Saturday, March 15, 2008

Historical Atrocity in World War I

Just when I think I can no longer be shocked by anything that our government does I find something new. I just finished reading Michael Lowenthal’s latest novel, Charity Girl, and it left me shaking my head.

This novel is based on fact and takes place in Massachusetts during World War I. It follows the path of a young 17 year old Jewish girl who has lost her father and whose money hungry mother offers her for marriage to a much older man … for a price, of course.

Frieda runs away from home and gets a job as a sales lady. She gets swept along on the patriotic frenzy of a country at war (“anything for our boys”) and succumbs to the charms of a young man in uniform. Unfortunately he leaves her with much more than sweet memories. He infects her with a STD (sexually transmitted disease) and gives the authorities her name as one of his contacts.

The Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety comes to the fore at this point and Frieda is picked up by the authorities. She is considered a “charity girl” and treated just as if she were a prostitute. She is literally jailed in a War Department Detention Home for Girls and allowed no outside contacts.

The rest of the story depicts her medical and emotional treatment in the home. As I read it I couldn’t believe that girls, whose only crime was being sexually naive, could be treated this way. The men who had created the problem got off with a slap on the wrist, a movie or two on STD, and the appropriate dosage of pills.

Upon further research I found out that nearly 15,000 women with STD’s were jailed, just like Frieda, during that time. I guess the majority would have been prostitutes and the government’s excuse was to keep these women away from their precious men in uniform. But it galled me to think that the innocent “charity girls” were caught in the net too.

This book brought to mind the book, “Snow Falling On Cedars” by David Guterson. The war in that story was WW II and he writes of the relocation of Japanese/Americans to Internment Camps here in the U.S. after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Another cause for shame and a low point in our history.

What is it about war that seems to give our governments a free (and heavy) hand to do as they please? Shameful acts are hidden under the guise of “the end justifies the means” and it always seems to take years to rectify the damage.

Sounds awfully close to what’s going on right now, doesn’t it?


Blogger kenju said...

Indeed, it does, Ginnie. I don't have an answer to that question, but you are correct that war always seems to give vent to a person's baser actions. I think men are sadists who act that way.They use the war to do what they want, whether it is right or not.

6:40 PM  
Blogger ellen said...

Yes, and yes. I firmly believe that war and violence is wrong. If killing others solved problems, then why do we not have a peaceful world?
Why are the innocent and unprotected always the victims?
Here's a beautifully written book that takes place during the Civil War. It is ENEMY WOMEN. If you have not had the privilege of reading it, I highly recommend it.

Peace to you and all you love..and all those that love you.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Yes it does Ginnie: awfully close.

6:33 AM  
Blogger KGMom said...

Ginnie--most interesting post. I have not read the book Charity Girl, but I did read (and love) Snow Falling on Cedar.
War justifies a multitude of horrific actions. The great irony is that we see ourselves as purely motivated, and the enemy as not--even when we are as corrupt as the enemy.

11:52 AM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

Wonderful Post Ginnie...And you are so right. It ALL sounds very close to what is happening now....And it was all shameful, and still is....! Did you ever see the film "Come To The Paraduse"? It is really a wonderful film, Dennis Quaid's character falls in love with a Japanese-American girl. They marry and have a little girl. All of her family, including her, end up in one of those horrendous Internment camps here and the disintingration of the family is devistating....! It is really an important film, as was "Cedars"....I have a friend who's father was in Manzinar, another World War 2 Internement Camp....What a horrific awful Un-American thing this was....

A very Happy St. Patrick's Day To You, Ginny....I saw on Kenju's blog that you will be celebrating tomorrow. I will wear something "green", for sure!

9:36 PM  
Blogger Crayons said...

Wow, I'd not heard this story. I agree with you that governments take advantage of war to inflict unfair measures on its own citizens -- witness USA 2008. Good book review. Thank you for that.

3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It shows you that you don't have to get shot to become a casulty of war.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, this book sounds really good. I'll have to check it out. And yes, when I'd done research for my novel, "Daughters" I was pretty shocked at the laws against women back then.
I read Snow Falling on Cedars and JUST loved that book!
And oh yeah....history seems to be repeating itself.

5:27 PM  

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