“Bleeding Belgium” is an ironic historical allusion for public health

Support among the American public for quarantine appears at this point to be overwhelming. You can know this if you walk down the street and ask people, or if you look at a CBS poll that found 80% of respondents think citizens returning from West Africa should be quarantined until it’s clear they do not have the disease.

But America’s ‘professionals’ in the scientific and medical communities, and certainly those in the White House, seem deeply uninterested in the views of common people. When pressed on the issue they, especially the president, offer only gobbledygook and slogans. We can’t be safe here until they’re safe over there! They sound like propagandists for Bleeding Belgium in World War I.

Peggy Noonan, “From Ellis Island to Ebola,” 10/31/2014

Leave it to right-leaning columnist Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal to write something so transparently xenophobic that it defies all logic.

That “gobbledygook” Noonan is talking about is just the medical science she can’t understand. And she is not alone in her ignorance…which is no wonder why the scientific and medical “professionals” she is referring to “seem deeply uninterested in the views of common people.”

This from the same “common people” who wanted to quarantine AIDS patients in 1985 despite an understanding among public health professionals from years before how AIDS was and was not transmitted.

This propaganda piece appeared on page 14 of the New York Tribune on November 5, 1917. It made the emotional case that the United States needed to go to war to protect Belgium from Germany as a matter of U.S. national security.

This propaganda piece appeared on page 14 of the New York Tribune on November 5, 1917. It made the emotional case that the United States needed to go to war to protect Belgium from Germany as a matter of U.S. national security.

Considering that “common people” like Peggy Noonan describe medical and public health terminology as “gobbledygook,” thank goodness the professionals are disinterested in their views!

The end of the excerpt from Noonan compares the Democrats in the White House and the medical scientists to the U.S. Committee on Public Information propagandists from World War I who made the case that we needed to go to war in Germany to protect “Bleeding Belgium,” specifically making the argument that failing to protect Belgium made the United States less safe.

But Noonan’s failure to understand far more recent history makes her argument more comical ironic than absurd. Consider this November 16, 2002 quote from President George W. Bush as he made the case to go to war in Iraq.

We are committed to defending the nation. Yet wars are not won on the defensive. The best way to keep America safe from terrorism is to go after terrorists where they plan and hide.

In her column, Noonan told the story of Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who died from Ebola after coming to the United States (and infecting at least two nurses who cared for him). He had originally tested negative before he left Africa but ultimately incubated enough of the virus to kill him.

As you might imagine, Duncan’s family has a few questions about the care he received.

To Noonan, this was a great reason to keep nurse Kaci Hickox — who had tested negative for Ebola and showed no symptoms — under mandatory quarantine after her return from Sierra Leone, where she temporarily worked with Doctors without Borders. (Hickox is also an employee of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which certainly complicates matters a bit since she knows a thing or two about public health and epidemiology.)

Never mind that the only two people who became infected with Ebola because of Duncan were the nurses who cared for him. (After all, who else was coming into contact with his bodily fluids?)

By the way, Thomas Duncan entered the United States on a flight from — where else? — Belgium.

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