Perry, Heather R.: Recycling the Disabled: Army, Medicine, and Modernity in WWI.
Upon the outbreak of the First World War, the unprecedented influx of disabled veterans into Germany, combined with the socio-economic strains of war upon the German state, provided an opportunity for career-driven orthopedists to demonstrate their unique expertise. Orthopedists utilized their knowledge to treat soldiers with severe injuries to the extremities. In so doing, they gained a long-desired specialist status, and transformed contemporary perceptions of disability by returning maimed soldiers to the workplace. It is these far-reaching implications of orthopedic rehabilitation schemes and technological developments in the years 1914-1918 that form the subject of Heather Perry's fascinating book.
In early twentieth-century Germany, orthopedic medicine was considered a marginal sub-discipline of surgery by the academic medical profession. Despite attempts to establish orthopedics as a specialty, by the outbreak of the First World War orthopedists had failed to demarcate their practice from surgery and traumatology, and their medical progress and status remained stunted by a small pool of institutionalized and bourgeois patients. Tangentially, under the German worker insurance system, civilians who were severely injured in the workplace received only temporary pensions and were expected to return to work in a hmited capacity as soon as possible. This so-called "cripple welfare" did not provide long-term rehabilitation to fully restore workers' capacity for labor: speciahst trauma doctors simply healed injuries quickly, and "cripple" was considered a permanent status.
Perry's account begins by tracing the attempts of orthopedists to professionalize their discipline in the pre-war period, and reveals the opportunistic ways that these medical men were able to establish their practice as a specialty through their pioneering treatment of injured soldiers during the war. Ambitious orthopedists argued that their profession alone had the know-how to restore the bodies of the severely injured soldier and re-establish his capacity to work. Chapters 2 and 3 reveal that in order to do this orthopedists teamed up with "engineers, motion photographers, mechanics, and surgeons" to implement a "revolution" in artificial limb design and restore soldiers'physical capacity for work (56). Additionally, orthopedic experts invented rehabilitation schemes to "remember" disabled veterans' ability to work and return them to the labor force. These innovations were inspired by a wartime labor shortage and were primarily intended to re-stabilize the German wartime economy, but simultaneously reinforced pre-war socio-economic boundaries during a period of social instability and wartime upheaval.
Through a material and visual analysis of artificial limb design, Perry demonstrates that the technological innovations of orthopedists and engineers fortified existing class and gender boundaries by providing limbs with differing physical and aesthetic potentials to men of varying social statuses: prosthetic arms for skilled artisans were designed according to function, and those for white-collar workers were adapted for cosmetic value (60). Class-based notions of physical recovery were strengthened by the invention of orthopedic rehabilitation, which offered career counseling, vocational training, and work placements for maimed veterans. While these innovations catered to the individual needs of the patient, Perry uncovers a dominant priority to re-stabilize the socio-economic fabric of the German Empire by enforcing a social obligation upon disabled soldiers to return to their pre-war occupations, or take up vocations that were suffering labor shortages as a result of the war (such as agriculture). Alongside prosthetic limb design, these clearly defined employment options separated maimed soldiers according to class-based labor divisions.
The second half of Perry's study focuses on the legislative and military adoption of these pioneering orthopedic rehabilitation programs and illuminates how this implementation re-shaped national attitudes towards disability. Perry shows how orthopedists embarked on an "enlightenment campaign" to re-educate the German public, many of whom objected to the disabled soldier returning to work, as they felt he had completed his duty to the nation through his wartime service and resultant corporeal loss. Orthopedists produced pamphlets and films, and also gave public lectures that supported their own specialist ability to "cure" disability by rendering the permanendy injured soldier self-sufficient. This public health campaign encouraged business owners to employ disabled soldiers by invoking the wartime duty of non-combatant civilians to the German Empire, and similarly appealed to soldiers' patriotic duty to overcome their injuries and contribute to the state through work.
Perry's consideration of material culture offers perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this "enlightenment campaign": the emergence of a new consumer culture targeted towards the re-abled man. Advertising offered the disabled ex-serviceman a range of objects to assist with day-to-day tasks, for example eating and grooming, and included items such as a thumb-ring, which held a small-tined fork and knife, and specially designed clothing that could be fastened with one arm and featured pockets tailored to hold prosthetic hands (44-45).These items constructed disabled ex-servicemen as consumers and active participants in German public life.
Finally, Perry uses two insightful case studies of the Deputy War Office in Dresden and the Siemens factory in Berlin to demonstrate how German industrial leaders and the military adopted orthopedic rehabilitation strategy in the wake of a severe labor shortage from 1916 onwards. She demonstrates that "both industry and the army became major proponents of recycling the disabled" to harness all available manpower for the production of war materiel in the spirit of total mobilization (12).
Perry's thought-provoking and ambitious study deftly weaves together analyses of visual and material culture, medical literature, legislature, and popular discourse to successfully highlight the importance of German military medicine during the First World War. In so doing, Perry corrects the historiographical oversight of physically disabled German veterans in favor of psychologically damaged soldiers and draws attention to wartime social constructions of disability in Germany, which are an extremely welcome addition to similar studies in Anglophone nations. This cross-disciplinary analysis contributes to a long-standing debate on the "goodness" of war to medicine and further complicates this discussion by arguing that medical practice was mobilized to logistically streamline the war effort and ameliorate German manpower shortages. The reader is left hoping that Perry will extend this outstanding history of orthopedics, militarization, and the body by adding to her concluding remarks regarding the longevity of wartime orthopedic interventions and further analyzing the lasting impact of these policies in Weimar Germany.
University of Kent
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|Publication:||The German Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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