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War EpidemicsAn Historical Geography of Infectious Diseases in Military Conflict and Civil Strife, 1850-2000$
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Matthew Smallman-Raynor and Andrew Cliff

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780198233640

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198233640.001.0001

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Pan America: Military Mobilization and Disease in the United States

Pan America: Military Mobilization and Disease in the United States

(p.349) 7 Pan America: Military Mobilization and Disease in the United States
War Epidemics

Matthew Smallman-Raynor

Andrew Cliff

Oxford University Press

In the previous chapter, we outlined a number of methods employed by geographers to study time–space patterns of disease incidence and spread. In this and the next four chapters we use these methods to explore five linked themes in the epidemiological history of war since 1850. We begin here with Theme 1, military mobilization, taking the United States as our geographical reference point. Military mobilization at the outset of wars has always been a fertile breeding ground for epidemics. The rapid concentration of large—occasionally vast—numbers of unseasoned recruits, usually under conditions of great urgency, sometimes in the absence of adequate logisitic arrangements, and often without sufficient accommodation, supplies, equipage, and medical support, entails a disease risk that has been repeated down the years. The epidemiological dangers are multiplied by the crowding together of recruits from different disease environments (including rural rather than urban settings) while, even in relatively recent conflicts, pressures to meet draft quotas have sometimes demanded the enlistment of weak, physically unfit, and sometimes disease-prone applicants. The testimony of Major Samuel D. Hubbard, surgeon to the Ninth New York Volunteer Infantry, US Army, during the Spanish–American War (1898) is illustrative: . . . I examined all the recruits for this regiment . . . Practically all the men belonged to one class . . . They were whisky-soaked, homeless wanderers, the majority of whom gave Bowery lodging houses as their places of residence . . . Certainly the regiment was composed of a class of men likely to be susceptible to disease . . . The regiment was hastily recruited, and while the greatest care was used to get the best, the best had to be selected from the worst. (Hubbard, cited in Reed et al., 1904, i. 223) . . . But the problem of mobilization and disease is not restricted to new recruits. As part of the broader pattern of heightened population mixing, regular service personnel may also be swept into the disease milieu while, occasionally, infections may escape the confines of hastily established assembly and training camps to diffuse widely in civil populations.

Keywords:   bronchitis, cholera, dengue fever, erysipelas, hepatitis, malaria, paratyphoid fever, rheumatism, smallpox, tetanus

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