Monday, January 18, 2010

the 1918 flu epidemic

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Watching a documentary about the influenza epidemic of 1918, one of the most interesting aspects was how quickly people put it from their minds once the danger had passed. Something like 500,000 people died in the United States alone. Civil society was brought largely to a stand-still. No one knew what to do: Doctors were flummoxed, patients would be admitted to hospitals with toe tags already affixed, and coffin makers had to post guards around their wares. Soldiers packed onto troop ships headed for the battlefields of World War I were facing more than a death from bullets since it was recognized that crowded spaces were fertile soil for transmission.

And the United States was not alone:

The global mortality rate from the 1918/1919 pandemic is not known, but it is estimated that 10% to 20% of those who were infected died. With about a third of the world population infected, this case-fatality ratio means that 3% to 6% of the entire global population died.[24] Influenza may have killed as many as 25 million in its first 25 weeks. Older estimates say it killed 40–50 million people[4] while current estimates say 50—100 million people worldwide were killed.[25] This pandemic has been described as "the greatest medical holocaust in history" and may have killed more people than the Black Death.[26] --- Wikipedia

Strange to think that World War I would be remembered and yet this unfathomable horror should have become, even immediately after its passing, a case of collective amnesia. Perhaps the fact that there was no credible blame or explanation that could be affixed made such forgetting inevitable...and perhaps imperative. Horrors like World War I have explanations and analyses that can be adduced. But a horror without an explanation is just too horrific, somehow ... maybe it was like that...where a scream has no sound, who would bother screaming?

And perhaps the same is true for joy. Where explanations find no footing, it is easier to forget about it.
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