first world war, british army, western front, venereal disease, royal commission, national council for combating venereal disease, prophylaxis packet, History of medicine. Medical expeditions, and R131-687
“Total War” calls upon combatant countries to mobilize all of their resources and energies for war and their civilians to contribute in their own ways to the “war effort” of their respective governments. Carrying out such war, some governments try to redefine the distinction between the private sphere and the public sphere in their people’s lives. Even sexual life, the most private sphere in people’s lives, may be exposed to various forms of supervision and control from their states in the name of the national “war effort.” In particular, the government in war does not hesitate to scrutinize the most private sphere of their people’s lives when certain aspects of their lives do considerable harm to “war effort” or “national efficiency.” The British society in the First World War intensively experienced some kind of “social control” due to the increasing spread of venereal disease (VD) both among civilians and troops. Like British society as a whole, the British army, who had primary responsibility to fight the war in the field, had to fight another hard battle against an enemy within VD, throughout the war. During the First World War, VD caused 416,891 hospital admissions among British and Dominion troops. Excluding readmissions for relapses, approximately five percent of all the men who served in Britain's armies in the course of the war became infected. During the war, at least a division was constantly out of action because so many troops had to treat VD. This disease caused a huge drain on the British army's human and material resources and consequently undermined, to a considerable extent, its military efficiency. However, a series of measures of the British Army to improve the high rate of infection among their troops have been simply considered ineffective by both contemporaries and subsequent researchers. This article aims to provide a more balanced perspective on the efforts of the British Army to fight VD during the war and reconsider the existing understandings in regard to their general effectiveness. It argues that the overall measures of the British Army regarding VD have to be examined in the context of the national efforts of British society to fight against VD as a whole. Their supposed ineffectiveness well-reflected the indecisiveness of the overall British society in terms of both how to view VD and how to fight against it.