Epidemics and the American Military

Being there . . . . suddenly for a startling new book from the Naval Institute Press that explores
and examines the roles our military played in not only controlling diseases and epidemics
wherever it went worldwide, but also for transmitting and spreading it. In short, the Annapolis,
Maryland, publisher introduces author Jack E. McCallum, author of two books and numerous
articles dealing with both medicine and history, and, in addition, who resurrects the ancient
truth that disease and war, warfare and impaired illness, inevitably work hand in glove. Whole
armies can be affected by microorganisms while only a few in those armies can diminish and
deplete whole population centers. For example, World War I was expected by most combatant
to be concluded within a month or two. No one dreamed of the huge number of men, or
enormous number of casualties that would be involved. No unit on either side was more
affected than the medical services responsible for servicing the battle casualties, and, later, the
overwhelming number of civilians and sick soldiers treated side by side. Thus, the need for a
serious study of the tendency, nay, centralism, of health-sickness-medicine-and health again to
fight successfully while advancing, occupying, or retreating.
AN EXCEPTIONAL EXPLORATORY READ WRITTEN BY A CERTIFIED PHYSICIAN IN BOTH ADULT
AND PEDIATRIC NEUROSURGERY ON HOW DISEASES AND EPIDEMICS STRIKING OUR MILITARY
HAVE KILLED MORE AMERICAN SOLDIERS THAN WEAPONS OF WAR. YES, THE ROLES OF
DISEASES AND EPIDEMICS AMONG OF FIGHTING MEN HAVE BEEN CHR0NICLED AND
CATEGORIZED, BUT NEVER TO THE DEGREE DR. JACK McCALLUM HAS. AN UNEQUIVOCAL
CLEAR AND SINCERE PRESENTATION IS FINALLY AVAILABLE.
Reviewed and highly recommended by Don DeNevi
“EPIDEMICS AND THE AMERICAN MILITARY – – Five Times Disease Changed the Course of the
War”, by Jack E. McCallum. Naval institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland; 2023, 267 pages, 6 ½” x
9 ¼”, hardcover, $35. Visit, www.usni.org.
Improvements in the treatment of wounds and disease were amazing, nay, astonishing, in
World War I, especially for the Allied side. Because the four years saw remarkable growths in
preventions and healing medicines, the experiences of surgeons also improved thus providing a
very sound basis for the sick and wounded of World War II. In the early stages of those first
years of horrific fighting, mortars and grenades accounted for 61% of wounds, while bayonet
wounds accounted for only 0.3 %. By the end of the war in 1918, 82% of Allied wounded were
back on the field decimating what was left of the German opposition.
Undoubtedly written by Dr. McCallum, the flap of the book jacket reads, via his easy, brilliant
narrative prose, “The U.S. armed forces recruit young people from isolated rural areas and
densely populated cities, many of whom have been exposed to a smorgasbord of germs. After
training and living in close contact with each other for months, troops are shipped across
countries and continents where they meet civilians and other troops. I argue that if one set out
to design a perfect world for an aggressive pathogen, it would be hard to do better than an
army at war.”

Dr. McCallum then points the way forward by insisting there are four major ways to combat
epidemic infectious diseases — quarantine, altering the ecology in which infections spread,
medical treatment of infection, and immunization. Through his detailed exploration of these
conflicts, the author demonstrates how diseases can devastate troops during wartime. Each has
played a specific but often overlooked role in American wars. A case can be made that General
Washington saved the American Revolution when he mandated inoculation of the Continental
Army with smallpox. The Union Army might very well have taken Richmond in 1862 had it not
been for an epidemic of typhoid fever during the famous Peninsular Campaign. Jack goes on to
point out that Yellow Fever was the cause of the American invasion of Cuba in 1898 and its
occupation allowed a continued U.S. presence there for decades to come.
Such is the makeup of the continuing Chapter on World War II and the splendid conclusion
which emphasizes how epidemic infections continued after World War II but never in the
numbers seen in the South Pacific and the Mediterranean. In his final three pages, Jack admits
that his “counterfactual history” is a perilous exercise, but the outcomes in the episodes he
presents us to look at and consider might very well been different had the epidemics not
turned out as they did. Yet, lest we forget, infectious diseases will remain a major element of
both public health and military strategy.

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