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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Walter Reed And His Hospital



Both Hubby and I quite possibly could have died in our twenties were it not for the Army's Walter Reed Hospital.  Hubby's tuberculosis was diagnosed there, and I suffered a late-term miscarriage and subsequent infection that kept me there for ten days.  On the other hand, it may well have been the hospital's fault that I got the infection – and even that I had the miscarriage.  This was during the Vietnam War and young male physicians were being drafted, and I'm sure that some who were assigned to OB/GYN resented that.  I know my doctor was a complete and total jerk, without empathy and very antagonistic. 


Which is not to say that they all were.  I had some fine doctors, both there and later, when we lived in Boston and got our care at the Chelsea Naval Hospital.  The good ones were likely to be older men, as there were few female physicians back then, especially in military settings.  Since then, the military has stopped providing direct care to "dependents" -- as wives were called.  Instead, my family members with Army careers have a subsidized insurance system called Tricare.  This change probably is good because it allows for greater choice in civilian settings, and it also leaves military physicians free to treat the particular problems of active-duty personnel.


As we all know, Cadet Bone Spurs never served in the military, and his temper would have caused him to be thrown in the brig within days of being drafted.  The Constitution makes him commander-in-chief, however, so he is allowed – even encouraged – to accept socialized medicine at Walter Reed.  Not that it matters to someone whose major form of communication is tweeting, but the Secret Service would want him in the presidential suite because it provides electronic security.  I knew he would leave as soon as possible, though, because it never could meet his standard of luxury.  Although much improved since we were there, not even a brand-new military facility would satisfy someone accustomed to the Trump brand.

Located at the point where the District's Georgia Avenue crosses the Maryland line, this was pleasant countryside when the hospital began in 1901.  By the time that Hubby and I were patients in the 1960s, however, it was beginning to look rundown, and its neighborhood had deteriorated to the point that I never felt truly safe.  I'm glad to see on the internet, though, that the PR folks have fixed this by changing the major entry points from impoverished Georgia Avenue to wealthy Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues.  One really good point:  the first microwave I ever used was to heat a sandwich in the canteen there.  But nobody uses "canteen" anymore, either.  Times change.




Walter Reed, the man, not the hospital, is particularly relevant to Tampa because of the big part that our town played in the Spanish-American War.  Hardly worth calling a "war," it followed several years after Cubans revolted against their mother country, Spain.  Tampans --including cigar-maker Paulina Pedroso, who has a statue on the Riverwalk -- raised funds to arm that revolution.  The US joined after still-unknown people blew up the USS Maine in Havana harbor.  Army troops gathered here in the spring of 1898, and under Rough Rider (and PR genius) Teddy Roosevelt, we won not only bragging rights to Cuba, but also to Puerto Rico and the far-off Philippines.


It was not ammunition, however, but mosquitoes that were the most vicious killer:  five times as many American soldiers died because of mosquito-bred diseases as from combat.  Tampans understood that reality, as our last big yellow-fever epidemic had been just a decade earlier, in 1887, and killed as much as ten percent of the population.  No one back then really comprehended public health and the connections between sanitation, water pollution, and insect-borne disease.  Epidemics regularly decimated low-lying cities, even as far north as New York.

Walter Reed was a Virginia-born Army physician who had reached the rank of major when he served in Cuba.  Following up on a theory that a Cuban colleague proposed, his team identified the particular mosquito that caused the fatal fever.  A year of carefully controlled experiments proved their thesis, and Army engineers followed up with a strong campaign to eliminate the mosquito.  It was spectacularly successful:  Havana had some 1400 cases in 1900, but by 1902, there were none at all.  Dr. Reed died in November 1902, and a grateful nation named its new hospital for him.


The military did not admit women to its ranks during the Spanish-American War, but hundreds of them signed contracts with the Army to work as nurses, and Ellen May Tower became the first to die on foreign soil.  She was recovering from typhoid fever in Puerto Rico when overwork caused a heart attack, and she died at age 30.  Clara Maas, the daughter of German immigrants, died in Cuba; she had graduated from a German Nursing School in Newark in 1895.  Just six years later, she gave her life to the mosquito experiments. 


Perhaps because Maas was a second-generation immigrant, her death did not receive the fanfare that Tower's had.  A special train with armed escorts carried Tower's body to her Michigan hometown, and exactly five years after her nursing-school graduation, she was buried with full military honors. 


Not coincidentally, Congress authorized the Army Nurse Corps in 1901, the same year that Walter Reed Hospital began.  Progress for women and progress in public health particularly go hand-in-hand.  We should have learned that lesson by 2020, and Mike Pence should not have been put in charge of the current pandemic.  Or had you forgotten that he was supposed to be in charge?  He and his boss hope you have.




That 60-year-old Sandra Loli of Syracuse, who worked with refugees in Yemen, was released after three years as a hostage?  Do think you we would have known more about this if, instead of Oman, the city had been Benghazi?  Guys who couldn't found Libya's Benghazi or Yemen's Oman on a map would have been all over the internet telling us that this captivity was Hillary's fault.  Mike Pompeo, not so much.


Which reminds me of something else re foreign policy that I've been thinking about.  Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, wrote in her autobiography that when President-elect Bill Clinton interviewed her about the job, he asked if she thought that a woman could stand up to the macho men who cause most of the world's troubles.  I loved her creative reply:  "if you don't have cojones, they can't cut them off."


So while we're being vulgar, do you remember years ago when I wrote about the full name of the court case now called "Citizens United?"  I said that when Roger Stone and other hee-haw thugs created their anti-Hillary PAC, they called it "Citizens United, Not Timid."  I wondered why such an awkward name until I spelled out the acronym of the first letters.  And yes, these are the guys who now run the White House.  


But the reason I was thinking about this is because I'm predicting that the unrestricted political spending that the Supreme Court allowed with Citizens United is coming to an end.  It won't be because the Court will reverse its decision to equate money and free speech, but because people (and the Democratic Party) have gotten smarter.  They have figured out that a few dollars from a lot of voters is more important than a lot of dollars from a few voters. 


The proof:  have you noticed the millions pouring into Democratic senatorial campaigns in places such as the Carolinas and Georgia?  Just weeks ago, Democratic victory there was unthinkable, but money matters, and these candidates are pulling ahead.  And that is what will end Citizens United.  The outsized influence of billionaires such as the Kochs and Adelsons will be no more, as grass-roots Democrats donate online at record rates.  With an end to spending limits, Roger Stones is being outplayed at his own game.


Which sort of brings us to California.  Did you notice that the Hater-in-Chief refused to release FEMA funds to deal with its devastating wildfires?  Do you think that would be the case if this were a natural disaster in a red state?  If I were a Californian, I would give serious thought to secession.  Its population of some 40 million is larger than that of many nations, including Canada and Australia.  If it joined with Oregon and Washington – also overwhelming liberal – the total would be over 50 million.  Yet each has the same two US senators as states that are smaller than Hillsborough County. 


So instead of subsidizing the red states with their tax dollars (which they do; look it up), and instead putting up with Trump's slanderous attacks on their governors and mayors, I'd think about creating a new nation.  A West Coast country could control the Pacific and make its own trade deals with China, Japan. and other Asian nations.  Especially because of Asian American who have lived there for several generations, it could lead unprecedented international peace and prosperity.  Already Seattle's Microsoft and California's Silicon Valley demonstrate how this sort of creativity and cooperation can work.  It's a thought.



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