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Lydia Bydell

Draft Health Bad, Medical Report Shows

(9 November 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 45, 9 November 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A recent highly interesting survey, based on the latest influx of volunteers for the army, has been reported in the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association for October 12, 1940. by Dr. George E. Leone, captain of the U.S. Army medical corps and medical inspector for recruiting in the 2nd corps area, including New York City. During the months of June, July and August of this year 6,743 unmarried young men between the ages of 18 and 35, all part of an original enlistment into the Regular Army, were examined under his supervision. All of them were eighth grade graduates and many had completed high school and college courses; none had ever been convicted of a felony. These facts indicate that the social level represented by these men was by no means the lowest or poorest in America. Of this number, 2,195 or about one-third were rejected because of physical deficiencies which made them poor material to send onto the battlefield.

Of the men rejected, the largest number (516, or 23% of the total) were turned down because of the condition of their teeth. Among physicians, as among horse-traders, it is Commonly agreed that the condition of health of a subject’s teeth is a reliable criterion of his general health. The appalling condition of the teeth of these citizens of New York can be fathomed when one learns that the requirements for acceptance in the Army are ridiculously low. A man must have a minimum of three masticating teeth above and three below. This means twelve teeth to a head, even if the teeth have been filled. And it means also, if teeth are accepted as a gauge of health, that a man can be less than 50% par and still be good enough for the Army.

Diseases of Poverty

Next in order of frequency came disqualifications because of bad eyes. Twenty-one percent of those rejected (479 men) were turned down, because they suffered from eye conditions which the report admits could have been avoided if attention had been paid them earlier in life. Most of the recruits did not wear glasses and had no suspicion that their eyes were not good.

A significant commentary on the widely publicized report that present recruits are on an average two inches taller than those of the last war is the fact that 15% (308 men) of the recruits examined were rejected because of stature deficiencies. Most of these were found to be underweight for their height, a condition which is especially alarming to military specialists, since it indicates a fundamental lack of resistance and marks such men as the first to break down physically when they come up against the rigors of military life. A large number of these men showed such signs of undernourishment that they were potential candidates for tuberculosis.

Complaint is made that much of the physical debility of American workers springs from their faulty diet, made up in too large part of potato and flour starches and sugar, which provide surface energy and an unhealthy fatness but give an inadequate supply of the minerals and vitamins necessary for real strength and resistance. If any of these military physicians cared to go further into statistics they might find that the incidence of starches and sugars in the diet of workers has a direct relation to the level of wages on the one hand and the price of various types of foods on the other.

Bourgeois Press Alarmed

The bourgeois press, notably the New York Times, in commenting on the findings reported by Dr. Leone are properly alarmed at what the survey has disclosed. They are fearful of the possibility that the army now being created may be made up of men who are not physically equipped to stand up and take it as a good American should. They grasp at the traditional straw when they point out that these men are, after all, volunteers most probably largely from the unemployed ranks and therefore representative of a lower level of living than the normal cross-section of the American population. The direct opposite is however the probability.

Dr. Leone himself records that these young men had volunteered for Army service because they had “thought themselves physically fit to fight for the defense of their country.” They were surprised and annoyed at the rejections, having considered themselves, in comparison to other men of their acquaintance, good physical specimens. It is quite obvious that men suffering from pulmonary or venereal diseases or displaying noticeable skeletal defects simply do not normally volunteer for Army service.

Military circles express a vain hope when they anticipate a higher physical level among the mass of conscripts who will soon be called for training. Only then will the real ravages of malnutrition and bad social environment become noticeable. Then we shall begin to hear the real statistics on tuberculosis and pelagra, on syphilis, on bone deformities and rotten teeth. Then it will become clear even to the officer caste that the penalty for the last decade of intense depression has been paid for by a serious weakening of the physique of the potential American soldier.

Under a workers and farmers government, not only would an imperialist war have been avoided, but the present generation of young men in a land of such abundance as America would have enjoyed food and decent living conditions that would have given them the healthiest bodies in the world.

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