Pacific Theater in WW2: Why Would Americans Use Pounds? Why Did Water + Stomach Wound = Death?
October 4, 2004 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a couple of nuts-and-bolts questions about the Pacific theater in World War II.

I've been reading the Naked and the Dead (if you haven't read it, it's Norman Mailer's semi-autobiographical account of serving in the Infantry on a Pacific island during the war), and a couple of incidental details along the way have me scratching my head. To wit:

1. Several times in the book, characters conduct transactions in pounds. What's the deal with this? They're Americans, so why aren't they using dollars? Was there some sort of internal Army currency called pounds during the war?

2. After a character is shot in the stomach, a big deal is made of the fact that no one can give him any water, because drinking water with a stomach wound will kill him. Why is that? What's so dangerous about water?

I suppose #2 isn't very Pacific-specific. Oh well.
posted by COBRA! to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For 1: The currency of the British Empire was widely exchanged all over the world before World War II. The pound had a reputation for stability and served as the "International Currency" the same way that the USD does today. I'm surprised that this was till going on in the Pacific in the 40's, but it seems like the likely explanation (unless its transactions between US military personnel. Then I'm stumped.)

For 2: Giving water to someone with a belly wound can cause peritonitis. E. coli from a perforated intestine seeps into the body cavity and nasty infection sets in. If you're actually shot in the stomach, it's not a danger. But you can't tell what organs are injured until you open the wounded guy up.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:39 PM on October 4, 2004

To clarify, water flushes e. coli out of the intestine through the wound.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:41 PM on October 4, 2004

Response by poster: For Q1, the transactions are all between US Army personnel; there's no interaction with any non-Americans (well, except for some Japanese troops... but they get shot at, not traded with). They're using pounds to play poker and buy liquor from enterprising, still-building sergeants.

Your Q2 explanation makes sense. Thanks.
posted by COBRA! at 1:48 PM on October 4, 2004

To supplement MC's answer to (1) The forward staging bases used by the Marines in the Pacific were often British colonies/possessions, and Australia and New Zealand were R & R areas when units were refitting and rebuilding after an assault. American troops might well have still pounds left over from their stays in either.
posted by mojohand at 1:51 PM on October 4, 2004

Response by poster: That's got to be it, and I feel like a moron for not working that out on my own. Thanks.
posted by COBRA! at 1:59 PM on October 4, 2004

Interesting story behind question 2: The connection between liquids and peritionitis was a recent discovery in the 40's even though it seems obvious.

During the war, the British government conducted a campaign among its officers to stop giving tea to gut-wounded men. It was a 200-year-old tradition to give tea to wounded soldiers, and it was a very hard practice to stamp out despite the evidence that it killed. The americans were more pragmatic.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:11 PM on October 4, 2004

I dont
Australian Monetary history
In 1910 an Australian currency was first introduced by the Labor Government of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher - the Australian pound consisting of twenty shillings each consisting of twelve pence. The Australian pound was on the Gold Standard and was equal in value to pound sterling. Prior to this, pound sterling was used in conjunction with banknotes and bills of credit issued by private banks. Coins were first introduced in 1910; Commonwealth Bank notes followed soon after.

In January 1931 the Labor Government of Prime Minister James Scullin devalued the Australian pound by 25 per cent against pound sterling as an emergency measure during the Great Depression.

1 sterling became worth 1 5s. 0d. Australian (AUD$2.50).

In 1948 when the United Kingdom Government devalued the pound sterling against the US dollar, Australian Prime Minister and Treasurer Ben Chifley followed suit so the Australian pound would not become over-valued in sterling zone countries, with which Australia did the most trade at the time. One Australian pound went from US$2.80 to US$2.24.

On February 14, 1966, a decimal currency, known as the Australian dollar, was introduced after years of planning.
So it loks like it probably was aussie pounds.

BTW, till 1971, british currency was so divided as well:
a shilling was 1/20th of a pound, now 5p; a penny was 1/12 of a shilling, so there were 240 old pence in a pound, there are now 100 new pence (we've dropped the 'new' now). This decimal currency saw the end of traditional terms like tanner, bob, half a crown and guinea. We also lost our 10 shilling note for a 7-sided coin - the 50pence piece. /derail
posted by dash_slot- at 6:36 PM on October 4, 2004

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