Monthly Archives: December 2012

New Years 2013 – More on “History”


New Year seems to be the expected time – indeed, a convenient time – to reflect on the state of the world. Or in this particular case, the state of the “historical” world. I’m the eternal optimist. So when I went to the New York Times book best seller lists, I expected to see several non-fiction works of (popular) history. To be sure, I found named in this week’s combined print-and-ebook 10 best sellers no fewer than four works, two of which were written by respected historians. Not bad, I thought! Then, I looked for a list of best sellers combining all genres. The most recent one from USA Today, lists just 7 recognizable historical works among 150 best sellers. One of these is the final volume in the Manchester Churchill biographic trilogy; only two of the remaining 6 were written by recognized historians. All of which prompts me to wonder, as the famed WW II cartoonist Bill Mauldin put it in 1946 –


perhaps history is an “Un-American Activity”. Mauldin’s cartoon* above, published 2 April 1946, anticipates the most egregious workings of the House (of Representatives) Committee on Un-American Activities and that of Senator Joseph McCarthy. But we’re not talking about some conspiracy of historians with Communists or terrorists here. I’m simply suggesting that history is not currently an American “thing”.

By way of confirmation of this thesis, we read in October about Florida Governor Rick Scott wanting to reduce funding for teaching of liberal arts in that state’s public universities. And in April, Daniel Weiss, the outgoing President of my own undergraduate alma mater, Lafayette College, highlighted the challenges facing liberal arts education in private institutions. His six word summary: “The market is happening to us”. While these stories make no specific mention of it, it’s clear that the teaching of history, along with that of other liberal arts disciplines, is at risk of being downgraded (to oblivion…?)  in both public and private higher education.

But this problem starts even earlier –  in public elementary and high schools – where students demonstrate distressingly poor performance in history. In results released in June 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that just 20% of 4th graders, 17% of 8th graders and a really scary 12% of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency in history. The questions weren’t complicated: who was North Korea’s ally in the Korean Conflict? Why is Abraham Lincoln an important figure in U S history? What social issue did Brown v Board of Education address? A New York Times article reporting these results blames public policy for this failure of public education:  No Child Left Behind places emphasis on improving math and reading scores to the neglect of other topics like history. I think Daniel Weiss’s formula “The market is happening to us” applies in the political / public realm every much as it does to private education. Popular perception (and probably the experience of a good many history majors…) has it that a history degree doesn’t predictably lead to a paying job. And that’s the whole story. Rick Scott said it: “So I want that [taxpayer] money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state.” Read this “STEM” – science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

What should be the historian’s role in this brave new world of the hard-science dominated marketplace, if we are to avoid being condemned to relive the past we forgot (or never studied)? As I wrote on New Years last year, I believe that historians must come out of their ivory towers and bring history to the people. Popular history is often looked down upon by academic historians. Yet if the marketplace is well and truly to dominate even the historical scene, practitioners of the discipline must respond by creating products that will do well in a marketplace that is very full and very competitive. Last year I argued that it is past time for academic historians to get out their Powerpoint presentations and knock on the doors of local history groups, libraries, service clubs and PTAs. I also promised that they would be gratified by the reception they receive: people really are hungry to hear their history – so long as it’s even remotely relevant to their lives and presented in an accessible manner.

There’s another thing – a lesson we can learn from the marketplace – that we need to incorporate in to our thinking. I call it the Google principle: you give away some useful product in order to gain customers. Historians must get used to doing some sort of free work in their communities if they are to earn the trust and respect of their communities of tax payers. Once the tax payers actually see what they are “buying”, historians will have gained a share of the marketplace.

So, I propose a goal for 2013: each historian, from Department Head to first year graduate student will give three presentations to lay groups in their communities. Let’s flood our communities with knowledge of their past. Everyone will be the better for it; the outreach may begin a movement that proves the relevance and importance of the study and teaching of history in our marketplace nation; and historians may thereby assure that the practice of their discipline once more becomes an All-American Activity.

* Cartoon is from DePastino, Todd, ed., “Willie and Joe Back Home”, a collection of Bill Mauldin’s post-war cartoons. Seattle, Fantagraphic Books, 2011.
©2012 Thomas L Snyder

I Love Archivists (Again…)! The Navy’s WW II V-12 Medical Program

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and again – and again: I love archivists! They are the keepers – the restorers, sorters, preservers – of our documentary and artifactual past. Without archivists and their work, we risk having no “history” upon which to build an informed future.

The Alumni Association of my medical alma mater – Albany Medical College – underwrites a half-time archivist to oversee the College and Medical Center collections. Her name is Jessica Watson, and she is a gem. Every week or so, Mrs Watson sends out a new number of “Facts From the Past”. These are short written pieces – usually accompanied by an image – about some historic personage, say from the Class of 1846. A few weeks ago, however, there was a pleasant surprise waiting in my in-box:

"First 'GI Doctor' Class to Receive Commissions"

“First ‘GI Doctor’ Class to Receive Commissions”

In 1943, the Navy introduced the “V-12″† Program.  Its purpose was to provide an ongoing stream of college-educated officers for the service. Both services also instituted medical, dental and theological programs. An important part of these programs’ design was the “accelerated” schedule of instruction that utilized summer and other vacation periods for instructional time. The result: a normal 4 year degree could be earned in 3 years. Accordingly, new classes began every nine months.V-12 ran until the end of 1945, with the last V-12 classes graduating early in 1946.*

Each of the ~56 medical schools enrolled in the program had a V-12 unit, typically with a junior naval line officer in command, to which the navy medical students were assigned for administrative purposes. Students wore navy (Midshipman?) uniforms, and received a junior enlisted man’s salary. According of one source, men in the Navy program were not required – or the requirement was not enforced – to perform military drill, in contrast to their Army colleagues. This apparently caused no end of amusement among the Navy doctors-in-training, as they watched their Army colleagues sweating on the drill field while they lounged in the comfort of their dormitories!

The Navy received an allotment of 25% of the slots in each medical school class; this could be expanded by about 3% if the 20% of civilian slots were not filled. Medical schools continued to use their method of selecting students.  Other than with the accelerated program of instruction, Navy policy was not to interfere with medical school administration and curriculum, with a couple of exceptions born of military necessity: a course in military medicine / surgery was added; and the usual class in tropical diseases beefed up. Once they graduated and received their commissions, the new medical officers were subject to a strict Navy requirement for “rotating” (vs “specialized”) internships.^ Here again, military contingency ruled the day: after their abbreviated 9 month internships, these men would be assigned to shipboard duty or duty in remote locations, where a general and well-rounded medical knowledge was required. No superspecialized young doctors in the jungles of Guadalcanal!

Altogether, about 4600 physicians and dentists graduated from the V-12 program. One writer asserted that at the end of the war, nearly a quarter of Navy medical officers were products of the V-12 Medical program.

† Also designated “H-V(P)”, a code I have yet to penetrate…
* The Army Special Training Program was an equivalent, and much larger, operation.
^ Rotating internships have the new doctors serving rotations for experience and training in the major areas of the medical arts: internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics; with additional short rotations – typically 2 – 3 weeks – in such areas as ear-nose-throat, dermatology, urology, orthopedics. “Specialty” internships place an emphasis in time, education and experience in one area, such as internal medicine or surgery, to the general exclusion of all other areas.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder, MD

The Society for the History of Navy Medicine Future in Doubt


Society for the History of Navy Medicine Medallion

The Society for the History of Navy Medicine, “sponsor” of this blog, came into being in 2006 after discussions between your humble blogger (and Society founding executive director) and André Sobocinski, historian at the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. André noted that while several people cycled through the Historical Office on research missions, there was no real scholarly “home” for people who are interested in that narrow little corner of history that is maritime medicine. Thus challenged, yours truly, with André’s enthusiastic support, set about to establish the Society.

Over its 6 years of life, the Society has grown to more than 165 members from around the world: academics, health practitioners, military and civilian, active and retired. We have mounted scholarly panels on the history of maritime medicine at annual meetings of the American Association for the History of  Medicine (of which we are an affiliate member), the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States; and the biennial McMullen History Seminar at the U S Naval Academy. We established the Foundation for the History of Navy Medicine, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) public charity to receive donations to support the work of the Society. From our members’ $20 voluntary dues-donations and $250 Life Memberships, we have funded Graduate Student Travel Grants – given to students whose papers are accepted for presentation on our panels; and we have funded a $1500 research grant in the history of maritime

Foundation for the History of Navy Medicine Medallion

Foundation for the History of Navy Medicine Medallion


But all of this good work may come to an end in 2013. At the April 2012 Foundation Board meeting, I announced my intention to step down as Society executive director – on my 70th birthday – in April 2013. The Society, I feel, needs new energy and new ideas. And, from a strictly personal standpoint, I have some historical work of my own – the history of the Naval Hospital at Mare Island, CA (the Navy’s first on the west coast), and other projects – that I’ve been neglecting and want to complete in the remaining time allotted to me in this world.

Since that announcement, I have searched for my replacement in this volunteer and altogether felicitous job. But to no avail. Now, with no one at the helm, a Society, like a ship, must necessarily founder and sink. To avoid that fate, unless a new executive director appears on the scene between now and April, this vessel of scholarly support will go out of commission, and the blog you are reading will become – history.

©2012 Thomas L Snyder

Pearl Harbor Day – Navy Medicine on the Day of the Attack

“Men of the Navy Medical Department at Pearl Harbor were just as surprised as other Americans when the Japanese attacked on the morning of 7 December 1941…” Thus begins the narrative of “Pearl Harbor Navy Medical Activities”, a report from the Naval History and Heritage Command.(1)

The attack began at about 0745, and the Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor had all treatment facilities and operating room set up and ready by 0815. In the first three hours, about 250 patients – the most seriously wounded or burned – were admitted. By the end of the day, 546 patients were admitted, and 200 ambulatory patients had been treated and returned to their duty stations.(2)

The hospital ship Solace, undamaged in the attack, began to receive casualties by 0825, and boats from the ship were soon picking injured sailors out of the oily and sometimes burning waters of Pearl Harbor soon thereafter, often at great risk to their crews. 132 patients were admitted aboard this ship and 80 men given first aid and returned to duty.

Shock Care in Hospital Ship Solace

Shock Care in Hospital Ship Solace

U. S. Mobile Base Hospital No 2 had arrived at the Navy base crates just 12 days before the attack. But its personnel were able to break out needed equipment and supplies to care for 110 patients that day.

The USS Argonne also set up to care for casualties, and later, with the help of medical personnel from other ships in the harbor, set up a sort of receiving and clearing station at the dock where she was moored. This open and uncovered area soon had about 150 cots set up for the injured and wounded. Under the direction of the Base Force Surgeon, these patients were moved to the Navy Yard Officers’ Club, a more protected place. By 1030, a functioning “field hospital” was operating there, stocked with necessary materials for the care of the wounded, injured and burned. The dock-side clearing station continued its work, however, sending the most seriously injured patients to the hospital; less severe casualties went to the Officers’ Club “Field Hospital” and to the Mobile Base Hospital.

In addition to these naval hospital and hospital-type facilities, a few patients were sent to the Aeia Plantation Hospital and the Kaneohe Territorial Hospital for the Insane. These men were later returned to duty, or transferred to the Naval Hospital.

About 60% of casualties that day were burn cases, some from burning fuel oil; many more, however, were “flash burns” caused by exploding bombs or gas fires. Traumatic amputations and compound fractures were frequently seen as well. Altogether, nearly 1000 men were admitted or cared for at Naval hospitals and organized facilities in one 24 hour period.

Many heroes that day were made…

(1), accessed 7 December 2012.
(2) “The History of the Medical Department of the United States navy in World War II – A Narrative and Pictorial Volume” (Navmed P-5031), United States Government Printing Office, 1953, Volume 1, pp 63-66.
©2012 Thomas L Snyder, MD