- Hardcover: 380 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (April 19, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691001960
- ISBN-13: 978-0691001968
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,630,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Nazi War on Cancer 1st Edition
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Familiar as we are with the horrific history of Nazi medicine and science, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Nazi war against cancer was the most aggressive in the world. Robert N. Proctor's thought-provoking book, The Nazi War on Cancer recounts this little-known story. The Nazis were very concerned about protecting the health of the "Volk." Cancer was seen as a growing threat--and perhaps even held a special place in Adolf Hitler's imagination (his mother, Klara, died from breast cancer in 1907). The Nazi doctors fought their war against cancer on many fronts, battling environmental and workplace hazards (restrictions on the use of asbestos) and recommending food standards (bans on carcinogenic pesticides and food dyes) and early detection ("men were advised to get their colons checked as often as they would check the engines of their cars..."). Armed with the world's most sophisticated tobacco-disease epidemiology--they were the first to link smoking to lung cancer definitively--Nazi doctors were especially passionate about the hazards of tobacco. Hitler himself was a devout nonsmoker, and credited his political success to kicking the habit. Proctor does an excellent job of charting these anticancer efforts--part of what he terms "the 'flip side' of fascism"--and, along the way, touches on some unsettling issues. Can an immoral regime promote and produce morally responsible science? Or, in Proctor's words, "Do we look at history differently when we learn that ... Nazi health officials worried about asbestos-induced lung cancer? I think we do. We learn that Nazism was a more subtle phenomenon than we commonly imagine, more seductive, more plausible."
Proctor is no apologist--one of his earlier books, Racial Hygiene is a scathing account of Nazi atrocities--but he clearly wants to engage in the complex moral discussions surrounding the fascist production of science and Holocaust studies. Proctor's thorough research, excellent examples, and dozens of illustrations are complemented by his authoritative prose. The Nazi War on Cancer is a fine addition to the literature on both the Holocaust and the history of medicine. --C.B. Delaney
From Publishers Weekly
In a book that plumbs both the dark and light sides of the utopian impulse, Penn State history of science professor Proctor (Racial Hygiene; Cancer Wars; etc.) takes a look at the healthy side of fascism. Hitler's government implemented many laudable public health measures, including the regulation of pesticides, asbestos and food dyes. Germany, Proctor notes, had the most aggressive anti-smoking campaign in the world, and German scientists were the first to link smoking with lung cancer. As Proctor outlines the sophistication of German medical science and the ambitions of Nazi public health policy, he asks provocative questions about the relationship between scientific culture and political culture, describing, for instance, how cancer metaphors were used to describe the "subhumans" the regime sought to exterminate as tumors on the German body. Proctor's moral compass stays true: he doesn't exonerate Nazi science but rather looks at how the cult of the Aryan race, which stressed healthy living, played out in the everyday work of scientists who concerned themselves with public health. "My intention is not to argue that today's antitobacco efforts have fascist roots, or that public health measures are in principle totalitarian," he writes. Instead, Proctor seeks to give his readers a more comlex appreciation of "how the routine practice of science can so easily coexist with the routine exercise of cruelty." At this, he succeeds admirably, giving readers a thoroughly researched account of Nazi medical science and posing difficult questions about the ultimate worth of good research carried out under the auspices of evil. Illustrations.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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In order to illustrate this point, Proctor reviews many areas of cancer research done during the Nazi years. One of his chapters deals with the mass X-ray screenings instituted in many parts of Germany to detect tumors. In connection with this early initiative to root out cancer, Proctor makes the point that Nazi medicine never presented a monolithic front. At the same time these screenings were taking place, there was a large faction of German doctors objecting to them on the theory that X-rays promoted more cancerous growth than they detected. You might find this section of the book to be of particular interest in light of the current debate over mammographies.
Another chapter deals with the German Government's concern over carcinogens in the workplace. German researchers did one of the first, most comprehensive studies linking asbestos and cancer. Then there's a chapter on German concern with the link between diet and cancer. This led to campaigns promoting whole wheat bread and fresh, organic produce. Much of this initiative overturned earlier, unscientific beliefs that held fresh fruit and vegetables actually promoted cancer.
However, the section of the book dealing with the links that German researchers documented between tobacco smoking and cancer might be the most relevant to current debates. Smoking and cancer of the mouth had long been associated. But until Third Reich scientists began to do meticulous statistical studies and autopsies, few suspected a specific link between smoking and lung cancer. Then, as now, many tobacco manufacturers argued that factors such as auto exhaust were responsible for more lung cancer than cigarettes. However, Proctor cites comparative studies done by German scientists showing lung cancer rates in rural areas (where there were few cars in the 1930's) and heavily trafficked urban areas to be nearly identical. Also, women had markedly less lung cancer, likely as a result of Hitler's insistence that German women avoid cigarettes in order to keep themselves undefiled for childbearing. The Germans coined the term "passive smoking" and campaigned for smoke-free environments generally.
The German studies could have been used to counter many arguments being made by smoking apologists today, but most of these studies were automatically ignored or dismissed due to their association with the Nazi regime. Therefore we are covering the same ground again.
So Proctor does a good job giving credit where credit is due for pioneering cancer research. Still, the book left me feeling somewhat frustrated. I kept hoping for some more definitive condemnation of Nazi medical research. Even if Reich studies often came up with some right answers - the research was done in the wrong spirit, and therefore was ultimately dangerous. Cancer diagnoses and cures were sought in order to better enable the Germans to do their "duty" of being healthy. Everything was framed in terms of one's duty to the Higher Powers and to the German Nation as a whole. Failure to be fit for doing practical work was considered virtually criminal. So as Proctor sums up, the "war on disease became a war on the diseased," including those deemed to be diseased by virtue of age, ethnicity, or any medical/mental health problem.
Proctor does consider some of these philosophical questions in his final chapters - which are well worth reading. He argues, no doubt rightly, that if a person is bad, that doesn't mean everything that person produces should be dismissed as bad. Such an attitude leads to logical and practical absurdities. However Proctor further argues that no equation should be made between the enforcements favored by modern fanatic anti-smokers and any facet of the Nazi program. That aspect of his even-handed approach might give a reader a little more pause. If there's danger in allowing the wrong letter of the law to prevail, there's also danger in allowing the wrong spirit to prevail.
Historian Robert N. Proctor guides readers through Hitler-led Germany in "The Nazi War on Cancer." He examines a ruling regime and society grappling with health problems such as the exposure of factory workers to carcinogens in the plant, the damage caused by alcohol and tobacco use and the impact of poor diet. Proctor considers how public health concerns influenced the goal of creating a stronger, healthier and racially-pure population.
The deliberation over public health during the Nazi era pushed German researchers and scientists ahead of their counterparts around the rest of the industrialized world in connecting many health problems to the fast-paced and often stressful twentieth century lifestyle. Proctor does not portray the German medical elite as being completely manipulated by the Nazis. In fact, many men of sceince used the Nazi takeover of Germany as an opening to purge Jews, Socialists and Communists from important research positions. Proctor concludes that the Nazi experience with public health gives us an opportunity to understand the appeal and triumph of fascism as more than an aberration. Overall, Proctor presents a solid study of German medicine under Nazi rule. He brings many interesting facts to light which may surprise many readers who picture the Nazis as an all-powerful wave washing over and consuming all of Germany. In presenting his study, Proctor is mindful that many may misuse his facts to discredit modern public health iniatives or to justify the existence of Nazism though he does not let this stop him from delivering a thougt-provoking interpretation of a little known aspect of twentieth century history.