Monthly Archives: June 2010

Random Thoughts from Archives II–The Joys and Frustrations of Historical Research, and, the 1969 Soccer War

Yesterday I was in the lovely reading room of Archives II in College Park, MD coming down the home stretch on my research into the history of the Navy’s first hospital on the U. S. west coast at Mare Island. For those who’ve researched there, you no doubt appreciate, as I do, the lovely large space with its huge glass wall facing a relaxing and peaceful forest view. As is frequently the case, my research was slogging along, following somewhat boring bureaucratic correspondence when, as my time was running out, I hit on yet another vein of gold–maps and images of the place as it existed just before its 1957 closure. Doggone! time’s up: I’ll have to wait now until my next trip in September to finish out this final string of good information. The joy and frustration of research.

While I was transcribing my notes, I had my screen split between the notes and the webcast of the Uruguay / South Korea World Cup football match. My thoughts drifted back to the 4 day “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969–a conflict that was the culmination of immigration-related tensions between the two countries. Some commentators say the war was ultimately sparked by World Cup qualifying matches between their national teams. Descriptions on the number of civilian and military war casualties vary between 3,000 and 5,000, but in a quick internet search, I was unable to find any commentary on the medical aspects to casualty care. Does anyone know about the medical care rendered to the military personnel in the conflict? I know no Naval forces were involved (it was largely an air war, according to internet coverage…), but “Soccer War Medicine” might carry an interesting story.

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Society Members Write Books-4

The Society for the History of Navy Medicine counts among its members many active and productive scholars. A recent example of this scholarly work is Dr Lisa Budreau‘s Bodies of War: World War I and the Politics of Commemoration in America, 1919-1933.

In her book, Lisa tells the story of our nation’s first ever serious attempt to account for, bury and memorialize all our war dead from World War I. In so doing, she tells us that both government and military created an environment in which the heroism of these native sons was used to promote patriotic fervor and support for a war not supported by many citizens.

As one reviewer puts it, Lisa has “put Gold Star Mothers back where they belong–at the center of war and its aftermath”. The book “emphasizes the inherent tensions in the politics of memorialization and explores how those interests often conflicted with the needs of veterans and relatives.”

When In Rome…

I had hoped, while I’m in Rome, to visit Tiber Island to see its walls, shaped like a ship and marked with signs of Aesclapius. Earlier interpretations took these ship-like walls and aesclapian markings as evidence of a roman custom of building hospital ships to accompany their fleets. I think nowadays the Tiber Island markings are interpreted as merely confirming that the island served as a site for medical activities–though not specifically maritime-related–in ancient times.

The International Red Cross, in its introduction to the topic of hospital ships in “Geneva Convention” documents, makes mention of a Roman ship “Aesclapius” as an indication of Roman naval medical activity. Given the advanced state of Roman army medicine, it seems not too ambitious an intellectual leap to assume–even if no actual ship carcass be extant–that Romans were similarly advanced in their provision of medical care to ocean-going military personnel. Those Tiber Island walls and symbols may indeed reflect, in “model”, the reality in Roman fleets.

Greetings from Pescia in Tuscany

I’m “out of the office” for a short visit to my wife’s homeland. We’re here just ahead of the European high vacation season, so we’re enjoying wonderful weather but minimal crowds.

The best surprise so far has been the medieval charm of the ancient commercial city of Lucca, which, through the middle ages and beyond pretty successfully avoided the predations of its more powerful neighbors Pisa and Florence by building impregnable walls behind which it discretely hid its pretty impressive wealth. It even managed to buy off Popes when necessary.

When I get to Rome later this week, I hope to write about a couple of Roman / Italian maritime medical topics in brief.