A water-cure establishment

I’ve mentioned how the term “water cure” was used by U.S. troops in the Philippines as a sarcastic euphemism for water torture. Here is an illustration and excerpt from an 1855 description of a resort where the water cure, or “hydropathic system,” was in use.

I’m quoting George White’s Historical Collections of Georgia:

White-columned wooden building

The above is a view of Dr. Cox’s Water-Cure establishment. It is located at the base of the Kenesaw Mountain, and immediately upon the Western and Atlantic Railroad, one and a half miles from Marietta.
For purposes of health, so far as pure water, bracing armosphere, and fine scenery are concerned, a more desirable situation can scarcely be found.
It is not our business to enter into any discussion as to the merits of the Hydropathic system, but justice requires we should say, that hundreds have derived important benefits from the regimen adopted by Dr. Cox.1

The “regimen” consisted of applying cold water to parts of the body, in the belief that doing so promoted health. Modern-day polar bear clubs would endorse this. By the end of the 1800s, though, the term “water cure” had less pleasant associations.

It took a depraved sense of humor to apply the term to a torture technique that simulates drowning — the same technique we now call waterboarding. This new usage of “water cure” emerged around 1899, while U.S. troops were keeping the Philippines from winning their independence. (See “A brief history of waterboarding”)

It was no less depraved to coin the modern term “waterboarding,” which likens water torture to an extreme sport. This happened in 2003, while U.S. troops were doing whatever it is they’re doing in our name in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See “Why we call it waterboarding”)


1 George White, Historical Collections of Georgia (New York: Pudney & Russell, 1855), p. 400. 

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