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Evacuating Wounded Heroes: The Technical Logic of Industrialized War

Professor Lindee is a native Texan who received her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. Her paper explores the technological, scientific and medical systems through which wounded soldiers in the two world wars moved from the battlefield, to a field hospital, and eventually, if their injuries reached a certain, fungible threshold, back to the United States.
When Apr 23, 2007
from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Where The Cybertorium, 113 IST Building
Contact Name
Contact Phone 8148635911
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M. Susan Lindee


Event photoProfessor, Department of the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Lindee is a native Texan who received her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She was a journalist for ten years before she pursued graduate study at Cornell University, where she earned a Ph.D in History and Philosophy of Science. Her research focuses on twentieth-century biological and biomedical sciences, particularly radiation biology, human genetics and genomics. She teaches about science and gender, science and war, and the history of American science. She is a sea kayaker and birdwatcher.

Evacuating Wounded Heroes: The Technical Logic of Industrialized War

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This paper explores the technological, scientific and medical systems through which wounded soldiers in the two world wars moved from the battlefield, to a field hospital, and eventually, if their injuries reached a certain, fungible threshold, back to the United States. The technologies involved were relatively straightforward—ropes, litters, morphine, splints, cargo planes, sometimes even mules. The scientific research, with traumatically wounded soldiers on the Italian front, was more complicated, involving theories about pain, placebos and shock. And the people being moved through this evacuation system—the wounded soldiers—were profoundly meaningful. The system of evacuation itself was understood in the United States to be a sign of “advanced civilization.” I suggest that the practices and materials involved in the evacuation, treatment and scientific study of wounded soldiers can provide insight into the underlying logic of twentieth-century industrialized war. I consider two cases, first, a laboratory at Carlisle Barracks, PA, where research on the perfect litter was conducted after 1919; and second, the battlefield laboratory of the Harvard anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher in 1944 and 1945, where he had his pick of the most severely wounded men on which to test experimental treatments for shock. By looking at these two research programs—one in the mountains of Italy and the other on an Army base in Pennsylvania—I begin to narrate the ways that different forms of technical knowledge were built around the wounded soldier. My guiding premise is that a consideration of these systems can help us recognize the logic that has shaped the much broader militarization of science, medicine and technology in the twentieth century.