“Our Boys in Khaki”

On first glance, “Our Boys in Khaki” is a helpful little book. It has sections titled “Engineers Corps” and “Medical Corps,” dissecting positions for those civilians who don’t know the difference. One page maps officer ranks.

When I first found this pamphlet as I leafed through the rare books box in the Boatwright library, I stopped because it was in color. Of course, the print and ink can’t meet modern-day standards, but for the 1900s the red letters and slight tint of the illustrations was enough to set the pamphlet apart.

“Our Boys in Khaki” was also set apart once I opened it, skimmed a few pages, and realized that the text that began on page 3 (“How the Army is Divided”) did not continue on page 4, but rather page 5. It took a reread or two to realize this – the font and writing style were the same, but the sentences just didn’t match up.

No, page 4, it turned out, titled “Are You in Fighting Trim?” was an advertisement.

So was page 6. And 8. And 10…one gets the picture.

In all, it turned out that “Our Boys in Khaki” was more than 50% advertisement (judging on page count). The first half of the advertisements were for S.S.S., a “purely vegetable” medicine released by the Swift Specific Co. that two pages of testimonials guaranteed cured rheumatism, skin disease, catarrh, blotches on the face, and boils (to name a few of the mentioned ailments). The second half of the advertisements were dedicated to “Bradfield’s Female Regulator,” which guaranteed “new strength” to women.

“Woman has been made with peculiar physical functions,” the advertisement read under a subsection ‘Are You a Housewife?’ “To overtax her strength means a derangement that weakens her, and the headaches, pains in the back, fits of nervousness, etc., are warnings that nature needs help in keeping your vitality fit for the demands made upon it.”

Regardless of the modern validity of these tonics, there were two other things that struck me as most curious about this pamphlet.

1. It was over 50% advertisements, and, upon further investigation, had no obvious publisher. Other pamphlets were published by the National Security League or the Committee for Public Information – major governmental/societal organizations at the time. But this pamphlet claimed no owner, which led me to wonder: was it just a cleverly geared advertisement that saw the wisdom in peddling it as an informational booklet?

2. Whether or not the above is true, the language in the advertisements themselves was written for wartime. “Today the question of war is uppermost in the minds of all the people,” read a section titled ‘The Eternal Warfare,’ “because the world is engaged In a heroic conflict. Since time began, however, there has been a continued and never ceasing state of warfare against the health of mankind. This is a struggle that every man, woman and child is subject to, and only the fit survive.”

(How do they survive? By using S.S.S., of course!)

This language reeked of the senses of duty and Americanism that echoed through all parts of life in WW1-era America. Not only did the outright sketch of the military and its divisions do the trick of attracting a patriotic audience, but the syntax of the advertisements themselves echoes that of the propaganda posters used at the time – which makes sense, as those posters were themselves advertisements for the war.


Oh, and what did Bradfield’s Female Regulator contain?

15% alcohol.

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One Response to “Our Boys in Khaki”

  1. Eric Yellin says:

    What!?! No advertisement for Valentine’s Meat Juice? And what a fine solution to the problem of women who chafe at patriarchy— diagnose them as “unregulated” and get them drunk! This is a fascinating reading of a rich document. It really is so suffused with wartime rhetoric. You’re right that the color alone is interesting — and probably explains the need for advertising money. Two other pieces struck me: First, the use of “our.” Given the patronizing tone of the advertisements, the “our” takes on a different tone than mere togetherness. They are “ours” and you bear responsibility for them! Second, the fact that the ads are geared toward women helps us understand the intended audience here. Interesting to consider what the authors thought women needed to know and how that information should be conveyed.

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