Ukraine's Next Enemy: DiseaseBreaking News
tags: military history, war, Ukraine, Disease, civilian casualties
Max Brooks is the author of “World War Z” and of “Germ Warfare: A Graphic History” for the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense. Lionel Beehner is a former international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and is currently a director at ReD Associates. John Spencer is a retired U.S. Army major and chair of urban warfare studies at Madison Policy Forum and author of the forthcoming book “Connected Soldiers.”
Ukrainians have been fighting for the survival of their country. Their ferocious resistance has forced Russia to alter its strategy, a tacit acknowledgement of Ukraine’s success. But as the weather warms, Kyiv will be forced to confront a less visible enemy: disease.
War and disease have been deadly bedfellows for as long as armies have fought one another. Historically, sickness and related non-battle injuries have caused some 80 percent of military casualties. During the American Civil War, infectious diseases such as pneumonia, typhoid, dysentery and malaria killed far more men than enemy fire. Some historians have argued that the U.S. Sanitary Commission did as much to win the war for the North as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Likewise, during World War I, influenza and pneumonia accounted for more than half of the 52,000 non-combat deaths, and one-quarter of the U.S. Army — over 1 million men — fell ill.
For the past five weeks, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians — civilians and soldiers alike — have been crammed together in trenches, shelters or damaged buildings. Many Ukrainians are living underground where air circulation is poor, in close quarters, with shortages of potable water (needed for washing), and limited access to hygiene supplies and facilities. Ukraine’s dense urban areas make them incubators for the spread of disease.
If we want to help the Ukrainian resistance, we shouldn’t be sending them only Javelins and body armor. They need emergency supplies — bulk sanitation items such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer, ammonium nitrate to counter food-borne illness, and rat traps and poisons.
We should also be distributing thousands of Ukrainian- and Russian-language hygiene manuals to Ukraine’s soldiers and volunteer fighters. These troops have certainly demonstrated their toughness under fire, but they aren’t the hardy peasants of World War II, whose immune systems were probably bolstered by life on the land. Most modern-day Ukrainians are city dwellers who have mostly taken the conveniences of everyday life for granted. They could benefit from courses on critical hygiene, covering proper waste management, pest control and how to protect food. A single stomach bug, flu, dysentery, or a disease such as malaria or cholera can bring an entire military to a standstill without ever firing a shot. Noting the high number of Russian losses in the fighting, Pentagon officials recently noted that a 10 percent casualty rate — this includes dead and wounded — can render a single unit unable to “carry out combat-related tasks.” That is because a wounded soldier harms an army’s ability to fight even more than a dead one: the sick or injured continue to drain resources.