Someone is always in pain, and there's always someone else who thinks they're faking it. That tension, according to Keith Wailoo, tells us a lot about the past half-century of domestic politics. Wailoo's new book, Pain: A Political History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), uses suffering — whether it's physical pain or some other form of anguish — as a vehicle for understanding decades of societal change.
(Keith Negley)As the country grappled with the lingering wounds of GIs who had returned from World War II, President Eisenhower was under pressure to create a disability benefit within what was then the Veterans Administration system. But he met steep resistance from doctors — the people you'd think would be most invested in caring for the wounded. The American Medical Association accused Eisenhower of "planting the seeds of socialism" — a charge that has been leveled at every politician who has subsequently attempted to expand health benefits, from Medicare to Obamacare. Many of the AMA's members also argued that disability wasn't a real thing, that it would simply be a magnet for lazy and disingenuous veterans in search of a handout. This position seems absurd now, but in the days when the AMA was fighting VA benefits, medical treatment of pain was poorly understood. Doctors often truly believed that their patients simply needed to toughen up, and lobotomies were a shockingly well-accepted tool for pain relief.