Combating an invisible enemy: the American military response to global pandemics

Lauren K. Dutton, Peter C. Rhee, Alexander Y. Shin, Richard J. Ehrlichman, Richard J. Shemin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The present moment is not the first time that America has found itself at war with a pathogen during a time of international conflict. Between crowded barracks at home and trenches abroad, wartime conditions helped enable the spread of influenza in the fall of 1918 during World War I such that an estimated 20–40% of U.S. military members were infected. While the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is unparalleled for most of today’s population, it is essential to not view it as unprecedented lest the lessons of past pandemics and their effect on the American military be forgotten. This article provides a historical perspective on the effect of the most notable antecedent pandemic, the Spanish Influenza epidemic, on American forces with the goal of understanding the interrelationship of global pandemics and the military, highlighting the unique challenges of the current pandemic, and examining how the American military has fought back against pandemics both at home and abroad, both 100 years ago and today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8
JournalMilitary Medical Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Influenza
  • Military
  • Pandemic
  • Spanish influenza

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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