Front Page Titles (by Subject) Imperialism\'s Cost in Human Suffering - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2
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Imperialism's Cost in Human Suffering - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Imperialism's Cost in Human Suffering
“The Human Cost of Imperial Defence in the Early Victorian Age.” Victorian Studies 24 (Autumn 1980): 7–32.
On the balance sheet of British imperialism, during the Victorian era, the debit side was heavily weighted by the sacrifice of the common soldier, not only of those killed in action, but of the many thousands more ravaged by disease, drunkenness, bad food, and squalid living quarters. “The story of Britain's imperial legions,” writes Prof. Burroughs, “is...as much a record of callous indifference to human suffering, incompetence in high places, and the wanton of expendable cannon fodder as of bravery and honor, glory and self-sacrifice.” The apathy and neglect so often shown by British senior officers toward the health and welfare of the common recruit found at least partial justification in the belief that the rank and file consisted in the main of shiftless, dissipated, and brutish ne'er-do-wells. Indulgent treatment of such ruffians seemed wholly inappropriate, even dangerous. Nonetheless, in the years after Waterloo, a more generous, humane view was espoused by reformists, as well as many civilian administrators at the War Office.
This enlightened approach was noticeably accentuated once Henry George Grey, Lord Howick, assumed office as secretary of war in April 1835. Through a wide range of reforms (good conduct pay, savings banks, libraries, improvements in rations and barrack accomodations, etc.), Howick attempted to better the conditions of army life for the ordinary life for the ordinary soldier. His campaign against death and sickness among troops at foreign stations was largely inspired by the statistical studies of army medical returns carried out in 1836 by Dr. Henry Marshall and Lieutenant Alexander Tulloch.
With the rapid expansion of the Empire, infantrymen posted overseas could count on an absence from home of at least 10 or 13 years at a stretch, and closer to 20 years if destined for India. At the end of a tour of duty, soldiers would be fortunate if they spent 4 years in Britain before being sent abroad once again. The prospect of nearly perpetual exile adversely affected morale and health, particularly among those unlucky enough to be ordered to tropical stations.
According to figures compiled by Lieutenant Tulloch, the annual mortality rate among civilians for military age in Britain stood at 11.5 per thousand. On foreign duty, however, British troops suffered considerably higher death rates: 85 per thousand in the Windward and Leeward Islands, 483 per thousand in Sierra Leone, and 668 per thousand at the Gold Coast (the highest in the Empire) where the evils of the environment were aggravated by an unbridled intemperance and a frenzied despair verging on madness.
Tulloch studies into the origins of diseases established a connection between the impoverished diet of the infantrymen (with its heavy emphasis on salt meats) and the incidence of digestive ailments, such as endemic dysentery. Reports by other investigators highlighted overcrowding in ramshackled barracks where space allocated for each soldier at times did not exceed 22 to 23 inches across. In such crowded conditions, catarrhal infections and lung diseases abounded.
On the strength of this evidence, Lord Howick argued to budget-minded M.P.s and senior officers that a false economy prevailed in British military policy. The cost of erecting sound, airy barracks, of providing a constant supply of fresh meat and vegetables, as well as allowing shorter tours of foreign duty would have been far more economical than continued expeditures for recruiting, training, and transporting reliefs from Britain to replace condition-caused casualties.
Unfortunately for the welfare of the common soldier, Lord Howick could convince neither Parliament nor his cabinet colleagues of the wisdom of such radical prescriptions. It would take the harrowing debacle of the Crimean War, not the statistical revelations of Tulloch, to ensure that many of Lord Howick's proposed reforms would finally be implemented.