Sunday, June 26, 2011

What are you reading? John Irving’s fictional landscape

Presented to the Club on June 13, 2011 by David T. Noyes

"What are you reading?" Such was the signature greeting of my mentor, Dr. Guy W. Leadbetter, Chief of Urology at the University of Vermont Medical School. Of course, despite the rigorous health sciences program of Medical School, and a residency training program consuming 80 or more hours a week caring for patients, he was not referring to academics. He wanted to know what I was reading for fun. What imaginary story of intrigue was capturing my interest? Or, perhaps, whose biography was garnering my attention. He didn’t care that the book might not be great or famous or even popular — only that he felt it was critically important to be stimulating one’s mind with something other than medicine. He himself was a great fan of Louis L’Amour — the American author who described his novels as “Frontier Stories.” I believe Dr. Leadbetter claimed to have read all 105 of L’Amour’s books.

This was the same man who, following any conference presentation, challenged each individual in the audience with the requirement to have a question at the ready. His caveat: “If you don’t have a question, then you weren’t paying attention.” (Kind of reminds you a bit of the Monday Evening Club, doesn’t it?)

When I entered medical school, I was certain I wanted to be a pediatrician. At that time, the third year curriculum required two months of OB/GYN, two months of psychiatry, two months of pediatrics, three months of medicine and three months of surgery. After serving on the Pediatric hospital ward for the first of the two required months, I was even surer that this was the career path I would take. However, the second month in a local pediatrician’s office, proved to be my undoing — one screaming child after another. Talk about cluster headaches at the end of the day! I simply couldn’t manage it.

It was during my surgery rotation, that I first encountered Dr. Leadbetter. At that time, he was in his early 50s. He had written five lead articles for the New England Journal of Medicine. He had conceived, and invented two different pediatric urologic operations — one for severe incontinence, the other for ureteral reflux. Tireless in his pursuit of achieving the best possible outcomes for his patients, he expected 110 percent effort from his staff, but only because he lead by example. A giant in the field, he would go on to become the president of the American Urologic Association.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

No longer a god: How Hirohito’s image was refurbished after World War II

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Presented to the Club by Martin C. Langeveld on May 16, 2011

From December 7, 1941, until August 1945, the personification of America’s enemy in the Pacific War was Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Public officials, military leaders and the press rarely missed an opportunity to tie Hirohito’s name to the struggle against Japan. For example, General Douglas MacArthur, speaking in March 1942 to the Australian parliament, promised the lawmakers “there can be no compromise . . . We shall die . . . in the fight to drive Emperor Hirohito’s invasion armies back out of the southwest Pacific.” War correspondents were fond of language like, “Hirohito’s invasion hordes were reported striking peak fury down the Malaya peninsula today.”

Often, Hirohito’s name was being uttered in the same breath as the other Axis leaders: “Mr. Hirohito, Mr. Hitler and Mr. Mussolini will be entirely eliminated from the picture—and that soon!” the mayor of Pittsburgh said in a speech. “Mr. Hitler and Mr. Hirohito, take notice!” the Christian Science Monitor started a story about military preparedness. “Hirohito’s invasion hordes were reported striking peak fury down the Malaya peninsula today,” the Associated Press reported.

“Blame Hitler, Hirohito and Benito! . . .Don’t blame your grocer!” was the headline on a 1942 newspaper advertisement from Heinz, explaining why tin rationing might squeeze supplies of some of the “57” varieties.

In 1944, this ad headline in the Spokane Spokesman Review offered an incentive to buying $18.75 worth of war bonds: “How’d you like to send your compliments to Hirohito on a bomb? Well, here’s your chance . . . There’s a parachute bomb that’s all yours, just waiting for your personal greetings to be added to start it on its way.”

But while that kind of rhetoric continued, by 1945 there were hints that Hirohito might not be in the same archfiend league as Hitler and Mussolini.

The government had begun to hint at a go-easy on Hirohito policy, and some columnists were beginning to warm up to it. Direct military attacks and even propaganda attacks on him were being avoided out of concern that doing so would elevate the conflict to a religious war and increase the fanaticism of the Japanese people, and because the word for unconditional surrender would ultimately have to come from the emperor’s lips.