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June 12, 1981

Invisible Armies: The Impact of Disease on American History

JAMA. 1981;245(22):2345. doi:10.1001/jama.1981.03310470055037

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It is fascinating to speculate—along the lines of "for want of a nail" a kingdom being lost—what the outcome might have been had not disease disrupted the plans of men and nations at various critical points in history. Dr Simpson, whose longtime interest in medical history is known to readers of this and other publications, adds to that fascination with this examination of some of the microorganisms of American geopolitical, military, and medical history.

"In these modern days," writes Dr Simpson in typical style, "when every domesticated vacuum tube and transistor exudes a miasma of soap slogans and detergent diatribes, it is difficult for us to conceive of the utter nastiness wherein our forebears dwelt. Cesspools were uncovered and slaughterhouses were unscreened. In the grocery stores, worms crawled in the corn meal and ants in the sugar barrel. Wells were polluted, milk was dirty, horse manure littered the streets,