle for state recognition and state benefits through veterans organizations, therefore, disabled veterans evolve from unorganized cohort to formal group, and take on a unique social identity. Without the state and its generous material and symbolic pro-veteran policies, veterans would not be a social group, let alone a political category. So often are veterans and especially disabled veterans written about from the standpoint of their r elationship to the state by such social welfare policy and disability analysts and historians as Claire Laichowitz, Deborah Stone, and Theda Skocpol that, even when they do not go as far as Geyer, the cumulative effect is to produce the viewpoint that the state and the veteran have been inseparable. Hence, it is not the veteran's agency in confronting his new situation as a disabled man, but exclusively the state's reorganization of his life as soldier, citizen, patient, client, and civilian that has given birth to his post-military experience. (2) In this instance, the effect of "letting the state back in" in our efforts to analyze the rise and development of social policy has been that its increasing conceptual hegemony threatens to overwhelm other ways of understanding.

In spite of the apparent centrality of the state in this history, the social welfare policy history perspective, whether in its explicit or latent forms, is easily exaggerated. While it is true that veterans organizations have maintained active, and in Western democracies often quite effective, lobbies in behalf of their members' desires for expanded benefits and recognitions, state provision of such collective goods has not discriminated in rewarding them between members and non-members of veterans organizations. If receiving such benefits, and in the process becoming a long-term client of the state, were really the principal goal of the individual veteran in joining veterans organizations, as opposed to a major goal of the national leaders of his organizations in their efforts to serve constituent needs and to obtain positive public impressions of their organizations, why belong to an organization ana pay dues? After all, belonged to individuals by virtue of citizenship and categorical qualification. It is an obvious point, but it needs repeating, especially in the case of disabled veterans who have been very much neglected by historians: other needs--ideological, social, recreational, commemorative, and solidaristic--beyond benefits, must be present among veterans that have lead them to join veterans organizations. (3)

That, however, is not the only difficulty with the social welfare policy history perspective, for it also fails to account for the extent to which the state is a problem for disabled veterans as well as a resource. As this article eventually illustrates through case-studies of both spinal cord-injured Canadian veterans and blinded American veterans of World War II, veterans organizations have also existed to counter the role of the state in the lives of disabled men. While state assistance has been understood as necessary to recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration, it has also been conceived as inimical to the independence and self-confidence, and hence the manhood, of the disabled man. The disabled veteran's perception of the highly problematic role of a grateful and generous public and of twentieth century welfare states in feminizing the disabled veteran by rendering him passive and dependent, has never been recognized in the social welfare policy history literature. This has been true for two related reasons. First, that literature never developed an analysis of the individual disabled veterans viewpoint on his needs as a disabled man, as opposed to the public articulations of the lobbying-oriented leadership of large national veterans organizations, which have been focused on benefits, services, and recognitions. Second, in limiting its conception of the disabled veteran to client of the welfare state, this literature has failed to analyze the experience of disability. Without that framework for analysis, it does not occur to social welfare specialists to problematize such subtle aspects of that experience as the highly gendered anxieties of disabled men, which would require a close attention both to the language of the discourses in which disabled veterans participate and to the activities of the smaller, less known organizations that only represent men with specific and especially serious and life-transforming disabilities. Only by shifting the perspective toward the experience of disability may we un derstand the nature of the veteran's own agency in attempting to shape his relations to the state around his own conception of his needs and aspirations. What we see when we do shift our focus is that disabled veterans have formed ideologies of disability emphasizing the pursuit of both remasculinization and practice of solidarity, self-help, independent orientation and mobility. While recognizing the necessity of state assistance as the source of significant resources, these ideologies have been united in contending that it was essential for the normalization of disabled veterans that they direct the pursuit of these goals themselves.

Patterns of Organization among Disabled Veterans

It is not difficult to document the full range of activities of veterans organizations, for in the twentieth century in Western societies they have been among the most visible of public organizations. Their role in lobbying governments; participating in commemoration parades and ceremonies; sponsoring social activities; maintaining local clubhouses or "posts" for parties, card-playing, and social drinking; and holding meetings and conventions is well-understood. (4) For our purposes, however, the matter becomes more complex. In order to understand why disabled veterans create and join such organizations, we must understand the multiple affiliations of disabled veterans, who have often belonged simultaneously to the general veterans organizations, which are comprised largely of able-bodied men, and to the organizations comprised solely of disabled veterans. The necessity of such accounting seems, in fact, to be overdetermined in the case of disabled veterans, for there is evidence that indicates that they hav e been more likely than their able-bodied comrades to be joiners of veterans organizations. (5) Prost's massive study of French post-World War I organizations composed of both disabled and able-bodied veterans, for example, reveals that in both the leadership and the rank and file of these organizations, disabled veterans (and especially the more seriously disabled) were represented in greater numbers than in their proportion of the total veterans population. Why this should be so has never been explained by Prost or anyone else. It seems likely, however, both that many disabled veterans have possessed a greater psychological investment in keeping alive public awareness of the war experience, and that affiliation has assisted not only in this, but also in overcoming the social isolation that those with disabilities frequently experience.

The pattern of organizational affiliations of disabled veterans emerged in the wake of World War I, alongside the dramatic expansion of their numbers. There are three types of organizations to which disabled veterans belonged in the twentieth century: mixed, compromised of both able-bodied and disabled veterans; composite, compromised of veterans with different disabilities; and single-population, comprised of veterans sharing the same injury or illness. To understand the nature of each type of organization is to understand various aspects of the disabled veteran's history. But the last of the three types of organization requires the most extensive treatment, because, though these organizations have been small in their total membership, they have combined in one organization the most complete synthesis of disabled veterans' self-understandings, group identities, and group aspirations.

Mixed organizations, such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the United States, the Great War Veterans Association in Canada, the Canadian Legion, and the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia, often began their existence dedicated primarily to aiding disabled veterans. But they also sought to create one large organization of all veterans, both able-bodied and disabled, to preserve the solidarity and comradery of the military experience and to attain strength in numbers in dealing with the state. In addition, in the case of German, Austrian, and French organizations, mixed organizations were also defined ideologically, along the conventional Right-Left continuum. In attempting to maintain a broad solidarity of both able-bodied and disabled veterans, mixed organizations did not necessarily lose sight of their early goals, but they had to take an interest in meeting the various goals of the able-bodied majority. This might create a tension over priorities, and thus form part of the context in which disabled veterans came to understand the need for composite and single-population organizations. Nonetheless, the prestige and the comprehensive social and recreational functions of these organizations made them attractive and encouraged multiple memberships. The large organizations, organized federal-style from the small town or urban neighborhood club up to the national office and the annual national convention, often contained a critical mass of individuals at the local level that made an active social and recreational program possible. The same could not always be said of organizations composed solely of disabled veterans and especially organizations of veterans with single disabilities, who were randomly placed throughout the population and whose numbers have been considerably smaller. Disabled veterans organizations were not always able by themselves to maintain a local presence, let alone a local social-recreational calendar. (6)

Composite organizations arose in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy after both World Wars. Those for which we have membership data range in size from the relatively small Disabled American Veterans, which had no more than 25,000 of the approximately 350,000 American veterans receiving disability pensions in the interwar period, to the massive French and German organizations. The largest French organization, the Unione Federale, had 345,000 members in 1926, while the largest German organization, the Reichsbund, which was affiliated with the Social Democratic Party, had 640,000 members in 1921. In that year, organizations of German war victims had 1.4 million members, but not all of them were military veterans. The German and Austrian pattern of affiliation in these organizations was singular in combining civilians injured in war, the widows and children of those men who died in uniform, and disabled veterans. The creation of composite organizations was based on the pe rception that disabled veterans, across the lines of particular illnesses and injuries, could not be adequately represented in mixed organizations, or at the least, would be more effective in meeting their own needs and achieving solidarity and power on the basis of their own numbers. This did not always mean complete independence, however: in Britain, the Disabled Society, though autonomous in advancing its own programs and activities, remained a part of the British Legion. In the case of the post-World War I Italian organization, the Associazione Nazionale degli Invalide della Guerra, this impulse was reinforced by the preexisting social solidarity of the founders, all of whom shared not only the experiences of war, injury or illness, hospitalization, and rehabilitation, but also elite social background and officer rank. (7)

The desire for organization across the lines of particular sources of disability did not always lead to the emergence of one national organization, such as the Disabled American Veterans. For example, France after World War I and both Canada and Australia after World War II had large and competing national organizations of disabled veterans that would not surrender their autonomy. The maintenance of autonomy in several of the largest of these French organization was underscored by their growth out of independent local and regional associations during and just after the war, but also was a consequence of ideological divisions. Ideological divisions also caused the emergence of parallel and competing organizations in Germany and in Austria. (8)

Single-population organizations were never large in size, but they were a frequent feature of the lives of disabled veterans in the early and mid-twentieth century. Some had difficulty attaining enough stability to endure over a few decades, and disappeared, or, as in Canada in the interwar period, were absorbed by larger, more powerful organizations like the mixed Canadian Legion. As a consequence of aggressive recruitment, and in some cases changing their membership criteria (especially acceptance of veterans disabled after leaving the service, or, much less often, acceptance of disabled civilians), a few were able to achieve permanence, though they might be transformed in character in the process. Organizations are known to have existed of amputees and of blind, tubercular, hearing impaired, facially disfigured, spinal cord-injured, and brain-injured veterans in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Australian in the twentieth century, though no nation had organizations in all of these categories. (9) Depending on the seriousness of the injury or illness leading to disability, the emergence of such organizations might be dependent on the progress of medical knowledge and hospital practice. Spinal cord-injured veterans are the outstanding example. Prior to World War II, there is no evidence of organizations formed among these veterans. Their mortality rates wi thin the first year of injury were very high, because there was no effective way to counter the infections of the bladder or of the lungs to which they were prone. After the introduction of antibiotics during World War II, however, the numbers of long-term survivors increased significantly, and we see the appearance of organizations such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America in the United States and the Canadian Paraplegics Association (CPA). (10)

The small number of men involved in such organizations remains nonetheless a reflection of the seriousness of the initial injuries wounded men sustained. Even among major belligerents, such as Germany in World War I and the United States in World War II, the blinded veterans organizations contained no more than several thousand men. It was not that blinded veterans were less likely to be joiners. The opposite, in fact, seems to be the case. Within a few years of its founding in 1945, the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) in the United States claimed the membership of 850 (60%) of the war's 1400 sight-impaired veterans. The German Bund Erblindeter Krieger actually claimed membership, in 1921, of 2521 (99%) of the 2547 German men in uniform blinded in the war. It is instead that combat injuries causing blindness are head wounds, and are as likely to lead quickly to death as to long-term impairment. (11)

Adjustment and Reintegration Problems

The felt-necessity for the existence of the single-population disabled veterans organization is a reflection of the difficulties posed by the impairments they represented. In contrast to a wound that continues to bring some pain episodically long after it has healed, or produces, say, a permanent limp, conditions such as blindness or paralysis necessarily involve a comprehensive, and to some extent continuous, life-adjustment, especially when experienced in adulthood after a lifetime of able-bodied activity. In the case, for example, of tuberculosis, which was a major source of illness and disability during World War I due to the wet, cold weather and trench warfare on the Western Front, men faced both a protracted period of isolation and hospitalization, at the time their comrades were being rapidly demobilized, and a very real possibility of further deterioration of their condition. A thousand (12%) of the 8,571 tubercular Canadian veterans of World War I died in the first two years after the war. (12) Beca use of the depth and range of physical and psychological challenges the blinded face, it is not unexpected that blinded veterans argued that for solidarity's sake they needed their own organizations. But they went further in defending this decision, for they claimed that the able-bodied organizations and even the organizations of those with different disabilities could not understand the numerous, painful adjustments they faced. As one of the original members of the BVA stated, "We were out there with our 'lights out,' and the other organizations just couldn't understand." (13)

Solidarity, however, was not based on impairment as such, but on the experience of impairment. These veterans had an intensely communal experience from the beginning of their lives as disabled men. They had already shared the experience of a generation, living in its own historical time with a certain degree of the usual generational self-consciousness already enhanced by military service and war, when an injury or illness placed them a common situation of dependency and treatment. For purposes of efficiency in treatment and the psychological comfort of the patient, military medicine developed the practice of separating seriously ill or injured men by their specific conditions as soon after field treatment as possible. As James Jones observed in Whistle, an autobiographically inspired novel about World War 11 injured soldiers, alongside the combat unit, military hospitals and rehabilitation facilities have been a locus classicus of the disabled veteran's identity. In them, cohorts began a transformation into self-conscious groups, and men developed intense personal relations and mutual identifications on the basis of which ultimately were created formal organizations to advance their various interests. (14)

From the intense, informal conversations among men sharing these facilities came collective understandings of the problems that must be faced and the opportunities that must be created by and for them, if they were to have the normalized lives to which the majority seems to have aspired. But they also had to reach their own conclusions about what it was to which they actually aspired when they thought of a normalized life, for serious impairments formed boundaries around their possibilities.

In these efforts at group and identity formation most twentieth century disabled veterans had few resources within their own experiences to serve as useful guides. The representation of the disabled has historically been heavily stereotyped with aversive images that evoke pity and fear. The confinement and segregation of many of the civilian disabled in institutions or as shut-ins cared for by their families deprived able-bodied people of practical knowledge about living with a disability. Thus, for example, the American World War II blinded veterans' only initial reference point for thinking about their condition was the pathetic, dependent, helpless individual--the denizen of sheltered workshops or the street beggar--they believed blind people must inevitably be. (15)

While much depended on the knowledge, training, and sensitivity of the individual physician, medicalized discourse on disability in the period of the two World Wars often proved to be impersonal and abstracted, and had little to contribute to an understanding of what, from a psychological, social, economic, or interpersonal perspective, lay in the future for a severely disabled man. Of necessity, doctors dwelled on physical trauma. Most did not feel themselves competent to address the mind, and in the end, they were left seeming to reduce the individual to a defect. Some blinded veterans recall that doctors did little more than bluntly inform them of the finality of their condition, and ask them if they had any questions. The Section on "Psychology" occupied but one of forty pages that comprised the U.S. Veterans Administration's 1948, state-of-the-art research report on spinal cord-injury written for doctors; and less than a page, all of it physiological in orientation, was devoted to the implications of spi nal cord-injury for men's sexuality. (16)

The psychological counseling for recently physically disabled adults that came to be taken for granted in the late twentieth century did not begin to exist inmost armed forces until World War II. During World War I, for example, the Germans were acknowledged to have gone the furthest in confronting the psychology of the seriously disabled man. Guided by Dr. Konrad Biesalski, an eminent orthopedist who led German's rehabilitation efforts during the war, German doctors and rehabilitation specialists proclaimed five principles of normalization, thought highly progressive at the time. The one most directly relevant to engaging the psyche of the individual disabled man was, in Biesalski's words, the hopeful, "When we muster the iron will to overcome it, the era of cripples will finally be behind us." (17) Psychological services emerged only gradually and unevenly from nation to nation, so that the late twentieth century Russian Afganstsy, veterans of the disastrous war in Afghanistan, and their advocates could be heard complaining in the 1990s about the lack of psychological counseling facilities, as well as adequate physical rehabilitation programs, for disabled veterans. (18)

What came closest to systematic psychological counseling for seriously disabled men in most Western armed forces until the late twentieth century was the occasional overworked professional psychologist, with an enormous caseload and competing obligations. More common perhaps was the use of nonprofessionals, who were often assigned to individuals and trained to speak with them about their condition and give practical assistance with their daily needs during the earliest post-injury phase. Typically, visiting disabled civilians and disabled veterans of earlier wars were employed as, in the World War I American usage, "cheer-up men." Initiated on the Western front, the employment of cheer-up men, with their stories of overcoming physical impairment, was intended to illustrate the possibility of normalization. (19) The dependence on inspirational stories, whether in person, print or film, was the principal method by which military, medical and rehabilitation authorities sought to create a positive frame-of-mind a mong disabled military personnel through the two World Wars. The introduction early in a man's rehabilitation of assistive devices, such as the braille watch that cheer-up visitors from the American Foundation for the Blind distributed among blinded American servicemen, who were able instantly to recover their time-orientation, also was intended to serve the same psychological purpose. Beyond these utilitarian interventions, men were often on their own. (20)

To be sure, physical rehabilitation, which military forces did with considerable and increasing success from World War I on, is itself a psychologically therapeutic exercise. A bilateral amputee such as Harold Russell, whose hands were blown off in a training accident in 1944, and whose new prosthetic hooks allowed him to shave and to hold a cup of hot coffee for the first time since his injury, might take hope from regaining some of what seemed forever lost as a result of his injury. But, as Russell himself was only too well aware, there is a vast gulf between taking heart in small, incremental gains toward self-sufficiency and the return to civilian life, as a self-supporting and normally functioning adult. (21)

The peer group and the organizations that grew out of it played a much larger role in psychologically advancing many men toward that goal than did the state institutions which superintended medical recovery and physical rehabilitation. Men recalling the liminal period of rehabilitation, between hospitalization and civilian life, have testified to their dependence on mutual counsel in dealing with a wide variety of practical, crucial challenges: establishing new relations with parents, wives, children, and girlfriends; learning to live with staring and other types of unwanted attention from an insensitive, able-bodied public in initial forays into the civilian world; confronting fears about sexual intimacy; learning to use prosthetics and assistive devices; defeating environmental obstacles; framing realistic employment aspirations; and above all perhaps, avoiding the roleless, self-pitying, and anger-filled life that led frequently to abuse of alcohol, probably the most common maladjustment of disabled vetera ns throughout history. (22)

Case-studies: The Blinded Veterans Association and the Canadian Paraplegic Association

Adjusted for differences in impairments, most organizations of disabled veterans in the twentieth century came increasingly to have ideologies based on normalizing values and aspirations that emphasized self-help and sought to contain the role of the state in the veteran's post-rehabilitation life. We need to note, however, that the most public, programmatic goals did not always seem explicitly to reflect such orientations. Because of the precarious condition of capitalist economies and states in the early 1920s and throughout the 1930s, pension issues exerted a powerful hold on disabled veterans' public activity in the interwar period. In contrast, in the midst of the rapid economic expansion of world capitalist and, though on a reduced scale, state socialist economies after World War II, the focus of public activities shifted away from the struggle for adequate pensions and benefits, which were generally achieved, toward public programs that furthered self-help and normalization. The impression we are led t o have is that this emphasis on normalization is a post-World War IL phenomenon, but the same language that expresses it may be found in the interwar period.

Examples of the various processes that form the history of disabled veterans may be found in the well-documented experiences of spinal cord-injured Canadian and blinded American veterans of World War II. The central rehabilitation facility for blinded American Army and Air Force troops was maintained in a former private school at Avon, Connecticut during 1944-1947, and blinded veterans from two (Menlo Park, California and Phoenixville, Pennsylvania) of the three military hospitals that served the blinded were brought here for orientation, mobility and vocational training after completing medical treatment. Nine hundred (64%) of the World War II blinded American veterans were rehabilitated here. From within this cohort, the BVA was founded at Avon in March, 1945 at a meeting of approximately 100 of these veterans. (23) Spinal cord-injured Canadians were first gathered at a military hospital at Basingstoke in England, and then removed, beginning in 1944, to the Canadian armed forces Christie Street Hospital in Toronto, from which they later were sent to rehabilitation facilities in Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia, and in Toronto, beginning in January 1945, at Lyndhurst Lodge. From within this cohort, the Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) was founded by seven veterans at Lyndhurst Lodge in May, 1945. (24)

The ideology and practical activities of organizations such as the BVA and the CPA grew out of a synthesis of what were at first ad hoc, proactive responses by individuals and informal networks of men within the disabled cohort. These ideologies of disability have frequently been expressed in heavily gendered language, in terms of the restoration of masculine identity. This goal was neatly summarized by the first Ceneral Secretary of the post-World War I, Italian Associazione Nazionale degli Invalide della Guerre in speaking of the goal of the members of his organization: "to regain the strength and will to be real men, useful to ourselves and our families." (25) "A BVA publication put its member's goals even more simply: "to be men again." (26) Russell Williams, one of the founders of the BVA and, after appointment in 1948, the first director of the U.S. Veterans Administration blind rehabilitation program, sought to define this remasculinizing ethic. He used the concept "respectability" in laying out those elements of the ideal blinded veteran's character that would reestablish him as, in Williams' formulation, a "man among men." For Williams, who established one of the world's first comprehensive program of blind mobility training based on white cane technique at the Hines, Illinois Veterans Administration Hospital, respectability meant refusing to surrender to self-pity or to accept pity from others; rejection of helplessness, particularly in the form of excessive dependence on others (especially female caregivers) for assistance with mobility; maintaining solidarity with other blinded veterans; and finding regular employment in the mainstream economy. (27) The greatest source of ambivalence in such ideologies would lie in the response to the question of relations with the state. State assistance was conceived as an earned entitlement essential for the maintenance of individual dignity, but the dangers of the development of neurotic dependence on that assistance were also well understood.

The politics of the BVA and CPA--their goals for and activities that furthered their agency in structuring a relationship to state and to society-grew directly out of these ideologies of disability conceived within the local context of the rehabilitation facility and the societal context of the nation-state and its political economy. The analysis of that politics reveals the agency of these blinded and paralyzed veterans in fashioning relations with the state that fused a recognition of the need for state assistance with a frequently repeated desire for self-sufficiency. The practice of self-sufficiency, moreover, grew alongside the practice of this politics, as individual disabled veterans developed use of compensatory technologies and techniques for achieving practical independence.

In the case of the CPA, its creation followed several years of experimentation with various means for facilitating mobility by Lt. John Counsell. A combat-injured paraplegic, Counsell refused to accept the regime of invalidism that was still the prescribed way of regarding the possibilities for the growing number of healthy, post-hospital spinal cord-injured veterans in Canada and among the major belligerents during World War II. On his own, using personal resources, Counsell ultimately brought together the light-weight, self-propelling, and folding Everest and Jennings wheelchair, which was a marked departure from the conventional chair that was either pushed from behind by a third party or, if self-propelling, heavy and cumbersome, with a hand-controlled automobile. He negotiated Toronto traffic on his own, while doing his visiting and shopping. Counsell, who enjoyed important social connections as a consequence of his own elite family background and had the support of several influential doctors involved i n spinal cord-injury care in Toronto, then individually lobbied the Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs to make the Everest and Jennings available to all paralyzed veterans. He was at first turned down on the basis of the costs involved, but officials relented in February, 1945. Over 200 men, a large majority of the Canadian spinal cord-injured veterans (most of them CPA members), were soon using the chairs as vehicles for independent mobility. Increasingly they came to understand that the rapid normalization to which they aspired depended not on the painful and frustrating effort to simulate walking, with the use of crutches and heavy metal braces, but on developing the upper body strength to use a self-propelling wheelchair. (28)

Founded by Counsell and other paralyzed veterans being rehabilitated at Lyndhurst Lodge soon after he had succeeded in changing the minds of Canadian officials, the CPA reflected the enhanced possibilities for normalization that this progress in independent mobility represented. Though these men certainly did not refuse pensions, their politics did not dwell on pension rates, which were generous, anyway. The CPA struggled with the Canadian government to make sure that men did not have pension benefits cut as they were successfully rehabilitated and became employed. But the CPA'S most avidly pursued goals reflected a program of individual reentry into the community through the use of the tools of independent mobility and the pursuit of an active life. Thus, the CPA sought government assistance for making hand-controlled automobiles available to spinal cord-injured veterans and for adapting their homes with such facilities as ramps to facilitate mobility. (Within a few years of its founding, it would call for m aking available for spinal cord-injured civilians, whom it would also invite to join the CPA, the same subsidized assistive technology and government rehabilitation facilities.) In keeping with the masculine ethic that rejected dependence, the CPA opposed sheltered workshops, both public and private, and developed its own program, in cooperation with Canadian corporations, of job counseling and placement in the mainstream economy. Its emphasis was on individual men pursuing the existing opportunities for entering the mainstream. It did not call for legislation to create accessible public environments and workplaces. Once assisted to travel independently using subsidized technologies, paralyzed veterans were invited to compete with able-bodied workers on the majority's terms. Though this no doubt made profound emotional and physical demands on individuals, studies done during the decade after 1945 found that, under a variety of circumstances, from 60% to 90% of Canadian paralyzed veterans were employed at one time or another. They were also invited to pursue recreation just as actively. Sitting may be conceived as synonymous with inactivity, and hence feminizing, but the organization's magazine Caliper routinely contained feature stories on members who from their wheelchairs hunted, fished, sailed, and piloted their own planes. (29)

The BVA's program also combined self-help, independent mobility, and public support, but it began with a pronounced emphasis on the necessity for a tightly bonded solidarity among all blinded veterans that was often expressed in quasimilitary, highly gendered language. This credo reflected the belief of its members that the powerful challenge of blindness incurred in adulthood did not allow them to be divided by all of the diverse political and cultural identifications and prejudices that normally divided Americans. The concentration of all Army and Air Force blinded veterans, whatever their backgrounds, at the Avon facility forced these men to negotiate the racial, religious, and ethnic prejudices and partisan differences that characterized their society in their own ranks, while they were being rehabilitated. These negotiations informed their new organization's program. In contrast to the larger veterans organizations, including the Disabled American Veterans, the leadership of which feared dividing their m embership over social issues, and thus sacrificing political effectiveness, the BVA took strong stands against racism and antisemitism from the beginning of its existence; integrated the leadership and rank and file of its national office and state and local chapters by race, religion, and ethnicity; and voiced strong support for civil rights legislation to further African American equality. (30)

The BVA's formulation of aggressive normalization involved the commitment to separate blinded veterans from the fate of the civilian blind, as the veterans understood it, and to avoid the dependence on the state or any other institution that sapped individual initiative. The BVA also represented men in struggles with the state over pension ratings, which often had to be contested because of the failure of government agencies to take into account the further deterioration of men's sight after leaving rehabilitation. But early in its history its leadership spoke strongly against members being tempted to join "the sitters' club" of unemployed, feminized pensioners content to stay at home with their mothers or wives. The quest for self-sufficiency also influenced the BVA's goal of organizational independence. One reason for the desire for a separate organization was the perception of the founding cohort that other veterans organizations had a "We'll take care of you," attitude toward blinded veterans, and promise d them what amounted only to an active lobby in behalf of ever-greater pension benefits. (31)

Like the CPA, the BVA asked the state to provide the tools for independent living, and then it, too, invited its members to live an ordinary life in the mainstream. Especially prominent in its conception of the provision of those tools was its support for a realistic program of rehabilitation. At Avon, rehabilitation had been partly based on the belief that the blind possessed "facial vision," an acute sensitivity in the nerves of the face that allowed them to anticipate environmental hazards. Moreover, army rehabilitation officials argued that the white cane was a stigmatizing marker of blindness. Without it, the blind might achieve normal street invisibility. Men who had been introduced to white cane training at military hospitals had to abandon their canes when traversing the facilities at Avon, and were invited to develop the ability, in effect, to listen to their faces. Though a few men seemed to possess this sixth sense, most did not. Just as paralyzed Canadian veterans who founded the CPA opted to use the potentially stigmatizing wheelchair, because of its convenience and the independence it afforded, the blinded veterans of the early BVA opted for the white cane for the same reason. The BVA pressed the issue of cane technique, and was largely responsible for the decision of the Veterans Administration in 1948 to open the Hines facility to teach the use of the white cane. (32) Both the BVA and CPA believed that by example and by public education, they could break down the prejudices that led to stigmatizing canes and wheelchairs, and thus assist in the normalization of their members' post-injury lives, so that they would not be dependent on maintenance by the state.

Though the BVA went further than the CPA in seeking special accommodation for the men it represented, it did so largely in the name of equal opportunity. Another set of BVA goals opposed the segregation and cultural isolation the founders associated with blind civilians. The BVA rejected sheltered workshops, and armed with the motto of its employment campaign, "Jobs not pity," did its own counseling and placement. It fought discrimination in housing; and it demonstrated against the barring of guide dogs from public places. It called for government subsidies for the publication of taped "talking books," because many men lacked the finger sensitivity to master braille, and because too little was published in braille for the blind to be exposed to a full range of the literature of current events and cultural trends that would enable blinded veterans to know the world around them. (33)

All of these efforts at normalization and manly independence achieved mixed results. The blinded American veterans of World War II and the Korean War led rich and active lives. Compared to the civilian blind, they were found in the 1960s to be less socially isolated, to have more sighted friends, and to be more active in community organizations, recreational activities and informal socializing. On the other hand, by 1958, still only half of the relatively youthful cohorts of World War II and Korean War blinded veterans worked, and as they reached their middle years, many left the labor market to join the ranks of those dependent on state pensions. To some extent, this was the result of deteriorating physical conditions, for many of the blinded veterans had sustained multiple injuries at the time they were blinded. But it was also the case that for all of its efforts at opening up lines of communication to employers, the BVA found it difficult to break down employers' assumptions about the limitations of blind ed workers. (34)

The Civilian and Military Disabled and the State

In these CPA and BVA programs of aggressive normalization, with their independent living and nascent disability rights orientations, we come near to witnessing the emergence of the new disability politics of inclusion, equality, and self-sufficiency, which were to be achieved partly through targeted state assistance, that would emerge among the civilian disabled into a major social movement in Western societies during the last quarter of the twentieth century. The notion of a prefiguring of this politics among disabled veterans, who have not played a major role in the disability rights movement, will strike a discordant note among contemporary disability rights activists, who have been more impressed with the differences between than the similarities shared by disabled veterans and disabled civilians. The differences do indeed appear substantial, and in the telling of disability rights advocates, they soon begin to assume the outlines of an indictment of disabled veterans as overprivileged and aloof from the struggles of the ordinary disabled individual, whose impairment does not result from military service. It is the state, they charge, that has provided disabled veterans with extraordinary material, moral and psychological resources, which it has been reluctant to grant the civilian disabled, who have had to struggle to gain the legitimacy to represent themselves and to obtain legal protections and material benefits. (35)

To some extent this analysis is correct. The state is certainly implicated in the creation of the gap between the two groups that has made it difficult for them to recognize their common interests. There are examples here and there of the existence of war victims organizations and organizations like the CPA that contained civilians, male and female, and disabled veterans. But the far more typical exclusive, masculine solidarity built on memories of war experience that has formed a vital part of the social identity and organizational ethos of disabled veterans has offered little to the civilian disabled, and especially to women. (36) This ethos has partly been a consequence of the desire to attain distance from the civilian disabled, about whom disabled veterans often had a low opinion. But it has also been the result of the singular status the state has accorded disabled veterans as warriors and heroes. In recognition of their military service and sacrifices in behalf of the nation, disabled veterans have bee n treated with a unique generosity by the state.

Yet the indictment of disabled veterans is exaggerated, and seems to rest on a misunderstanding of both the experience of the individual disabled veteran and the history of disabled veterans as a social group. The collective orientation of the disabled veteran has deeper roots than, as Michael Geyer would have it, the relationship to the state, for it has been grounded in a broadly contextualized generational historical experience, of which state recognition and assistance are only a part. Nor can it be argued that the history of disabled veterans has been without intense public protests to awaken public opinion and state institutions to the need to recognize disabled veterans' claims to assistance. Long before the dramatic protests and demonstrations and organized interest group politics of the contemporary disability rights and independent living movements, disabled veterans had organized politically. (37) The message of their politics was more thoughtful and complex than the appeal to national obligation a nd to civilian guilt. The methods of that politics were more broadly based and voluntaristic than lobbying by the leaders of national organizations. The purposes of that politics were larger than pensions and other lifetime benefits. Though appeals to patriotism and the playing on civilian guilt were always present, disabled veterans' politics, especially as it was practiced by the smaller single-population organizations representing and controlled by the most seriously impaired veterans, sought more than simply to awaken the state to the obligations it incurs when it transforms ordinary civilians into vulnerable soldiers. Another goal was to educate the public to understand that people with disabilities need assistance, if they are to become useful and productive citizens, and that such assistance is cheaper than a lifetime subsidy to people who have no other options but to accept retirement. What is lost, too, in the indictment of the relative generosity of the state is the extent to which that generosity h as been regarded as a problem as well as the source of opportunity by disabled veterans, whose desire for normalization and independence was always in a state of tension with the temptations that benefits created for those who might be turned toward a subsidized, sedentary life.

When we sort out these differences and similarities and remove the misunderstandings what we discover is that both groups have shared the irreducible problem that disability has constituted for the impaired individual. The root of this problem is often less the functional limitations posed by impairment than the reluctance of the able-bodied majority to integrate people with disabilities into the social systems of daily life. These difficulties ultimately have framed the understanding of limits and possibilities both groups brought to formulating a response to the problem of state assistance.


(1.) Richard K. Scotch, From Good Will to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy (Philadelphia, 1984), pp. 161-62, identifies disability as an individualized experience for the majority of people with disabilities, and contrasts this with the experience of disabled veterans and some singular cases such as the deaf, who are socialized into a group identity through the use of sign language.

For a concise statement of the special nature of the veterans' relationship to the welfare state, set in the American context but relevant beyond it, see Sar Levitan and Karen A. Cleary, Old Wars Remain Unfinished: The Veterans Benefits System (Baltimore, 1973), p. ix and passim. Also, David A. Gerber, "Finding Disabled Veterans in History," in Disabled Veterans in History, David A. Gerber, ed. (Ann Arbor, 2000), pp. 3-55, in which portions of this essay initially appeared. On the dramatic increase in the survival of ill and injured military personnel, see Technical Information Division, Office of the Surgeon General of the [U.S.] Army, "The Physically Disabled," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 239 (May, 1945), 10-19.

(2.) Michael Geyer, "Ein Vorbote des Wohlfahrtsstaates: Die Kriegsopferversogung in Frankreich, Deutschland, und Grossbritannien nach den Ersten Weltkrieg," Geschichte und Gesellschaft 9:2 (1983), 23-34; Deborah Stone, The Disabled State (Philadelphia, 1984); Claire Laichowitz, Disability as A Social Construct: Legislative Roots (Philadelphia, 1988); Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United Stares (Cambridge, 1992).

(3.) These common-sense conclusions were demonstrated, with specific reference to veterans organizations, in Mancur Olson, Jr.'s classic The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and The Theory of Groups (Cambridge, 1965), esp. pp. 2-3, 11, 14-16, 21, 34, 48, 132, 142, 160-61.

(4.) Olson, The Logic of Collective Action, pp. 160-61; William Waller, The Veteran Returns Home (New York, 1944), pp. 193-202; Alfred Vogts, A History of Militarism (New York, 1937), pp. 386-90.

(5.) Antoine Prost, In the Wake of War: Les Anciens Combattants and French Society, 1914-1939 (Providence, R.I. and Oxford, 1992), p. 45.

(6.) William Pencak, For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919-1941 (Boston, 1989), pp. 176-97; Clem Lloyd and Jacqui Rees, The Last Shilling: A History of Repatriation in Australia (Melbourne, 1994), pp. 187-208; Desmond Morton and Glenn Wright, Winning the Second Battle: Canadian Veterans and the Return to Civilian Life, 1915-1930 (Toronto, 1987), pp. 67-70; Desmond Morton, "The Canadian Veterans' Heritage from the Great War," The Veterans' Charter and Post-World War II Canada, Peter Neary and Jack L. Granatstein, eds. (Kingston, 1997), pp. 22, 27, 62-64; Antoine Prost, Les Anciens Combattants et La Societe Francaise, 1919-1939 (Paris, 1977), I, p. 83, and idem, In the Wake of War, pp. 35-57, 40.

(7.) Prost, In the Wake of War, pp. 29-33, 45; Robert Weldon Whalen, Bitter Wounds: German Victims of the Great War, 1914-1939 (Ithaca, 1984), p. 162; Seth Koven, "Remembering and Dismemberment: Crippled Children, Wounded Soldiers, and the Great War in Great Britain," American Historical Review 99 (October, 1994), 1193, 1196, 1198-99; Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male: Men's Bodies, Britain, and the Great War (Chicago, 1996), n. 218, p. 274; Pencak, For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919-1941, p. 50; Mary Tremblay, "Going Back to Main Street: The Development and Impact of Casualty Rehabilitation for Veterans with Disabilities, 1945-1948," The Veterans' Charter and Post-World War II Canada, Neary and Granatstein, eds., p. 171; Douglas McMurtrie, The Evolution of National Systems of Vocational Reeducation for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors (Washington, D.C., 1918), p. 132.

(8.) Whalen, Bitter Wounds, pp. 118-28; Bourke, Dismembering the Male, pp. 71-72; Prost, In the Wake of War, pp. 30-32.

(9.) Lloyd and Rees, The Last Shilling, p. 277; Tremblay, "Going Back to Main Street," p. 171; Morton, "The Canadian Veterans' Heritage from the Great War," p. 27; Morton and Wright, Winning the Second Battle, pp. 132, 135-36, 142, 169, 176, 185-86, 207-11; Koven, "Remembering and Dismemberment," 1202; Whalen, Bitter Wounds, pp. 55, 128, 173; Prost, In the Wake of War, pp. 39-40, and idern, Les Anciens Combattants, I, p. 198; Robert Brown and Hope Schutte, Our Fight: A Battle against Darkness (Washington, D.C., 1991), pp. 1-23.

(10.) Ernest Bors, M.D., "Urological Aspects of Rehabilitations in Spinal Cord Injuries," Journal of the American Medical Association (May 19, 1951), 225; and idem, Spinal Cord Injuries, Technical Information Bulletin, TB 10-503, December 15, 1948 (Washington, D.C., 1949), 3-4; New York Times, June 22, October 30, 1946; Mary Tremblay, "Going Back to Civvy Street: A Historical Account of the Impact of the Everest and Jennings Wheelchair for Canadian World War II Veterans with Spinal Cord Injury," Disability and Society 11:2 (1996), 165.

(11.) Whalen, Bitter Wounds, pp. 55, 128, 173; Greenwood, "The Blinded Veteran," in Blindness, Paul A. Zahl, ed. (Princeton, 1950), pp. 261, 269-70.

(12.) Morton and Wright, Winning the Second Battle, p. 132.

(13.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, p. 13.

(14.) James Jones, Whistle (New York, 1978), pp. 36-38, 44, 134; Laurence Stallings, "Vale of Tears," Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time, Ernest Hemingway, ed. (New York, 1942), pp. 377-407; Walter V. Bingham, "'Start Climbing, Soldier!': The Army Program for Rehabilitating Casualties," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 239 (May, 1945), 60-61; Harold Russell, with Victor Rosen, Victory in My Hands (New York, 1949), pp. 91-110; Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, pp. 5-8, 11-17; Corrine Brown, Body Shop: Recuperating from War (New York, 1973), p. 180.

(15.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, pp. 2-3; Howard Rusk, "Rehabilitation," New York Times, June 9, 1946.

(16.) Bors, "Spinal Cord Injuries," pp. 26-27, 32-33.

(17.) McMurtrie, The Evolution of National Systems of Vocational Reeducation, p. 134. Konrad Biesalski, Kriegskruppelfursorge: Ein Aufkledrungswort Zum Troste und Zur Mahnung (Leipzig, 1915), p. 4. (The original quote appears in the Biesaiski volume. McMurtrie's translation is inaccurate, but he provides an interesting discussion of Germany's five principles of rehabilitation, including the one in the quotation, and of its author, Konrad Biesalski.)

(18.) Ethel Dunn, "Disabled Russian War Veterans: Surviving the Collapse of the Soviet Union," Disabled Veterans in History, Gerber, ed., pp. 265-268.

(19.) Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Disabled Soldier (New York, 1919), pp. 34-36; Jafi Alyssa Lipson, "Celluloid Therapy: Rehabilitating Veteran Amputees and American Society through Film in the 1940s" (B.A. thesis, Committee on History and Science, Harvard University, 1995); Francis Koestler, The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in America (New York, 1976), pp. 273-74; Edward T. Divine, Disabled Soldiers and Sailors: Pensions and Training, Preliminary Economic Studies of the War, n. 12 (New York, 1919), pp. 319, 347; Waller, The Veteran Comes Home, p. 164; Bors, Spinal Cord Injuries, p. 33; Greenwood, "The Blinded Veteran," p. 265; Alan Blackburn, "The Army Blind in the United States," Blindness, ZahI, ed., pp. 279-81.

(20.) Koestler, The Unseen Minority, pp. 27 1-72.

(21.) Russell, Victory in My Hands, p. 103.

(22.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, p.8; Russel, Victory in My Hands, pp. 91-110; Irvin L. Child and Marjorie Van De Water, eds., Psychology for the Returning Veteran (Washington, D.C., 1945), pp. 148-49; Greenwood, "The Blinded Veteran," pp. 253-65.

(23.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, pp. 5-8; Koestler, The Unseen Minority, p. 266.

(24.) Tremblay, "Going Back to Civvy Street," 149-50; idem, "The Canadian Revolution in the Management of Spinal Cord Injury," Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, 12 (1995), 142-45.

(25.) McMurtrie, The Evolution of National Systems of Vocational Re-Education, p. 132.

(26.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, p. 91 and passim.

(27.) Koestler, The Unseen Minority, pp. 276-77; Ellen Papadimoulis, "Editorial," VIS View (Winter, 1989), 1-2; and three articles in VIS View by Russell Williams, "Some Historical Perspective on VIST and Blindness" (Winter, 1984), 5-8, "Why Should I?" (February, 1989), 10-13, and "Believers" (Winter, 1989), 4-6.

(28.) Tremblay, "Going Back to Civvy Street," 149-157, and idem, "The Canadian Revolution in the Management of Spinal Cord Injury," 141-55; personal communication from Mary Tremblay, November 26, 1999 (on the number of spinal cord-injured Canadians and CPA members).

(29.) Tremblay, "Going Back to Civvy Street," 158-66, and idem, "The Canadian Revolution in the Management of Spinal Cord Injury," 141-55.

(30.) Koestler, The Unseen Minority, p. 278; Veterans Committee, C.I.O. (Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1946), Veterans' Organizations (Washington, D.C., 1946), pp. 1-4; BVA Bulletin, 3 (April, 1948), 1, 3 (May, 1948), 1, 3 (July, 1948), 1.

(31.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, pp. iv, 16,30-31, 80-81.

(32.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, pp. 7-10, 13-15, 42-53; New York Times, January 20, 1946; Koestler. The Unseen Minority, pp. 264-66, 276-77, 303-04; William D. Adkins, "Fighting Blind: The Rehabilitation of Blinded Veterans of World War II." Master's thesis, Georgia State University, 2000.

(33.) Brown and Schutte, Our Fight, pp. 22, 78-91; Koestler, The Unseen Minority, pp. 282-83; New York Times, January 20, June 9,1946, September 3, 6, October 20, 21, 22, 28, 1948, August 25, 1950; Greenwood, "The Blinded Veteran," pp. 269-70.

(34.) Koestler, The Unseen Minority, pp. 283-84; C. Warren Bledsoe, War Veterans in a Post-War Setting (Washington, D.C., 1958); Milton D. Graham, 851 Blinded Veterans: A Success Story (New York, 1968); Hector Chevigny and Sydel Braverman, The Adjustment of the Blind (New Haven, 1950), pp. 287-88; Robert A. Scott, The Making of Blind Men (New York, 1969), pp. 112-16.

(35.) Chava Willig Levy and Michael Levy, telephone interview, May 1,1990 (notes in the possession of the author). Both disability rights and independent living activists, Chava Willig Levy and Michael Levy identified for me at the start of my research on disabled veterans the sort of criticisms American activists like themselves have had of the identity and politics of disabled veterans. Though largely framed by them within the American context, I believe these criticisms are probably applicable to understanding perceptions in other Western societies at the present time, wherever the various social, political, cultural, and economic gaps between the two groups of people with disabilities remain substantial. To the best of my knowledge, however, very little analytical work has been done on this subject.

(36.) One might imagine that organizations such as the BVA would have little attraction for the growing number of women veterans. Yet the BVA has mirrored the post-feminist cultural transformations of the late twentieth century, an evolution that has probably a great deal to do with the passing of leadership from the founding generation to the Vietnam veterans and the post-Vietnam veterans. The heavily gendered language is no longer present in its official publications and women veterans have been integrated into its ranks and its elected leadership. How such changes in the gender composition of disabled veterans organizations may be playing our elsewhere in the world is another subject on which, it seems, little research has been done.

(37.) To the extent, however, that the two groups' politics and their organizations have remained almost completely separate, it is to be expected that the veterans' earlier political efforts would be so little known and so seldom a source of inspiration for disabled civilians. The most thoughtful analytical effort to understand the origins of the disability rights and independent living movements in the United States, for example, does so without ever reviewing the history of disabled veterans' politics and protest activities; see, Scotch, From Good Will to Civil Rights. Scorch's analysis probably accurately reflects the lack of a relationship between the two groups' politics, but it fails to suggest the precedents set by the focus and the goals of the veterans' activities.
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Author:Gerber, David A.
Publication:Journal of Social History
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Date:Jun 22, 2003
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