History’s Forgotten Fiascos

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JoeJoeJoe commented in yesterday’s Commerce Secretary post: “More Spanish Flu blogging please. That was a huge public health event in our history and it’s rarely discussed.”

Indeed. Most of what I know about the episode comes from John M. Barry’s excellent book The Great Influenza which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys popular history. But in some ways the most interesting thing about the Spanish Flu is the extent to which its occurrence has been purged from our historical memory despite the fact that it was extraordinarily deadly—killing more people than World War One. But it’s barely mentioned in our history textbooks, doesn’t seem to come up much in famous books by Hemingway or Fitzgerald. In part, I suppose this reflects a preference for “great man” historical narratives rather than a focus on impersonal things like disease. Still, you’d think something that killed tens of millions of people globally and had a high mortality rate in the US would rate higher in popular culture. Wikipedia suggests that it came and went too fast, but the very speed is part of what’s noteworthy about it. I dunno.