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THE GOOD WAR
CO DIARY



STARVATION DIARY

before   after
Before and after photos of CO William Anderson, participant in University of Minnesota starvation experiment


November 19, 1944
We live in the basement of the U. of Minnesota football stadium. Our dorm consists of 46 beds lined up in two rows in an unfinished concrete dungeon-like arena with no windows.
The experiment has 3 phases:
1) three months of standardization; 2) six months of semi-starvation; and 3) three months of rehabilitation.
So for the next year there will be no furloughs, no snacks, no leaving Stadium South Tower overnight.

February 11, 1945
Tomorrow we start our semi-starvation diet. Frankly, I'm scared! This is the first time ever that a sustained six month human semi-starvation experiment has been attempted in a laboratory.

March 16, 1945
Wow! My clothes look sloppy! My belt buckle is in the last notch - a decrease of three notches since the starvation began. I bought suspenders to keep my pants in place. I can wear a size 32 coat instead of the 37 I had when I came to Minneapolis. An in-house joke making the rounds: The neighbors are beginning to fence their lawns to keep the guinea pigs [COs who volunteered for the starvation experiment] out; they've taken to consuming grass as a substitute for real food.

April 24, 1945
I'm beginning to want to isolate myself from the other subjects who are developing all kinds of weird behaviors. Everyone seems to be losing their interpersonal skills. And the starvation is less than half over!

May 10, 1945
My pervasive hunger.
My hunger has taken on new dimensions that I could never have imagined. It seems that my bones, my muscles, my stomach and my mind have united in their yearning for FOOD! How disgusting.

June 23, 1945
Social isolation.
Today it's four years since I was recruited into alternative service. It's not a day to celebrate, but if it were, I'd have no one with whom to celebrate, I feel alone and don't talk much. I'd rather read recipe books. Last Saturday my favorite professor Doc Wittmer from Goshen came to entertain me with a nature hike. What a bore to identify plants when what I wanted to do was to eat them, not name them.

June 25, 1945
Books on starvation tell us that hungry people eat clay, wood, bark, unclean animals and often become cannibalistic. Yesterday I took the lead out of a pencil and began chewing the wood. It tasted all right. For some crazy reason I crave raw horseradish, sassafras roots and rabbit meat. I think about how cannibalism is a terrible option for a starving person, and try to put it out of my mind, but I can't seem to stop thinking about it. People are a terrible bore. I don't know what I'd do without my private room and my stack of cookbooks.

July 6, 1945
Today Jim and I made a routine visit to a restaurant to watch people eat. We bought our usual black coffee and directed our attention to a well-dressed lady who had ordered a beautiful pork chop dinner. She tinkered with the chop, eating less than half of that wonderful looking tenderloin. She nibbled at the string beans, embellished with nuts and bacon. Finally she ordered a fantastic coconut cream pie, which appeared to us as God's prize creation. She pushed off the wonderful whipped cream on the top, nibbled daintily at the filling, leaving the crust untouched. What a stupid woman! She paid her bill and left the restaurant, with Jim and I close behind. Jim stopped her and proceeded to lecture her on world hunger and how she was contributing to it. She shrieked an exclamation and took off running.

July 8, 1945
The drive for survival.
All body functions such as pulse rate, heart size, respiration rate are reduced to optimally utilize those limited calories which are available to sustain body functions. Cannibalism, death through starvation, grass salads and eating garbage are more than fleeting thoughts. We are told that we are starving so that thousands of starving people might be fed. Such thoughts are fleeting, and I'd give them up in a minute for a few slices of bread.

July 28, 1945
Personal appearance
One more day of anxiety, tension and starvation. This morning I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. My face is now emaciated, sad and flecked with black dots, a condition called folliculosis.

July 21, 1945
I have a bad infection on my heel that started a week or so ago with a little blister. It's puffed up and inflamed, and the doctor tells me not to wear a shoe or hike for a few days. That's what starvation does! You have a little injury and it won't heal. I suspect that death from starvation is more probable because of low resistance to disease and infection and that the health-restoring antibodies are less functional.

July 29, 1945
Rehabilitation time at last! In college we anticipated an attractive date; at Christmastime we looked forward to gifts and family gatherings; in camp we anticipated furloughs. But none of these examples hold a match to the anticipation of the first day of rehabilitation. FOOD! FOOD! FOOD! At last the object of our dreams, our thoughts, our conversation will be within reach.

September 20, 1945
We're seven weeks into rehabilitation and our starvation symptoms have not abated significantly. Our look, our hunger, our minimal weight gain all verify our minimal rehabilitation.

October 19, 1945
This day started out with anticipation; starvation and rehabilitation are almost over. But tonight the axe fell. This evening Dr. Taylor called me in to his office and told me I have developed a tuberculosis lesion on the apex of my left lung. This announcement completely destroys my dream of becoming a doctor, for Dr. Taylor says that TB and studying medicine are totally incompatible.

Final Chapter
The next six months I was in bed rest at home under the supervision of my mother, who had always been successful in satisfying my nutritional needs. She fed me well, and in six months I gained 79 pounds. During this time my appetite continued unabated; I apparently tried to satisfy all my needs by eating. My tuberculosis lesion healed well, but one year later, I developed a second lesion which also healed relatively rapidly. I have had no recurring symptoms since.

Postscript
Survivors of the experiments living in Florida still meet regularly. In 1991 Lester Glick and Charles Smith organized a 50th reunion of the men from their starvation experiment. Sixteen of the 36 subjects attended.

1991
All of those present at this gathering agreed that the experiment was the most impactful single experience of their lives. They all continue to be advocates for human service programs, including concerns about world hunger, and promoters of justice and peacemaking.




THE GOOD WAR THE STORY WWII PACIFISTS IN THE CAMPS ALTERNATIVE SERVICE IN THE FIELD BEHIND BARS THE ARTS TIMELINE AMERICAN PACIFISM POST-WAR CONTRIBUTIONS RESOURCES GUIDES TALKBACK THE FILM