Volume 1, Number 1 (2010)
Friend or Foe? Venereal Diseases and the American Presence in Trinidad and Tobago during World War II
Venereal diseases or sexually transmitted diseases in the early twentieth century, according to Roy Porter, were “typical of the new plagues of an era of disturbance and migrations, being spread by international warfare, surging population and the movements of soldiers and refugees.”1 This interpretation of the nature of venereal diseases (VDs) exposes the extent to which these social illnesses were affected by the character and stability of the politics and society of the time. VDs thrived under conditions of conflict when desperation, displacement and disillusionment generated a relaxation of sexual conduct. Conversely, during these times of social upheaval, an equally strong reaction occurred and extremes of progress in healthcare were also apparent. These opposite forces of regression and progression thus generated dramatic escalations in VDs in periods of war, yet also produced the greatest advancements in prevention and treatment of these social diseases.
This trend was witnessed clearly during the Second World War. Many countries directly or indirectly involved such as Scotland, Canada and England, faced incredible obstacles in controlling the spread of VDs as the conditions created by the war began to influence behaviour and the effective operation of health services. As a major international port and migration point, the British colony of Trinidad and Tobago, in particular, was generally vulnerable to many social diseases. As worldwide focus on VDs increased, greater efforts were made to identify causes and generate and propagate treatments for these ailments. For many countries this resulted in the first extensive campaigns to control VDs. In Trinidad and Tobago, the foundation and success of the VD control program in the twentieth century was attributable largely to a situation also responsible for the rise of these diseases - the presence of foreign military forces, particularly of the United States from 1941, on Trinidadian soil. This article examines the factors associated with the prevalence of VDs during this conflict in addition to the culpability of these outside forces in escalating and assisting in the control of VDs within the colony.