One of the interesting things about looking at publications from WWII is the way the whole country’s cultural apparatus geared itself up to be part of the war effort. And Popular Science was no exception.
In fact, practically the entirety of the magazine’s content in the February 1944 issue is directed at promoting the war effort, and its article on understanding vision is no exception. The article not only explains how our vision works, it tells us that “in wartime poor vision is more than ever a calamity. It not only can dull our minds, contort our faces, and even lead to total blindness: it also cheats our country of our best services.” Just like our minds, we have to get our “eyes right” if we’re going to win the war against fascism.
The article gives some shocking statistics that show us how prevalent neglected vision was at the time. According to a study by the Better Vision Institute profiled in the magazine, at least 7 million American war plant workers were neglecting their vision. A full 70% of workers were found to have defective vision, but only 30% of them had sought treatment. This was considered unacceptable. The Institute actually described neglecting your vision as “housing a saboteur.”
But criticism was not reserved only for the workers. Employers were also criticized. The article said that only 20% of plants recorded the eyesight of workers involved in accidents, and only 25% actually took the time to see if a person had the vision necessary to do delicate work before assigning him or her to the job. In the words of the article, “They, too, house potential saboteurs.”
The article then goes on to rhapsodize about the wonder of the eye, with its ability to regulate light and focus on different images, not to mention move independently and regulate its intraocular pressure.
If the patriotic language of the article seems a little jarring to modern readers, there is at least one part of the article that remains current. After chastising workers for their failure to seek eye care, it says:
There’s no excuse for this dangerous civilian laxity. Eye specialists in sufficient numbers, are available. They have the proper equipment and knowledge. And the benefits of eye care far exceed the efforts involved; for good vision, with our without the aid of glasses, is one of our greatest physical wonders.
You may not be a saboteur, but there’s still no excuse for avoiding routine eye care. Please contact a local ophthalmologist today to protect one of our nation’s most precious natural resources.