Wartime Nursing and Power

Authored by: Kara Dixon Vuic

Routledge Handbook on the Global History of Nursing

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415594271
eBook ISBN: 9780203488515
Adobe ISBN: 9781135049751


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Wartime nurses make good Hollywood subjects. Often, they serve as romantic figures who grace the silver screen in billowing white uniforms mysteriously unsullied by work or war, while they selflessly soothe and comfort tragically wounded young men with whom they frequently fall in love. Others receive the audience’s admiration as they stoically withstand their fears and the dangers of war to prove their worth as women, as nurses, and as representatives of their country. And while most film depictions of nurses blend these qualities, they consistently rely on gendered tropes to explain nurses’ motivations, their work, and the meanings of their service. The 1943 production So Proudly We Hail, for example, undermined the tragic experiences of nurses imprisoned by the Japanese—nurses who were at the time of the film’s release still living in prison camps in the Philippines—by framing the story as a wartime romance. Nearly sixty years later, the blockbuster film Pearl Harbor (2001) reduced the skill of nurses to their femininity, as they literally used lipstick and nylons to triage and treat the casualties of the attack on the US naval base. Admittedly, films are made to entertain. But even so, popular portrayals of wartime nurses such as these tend to paint a melodramatic picture that belies a much more complicated and even heroic story.

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