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Title: War's Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America
Author: Beth Linker Publisher: The University of Chicago Press; Number of pages: 291 Reviewed by: Al Pike, CP
War's Waste is a well-researched book-almost a quarter of its 291 pages list supporting references. The book deals with the economic and social impact of war's aftermath, addressing the political movement to transition from the pension system in place since the Civil War to rehabilitation of veterans as the country headed into World War I. Many saw the management of the pension payment system for those disabled during the Civil War unsustainable. And with another war on the horizon, there emerged a shift in thinking about the treatment of veterans and a new focus their reintegration into a working, self-supporting society.
Amputation served as a very powerful icon of war's aftermath. One chapter of the book deals with artificial limbs specifically. The author urges readers, especially those of us who work in rehabilitative fields, to examine more deeply our own history and learn what become of organizations such as the Association of Artificial Limb Manufactures (AALM) or the advent of the Liberty Leg (E-Z Leg) as opposed to peg legs. The E-Z leg was developed for American veterans with amputation to hide their injury from view with the intent of normalizing the wearer in society, but also to affect the soldier's attitude toward his prosthesis. Linker thoroughly explores the role of propaganda in the nation's refocus on rehabilitation instead of recompense, leading the reader to consider the current social impact of veterans with limb loss in an era of increased media exposure.
In summary: Unlike during wars past, today's veterans with limb loss have social networks that allow them to compare their rehabilitation experiences. As we look at the book's epilogue and the chapter "Walter Reed, Then and Now," we see the names of individuals whom we know and with whom we work. War's Waste should make us pause and think about what the historians of tomorrow will write about the treatment of today's soldiers with limb loss.