Today in Unnecessary Fearmongering

Via the Weekly Standard:  General: If Ebola Reaches Central America, ‘There Will Be Mass Migration into the U.S.’

The piece is a series of excerpts from a panel at the National Defense University which included Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command (all excerpts are from Kelly).

Now, without a doubt, it would be a humanitarian crisis (and panic in the region, if not the whole hemisphere) if there was an Ebola outbreak in Central America.  But, we need to remember a few things.  First, we are taking about speculation here.  Two, it is the job of people like Kelly to plan for various scenarios.  And three, people in positions such as Kelly’s are likely to plan, and want to talk about, worst case scenarios–it is inherent to the job.  Further, when speaking in public in these types of contexts they are prone to focus on threats (because not only is threat assessment part of their jobs, they want the public to support them, which requires underscoring how important they are).

The DoD’s write-up is a tad less inflammatory than the Weekly Standard’s version:  Kelly: Southcom Keeps Watch on Ebola Situation.  Of course, SouthCom should keep an eye on a potential outbreak, but the WS approach is highlight the outbreak fears while downplaying the “potential” part (because this scenario plays into the constant narrative of an impending, ominous threat from the south–one that often includes hordes of darker tones individuals carrying diseases).

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Scott says:

    Considering that we have had more Ebola cases than Central and South America, then, by this criteria, Mexico should be banning flights from the US and building a wall to keep us out.

    It is an indication of the sickness of our political system that, rather than acting responsibly, politicians and other public figures decide to demogogue and sow uncertainty. Instead of reassurance, the public receives messages to doubt our institutions.

    We need to condemn the irresponsible, not put them on talk shows.

  2. humanoid.panda says:

    I think a really interesting cultural history of the moment when Latin American stopped being considered a place the US could and should reshape at will and started being thought off as a place from which Marxist invasions/drug cartel takeover/ disease/ Islamic Terrorism spread could be written. Is this a byproduct of Cold War? Immigration scare? Did Latin America simply replace Southern Europe in the American imagination as place from which disease and anarchists and criminals come?

  3. @humanoid.panda: It dates back a long way and predates the Cold War–look, for example, at the origins of anti-marijuana panics in the early 1930s and fears about Mexican laborers.

    Also: the notions that LatAm as a a place that the US could reshape and the notion that LatAm is a place full of exotic threats are not mutually exclusive in historic US views of the region.

    We are, I would agree however, in an era of increased paranoia about the south, especially in certain sectors of contemporary US society.