By Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Wisconsin –-(Ammoland.com)- It is only the Flu. These are the famous words of the political leaders of the day, in 1917-1918 while large populations of the world were dying.
They called it the Spanish Flu pandemic. Pandemic means an epidemic, which spreads over a wide area. It was incorrectly named because World War I was going on and the governments on both side had censorship of the news. Spain was not at war and their newspapers reported the latest information on the pandemic as it was occurring.
Because most of the timely and accurate information was coming from that country people wrongfully thought Spain started the whole thing. It is most likely that the 1917 Great Influenza epidemic started in Kansas and was taken to an army camp by some young men who were joining up to fight, now that the US had entered the war.
Military bases and college campuses are some of the worst places to be if there is an easily spread disease around, especially if it is passed on by coughing and sneezing. People go from living in lots of open space of the family home, to the very confined space of a crowded dormitory room or a military barracks.
The practice of medicine in 1917 was not what it is today. Many doctors of the time attended medical schools that did not require the student to have an undergraduate degree. Some doctors graduated from medical school without ever seeing a live patient. Also because the US had entered the First World War, the military had already done a very good job of screening for the better trained medical personnel and then drafting the most competent physicians in the country.
This unfortunately left the older, less modern trained doctors, and the ones who attended questionable medical schools, to treat the sickening public. A public that was about to start dying by the tens of thousands in this county and by the millions world wide. The death rate had been reported has high as 40 million back during the epidemic and has been revised within the last couple of years to approximately 100 million.
According to John M. Barry who wrote the book The Great Influenza, it killed more people in twenty four weeks than AIDS has killed in the past twenty four years. Most people in the US at the time were directly affected by the Flu. If not as a patient themselves, than by a family member, close friend or neighbor who suffered and died.
My great-grandparents and all but, their oldest daughter (to include my grandfather) contracted the Flu. My great aunt nursed the entire family back to good health then contracted the flu herself and died. I first heard that story in the 1950s when we would go to Missouri and visit my great-grandmother. Thirty plus years after the pandemic the family was still talking about it as if it had just happened.
It is different when you actually lose a family member in an epidemic vs. reading about it in the paper. It would appear the US gave this lethal crisis to the world and as it developed the politicians and the military leaders not only turned a blinded eye, but withheld important information that would have allowed the public to prepare and react more efficiently.
After all it was only the flu.
President Wilson never publicly acknowledged that there ever was a flu. At the end of war he traveled to Europe and promptly contracted the influenza himself. One of the effects of the flu in some patients is swelling in the brain. Even if you survive it can be a precursor to strokes later in life. President Wilson had a major debilitating stroke shortly after he returned to the US. But it was only the influenza.
A 2005 cover story for National Geographic was “The Next Killer Flu-Can we stop it?” Have you seen the movie Contagion? The TV and print news are continually running stories about current flu issues in the US. In some areas there has been a flu vaccine shortages and that was for the regular normal (what ever that means) yearly flu.
People, who wait until the media creates a panic about shortages before they try to get their flu shoot, are their own worst enemy. Between thirty, and fifty thousand Americans, die each year from flu (again normal flu). If you think the response to the hurricane disaster this year was slow to meet the public’s needs that will pale in comparison if there is a pandemic flu outbreak. Remember people did not fly back in 1917. This time it will spread faster and more deadly. Go see Contagion it is the best two hour explanation of how it will happen and how devastating it will be. It is not if – it is when.
Major Van Harl USAF Ret.
Then get your Flu Shot.
About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:
Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret. , is a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Now retired, these days he enjoys camping, traveling, volunteering with the Girl Scouts and writing. [email protected]