I am sorry I cannot be in New Haven to see the exhibit of anti-VD posters used by the armed forces in World War II. It brings back some poignant memories [“Cautionary Tales for WWII GIs,” Yale Medicine, Spring 2009].
I served in 1946 as radiologist to the 155th Station Hospital in Yokohama, Japan, also serving as pharmacy officer along with responsibility for two VD wards and VD education for our own hospital detachment. In the latter capacity I was required to give a series of lectures and to use posters, and more importantly, a series of excellent movies with story lines regarding the dangers of unsafe sex.
The Army was segregated in those days, and we had different movies for white and black soldiers. The femme fatale in the black movie was one of the most beautiful and provocative females I had ever seen. I was surprised when I received requests from our white GIs to show the black movie rather than the other. During this period I was informed by 8th Army HQ that the VD rate in the hospital was starting to rise.
It was suggested by an old sergeant that I try showing the movies at the beginning of the day rather than just before the end. I was too inexperienced to realize that when the boys watched the temptress at work their hormone titers rose to astronomical heights and they immediately sought out the nearest brothel. When the film was shown early, its effects had a whole day to wear off. Although the new timing was not a popular move, the VD rate did drop to more manageable levels.
So while the propaganda might have had some positive results, it fell victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences. This was one of the best lessons I took home from my military career.
Raymond A. Gagliardi, M.D. ’45
Boca Raton, Fla.