John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza, talks about how badly the US handled a pandemic that most likely started on home turf. Secrecy, censorship, and denial prevailed during the 1918-19 flu pandemic. The public were often lied to, but rarely fooled. But by denying the extent to which the plague was spreading, the public health authorities actually enabled it to worsen. Instead of stopping “patriotic” parades designed to recruit soldiers for the Great War (and sell victory bonds so that capitalism could finance itself), the spectacle was allowed to go on — and the virus, to decimate the populace. The result is history: hospitals overwhelmed, young healthy adults dying within hours of the first sign of illness, undertakers running out of coffins, priests driving horse-drawn carts through the streets of major cities and imploring the locals to bring out their dead, and mass graves full of quicklime when normal funereal practices were suspended. Modern times, for months, were barely distinguishable from the medieval. The slaughter in the trenches during the dying days of the war was eclipsed by another war, against an invisible enemy at home. Faith, hope, love and trust were hard to find. And the blame was deflected to Spain, which was neutral during the Great War, and whose media were uncensored as a result, and thus free to report casualty counts accurately (which other European newspapers, as well as those in North America, were NOT free to do.)
Fast-forward a hundred years to today, and what do we see? The same thing yet again: Equivocation, hesitation, denial…and a rapidly spreading plague. Instead of decisive public-health measures, the US is being crippled by a shitload of contradictory messaging from on high: don’t worry, do things, keep the economy going, but we’re going to shut the borders and stop travellers coming and going! It seems as though Donnie doesn’t care a damn about public health, but only about the robustness of his personal image. (This as even his own daughter has been forced to self-isolate and work from home doing God only knows what!)
We can learn a lot from 1918-19 about what NOT to do. But in the US, it really is as though another plague — amnesia — has spread across the land. Because the lessons of the Great Influenza have been ignored by the authorities, whose job it should be to heed them.
Still think electing a president who wasn’t a “Washington insider” was such a great idea, now?