Silent War

Date: 1945
Owner: Prelinger Archive
Source Type: Videos


This 1945 film says much about how the U.S. understood the international "war" against yellow fever. Much of the rhetoric is highly militaristic, significant not only because this video was made during World War II, but also indicative of the neo-colonial campaigns to eradicate tropical diseases in Central and South America, diseases that could prove devastating to commerce and potentially spread to the U.S. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the narrator never fails to give credit to Colombian doctors for their role in the campaign, calling the war a struggle by "men of the western hemisphere," a very pan-American outlook. This same language, however, is extremely gendered. This may be due in part to the film's emphasis on seeing the eradication as a war, an exclusively male event at the time, but it also ignores the presence of women, who are visible and active in the laboratory scene (though not in the heroic march through the jungle).

Another interesting facet of this film is the contrast drawn between the villagers and the scientists. The Colombians are racially homogenized as a "mixed people" while the white doctors are lionized as heroes "bringing blessed medicine" to a grateful people. Recent historical work, however, has shown that there was often much tension between neo-colonial attempts to impose bio-medicine as necessary and superior to more traditional local practices. The fact that the yellow fever vaccine was still being lauded as a safeguard against "the special dangers of the jungle" underscores the persistence of Eurocentric ideas about the inherent insalubrity of the tropics well into the twentieth century.

CITATION: Silent War: Colombia's Fight Against Yellow Fever. Documentary Film Productions. 1945. Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive.