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"A Minute With Venus... A Year With Mercury!"
June 1, 2010 4:48 PM   Subscribe

"During World War I, the [US] Army lost 7 million person-days and discharged more than 10,000 men because they were ailing from STDs. Once Penicillin kicked in in the mid-1940s, such infections were treatable. But as a matter of national security, the military started distributing condoms and aggressively marketing prophylactics to the troops in the early 20th century."

Additional Background

From the NIH: Visual Culture and Public Health Posters. (Previously on MeFi.) They have a section on Venereal Disease.

Medical History: Venereal Disease and Treatment During WWII
posted by zarq (45 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apparently the U.S. Army was cool with bestiality as long as there was a condom involved.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:56 PM on June 1, 2010


Wait a minute, that poster was for Aussie troops. Nevertheless, my WTF stands.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:58 PM on June 1, 2010


The caption on this one makes no sense. It's clearly Hitler and some Japanese fellow (Tojo? The Emperor? I have no idea). It's doubly nonsensical when you look at the lyrics to the song. Where would one submit a correction to at Mother Jones?
posted by jedicus at 5:03 PM on June 1, 2010


I remember every time we'd pull in to port (5 years ago) the corpsman would walk through berthing with at least one large (e.g., 2 foot square) box full of individually wrapped condoms and drop a handful on every bunk.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:04 PM on June 1, 2010


I knew a guy, when I was in the military, who had had VD 7 times.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:06 PM on June 1, 2010


These fascinate me in part because of the total sexual openness in a society that remained almost completely sexually repressed in regards to women. A frankness about sex combined with a completely Cartesian view of a woman as a female animal . . . it makes me wonder how men could bear it.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:14 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


In that Donald Duck one, why is the woman under a...very short tree? An overgrown pepper plant?
posted by DU at 5:16 PM on June 1, 2010


Also: DONALD NOOOOO.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:16 PM on June 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


The caption on this one makes no sense. It's clearly Hitler and some Japanese fellow (Tojo? The Emperor? I have no idea). It's doubly nonsensical when you look at the lyrics to the song.

They are singing happy songs about the woman with STDs, because she'll reduce the American military's effectiveness.
posted by DU at 5:17 PM on June 1, 2010


I worked the psych ward at the 121st Evac. Hosp. in Korea in the early 70's. Standard meds for EVERY patient coming in were pretty much Thorazine and penicillin.

Your level of annoyingness (I made up that word :-) could be measured by the temperature of the Penicillin shot given you by the tech on duty, if you were a general pain in the ass coming in, the Penicillin was given cold (which, when given cold, was a literal pain in the ass), for decent folks we let it warm to room temps before we gave the shot.

Confess, Fletch... you really think we're going to buy that "I knew a guy..." bit??? eh???
posted by HuronBob at 5:18 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The caption on this one makes no sense

I think you're expecting too much. It's just a poorly written song parody and lame caption. Lack of color suggests the government didn't think too much of it either. How comes it to be, then?

Imagine the scene- 1943, a small windowless office deep in the bowels of the war department. A thin weedy guy who did cartoons for the school paper back home in Wichita is bent over a drawing board, sweating with writer's block. Some officer kicks the door in and says he needs to come up with six new VD posters toot sweet or he'll bust his ass back to KP faster than you can say jiminy cricket. The artist has already done five and is really really tired. The officer leaves. For distraction, to calm his jangled nerves, the artist turns on the wireless. Over the speakers he hears:

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine".

Good enough for government work.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:18 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


They are singing happy songs about the woman with STDs, because she'll reduce the American military's effectiveness.

Yes, I get that. The point is that it's not Hitler and Stalin (which is what the caption and URL claim), but rather Hitler and some Japanese fellow. The lyrics even talk about VD being effective despite the "Russians [rushing them]."

I think you're expecting too much. It's just a poorly written song parody and lame caption.

I'm talking about the Mother Jones-supplied caption, not the words to the song.
posted by jedicus at 5:24 PM on June 1, 2010


Ah, claro. Quite right, MJ screwed up. Brain rot from VD, no doubt.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:26 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


A thin weedy guy who did cartoons for the school paper back home in Wichita...

Yeah. Or, you know, the guy who later wrote the a book that every child owns a copy of.
posted by GuyZero at 5:27 PM on June 1, 2010


the guy who later wrote the a book that every child owns a copy of.

If only! But the given name for the picture in question is Staff Sgt. Peterson.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:36 PM on June 1, 2010


The caption is clearly wrong. That's supposed to be Tojo, I'm pretty sure. And besides, why would they have put Stalin in WWII propaganda posters? The Soviets were our ally in the war.
posted by cerebus19 at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2010


I think the "herewith Stalin and Hitler" part of the caption is what jedicus refers to. It's confusing because Stalin was not exactly an Axis leader, is definitely not depicted in that poster, and as jedicus also points out, the song they are singing clearly identifies two enemies who get them down: the Yankees and the Russians.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2010


These are great!

The site I saw it seems to be having trouble, but this is my favourite VD poster ever. It was circulated in the early 1940s and has a menacing skull in a pink veil and hat, decorated with a flower that looks awfully vulva-like, with the coy caption, "Hello boy friend, coming MY way?"
posted by bewilderbeast at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


...you really think we're going to buy that...

one would hope... :)
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2010


Doh, sat on that comment too long.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2010


You have a social disease my friend. If it's not treated, you will go blind, or insane!!!
posted by Omon Ra at 5:38 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The point is that it's not Hitler and Stalin (which is what the caption and URL claim),

Yeah, 'cause Stalin was you know, on our side. Although like many of us who grew in the Cold War, I didn't know that until middle or early high school. Because our schoolbooks didn't exactly call attention to it.

(Come to think of it, I learned more WWII history from Axis and Allies then I ever did in school.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:38 PM on June 1, 2010


If only! But the given name for the picture in question is Staff Sgt. Peterson.

Well, I'm just saying not every propaganda artist was a midwestern hack.
posted by GuyZero at 5:39 PM on June 1, 2010


My inner 8-year-old is giggling uncontrollably at the "BOOBY TRAP" one.
posted by brundlefly at 6:13 PM on June 1, 2010


If abstinence-only education is good enough for our children, why not for our boys in uniform?!
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:15 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yep, it was a joke back in the '40s, too.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:16 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Apparently the U.S. Army was cool with bestiality as long as there was a condom involved.

Buncha quacks.

sory
posted by jonmc at 6:49 PM on June 1, 2010


Rhaomi, that poster was made about ten years ago by Modern Humorist.
posted by Bromius at 6:58 PM on June 1, 2010


I love (and have begun to collect books of) pulpy posters and book covers of that era. I had always thought the VD ones seemed so hyped up until I heard some rather awful stories from some guys who served in Korea.

Memorable was the tale about the soldier (friend of a friend, natch) who made it a point to catch something every time he went on leave. What did he care? Just get a shot. Infection after infection led to scarring of the urethra, which in turn resulted in him being unable to void his bladder at one point. This meant that strong men had to hold his arms while they drained his bladder with a large needle, as his "piss shivers" were almost like convulsions, which are not what you want when you have a hollow metal shaft piercing your body. And how they had to refurbish his urethra was fairly memorable, too, in the "my genitals retracted into my body and had to be coaxed out with a heating pad and porn" kind of way.

The story I believed much less was not set in Korea, but something passed along by some medics. A woman who must have been the lost soulmate to the fellow in the story above came in one icy winter into some camp tent, complaining that she had not had her period in some time. The older doctor did the "Mmm-hmm, Mmm-hmmm" thing, but had a pretty good idea of the score. He had the shiny new doctor take a look at her, kneeling down. After some examination and prodding, the previous months' product made its appearance, onto his face. Apparently, they had to leave the plastic windows on the tent open, despite the cold, for some time. The older doctor was amused.

Or it could be all B.S. Army stories, in the Tim O'Brien "truth" vein, but now I wonder about those posters, a lot.
posted by adipocere at 7:16 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control has a really nice exhibit space called the "Global Health Odyssey Museum". Just last week they closed the run of the current exhibit, called VD: Values, Rights, Public Health:
VD: Values, Rights, Public Health chronicles the social and cultural history of venereal diseases (now known as sexually transmitted diseases) in the United States beginning in the 20th century. Through compelling posters, photographs, documents, and relevant historic objects, this exhibit examines the response of public health agencies, medical researchers, the military, non-profit organizations, and communities to what was once considered one of America’s most urgent challenges—particularly prior to the development and widespread use of antibiotics in the second half of the 20th century.
Alas, there's no online component to it. But in person it was quite compelling, educational and a beautifully designed show.

You have to go through metal detectors and your car gets inspected, but it's always worth the trip for me.
posted by intermod at 7:20 PM on June 1, 2010


Metafilter: My genitals retracted into my body and had to be coaxed out with a heating pad and porn.
posted by 445supermag at 7:22 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder why they never suggested self abuse as an alternative to getting VD from sex with a prostitute. I would pay cash money to see one of those posters.
posted by digsrus at 7:31 PM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Caricatures of Axis enemies made for common VD art, herewith Stalin and Hitler. Mussolini and Japan's Gen. Hideki Tojo were also frequently portrayed.

Of course, that's not Stalin (hint: take a look at the lapel), and yeah . . . pretty pathetic that one of America's (or Britain's) allies during WWII is considered an "axis" power.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:43 PM on June 1, 2010


> Yep, it was a joke back in the '40s, too.

It's a modern parody, like Bromius said. You can buy a souvenir of it.
posted by ardgedee at 7:59 PM on June 1, 2010


Cleaning up in the attic of my house I found the original owner's WWII Navy training manuals. I spent the better part of a day flipping through and enjoying them, they covered everything from fighting fires to tying knots to the fundamentals of radar. The brief chapter on VD was awesome; written before the time of antibiotics, the descriptions of the treatments made me cringe. I don't know if the manual's previous owner took any of the lessons to heart, I have my doubts because the blank page that followed the VD chapter was covered in pencil drawings of nude women.
posted by peeedro at 8:03 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder why they never suggested self abuse as an alternative to getting VD from sex with a prostitute. I would pay cash money to see one of those posters.

HAHA YES. Oh man, I can see it now, in that italicized all-caps dramatic red font:

"TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS!" &c &c.
posted by elizardbits at 8:20 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then there's always the WW2 era training video: Ship of Shame!
posted by deanc at 8:23 PM on June 1, 2010


I do not like you very much right now, adipocere. Yuck.
posted by item at 8:49 PM on June 1, 2010


This post reminded me of the novel Charity Girl - which is about one of the women who were forcibly quarantined during WWI to prevent the spread of Venereal Disease:

Charity Girl grew out of my shock when I happened upon the fact that during the First World War, some 15,000 (or 30,000) American women were incarcerated in reformatories and detention homes—often for months at a time, with no charge of a crime, no trial, no legal recourse—while they received forcible medical treatment for venereal disease.

The same thing was done in WWII:

Quarantining Women: Venereal Disease Rapid Treatment Centers in World War II America - Abstract:

Concern about the infection of servicemen and essential war workers with venereal disease led the U.S. Public Health Service, with the cooperation of state and local health officials, to set up a national program of venereal disease quarantine hospitals during World War II. Although some of the hospitals eventually accepted men, the initial purpose of these facilities was to detain and treat venereally affected prostitutes and “promiscuous women” who were considered a threat to the war effort. Using quarantine powers, officials forcibly detained venereally infected women and treated them for their disease. The hospitals were generally known as “rapid treatment centers” because of the methods employed to treat venereal disease. Health officials were especially concerned that prostitutes (and other women of “loose morals”) would not comply with the traditional lengthy and arduous treatment for syphilis, which involved weekly injections of arsenical drugs for a year or more and unpleasant side effects. Therefore, the newly established quarantine hospitals used recently developed rapid treatment methods based on the administration of multiple injections or intravenous drips of arsenicals over a period of days. Although some objections were raised against these policies, which obviously discriminated against women, on the whole the rapid treatment centers were accepted as a necessary measure in the defense of national security. Some of the issues raised by these centers are still relevant to public health policy today.

posted by nooneyouknow at 8:58 PM on June 1, 2010


Well, you know how the propaganda goes: Loose lips sink ships!
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:32 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tangentially related: for some reason two stories have jockeyed for a top ten position in the BBC news websites most shared stories this past week:

- Condoms 'too big' for Indian men
- Large condoms for S African men
posted by MuffinMan at 12:46 AM on June 2, 2010


I can't be the only Firefly fan who got a little extra laugh from the "Be sly..." line on the Donald poster, I'm sure....

(In the Firefly universe, the word sly had become a euphemism for a gay male).
posted by lemniskate at 5:43 AM on June 2, 2010


I vividly recall going through a box of World War 1 material that belonged to my great-grandfather and stumbling across an assortment of STD warning material. If I were home I would happily scan it in. I do recall thinking that the frankness of the material probably took my mountain farmer ancestor by surprise, and might be why as well he saved it along with everything else from the war.
posted by Atreides at 6:28 AM on June 2, 2010


If you're like me, you immediately saw these posters and said "Where can I get prints of many of these for my home and/or office?" Luckily, with some googling I found this and this... unfortunately there was apparently only one known copy of the Donald poster, and it already sold for $4,216.25.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:55 AM on June 2, 2010


There was some lingo for it back then also.
posted by Danf at 11:29 AM on June 2, 2010


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