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Truth a victim of politicized pandemics

By Ray Hanania

May 29, 2020

Beginning in 1918, the Spanish Flu spread around the world during a 12-month period and infected 500 million people, which was one-third of the world’s population at the time.

By the pandemic ended, more than 50 million people had died, more fatalities than any other pandemic in the entire world.

It is remembered as the Spanish Flu, but the reality is that the flu did not start in Spain at all.

At the time of the outbreak, the world was mostly divided between two warring forces during the “War to End all Wars,” World War I.

Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers) were battling Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States (the Allied Powers), mainly in Europe and Asia.

The Spanish Flu should remind us that pandemics are driven as much by sinister politics as by noble efforts to save lives.

Some scientists who battled the pandemic have asserted the pandemic began in France and spread by soldiers, and in Asia, spread by migrant laborers. But most scholarly research pinned patient Zero – the first patient – as an American farmer.

The deadly disease started on a farm in Haskell County in Kansas, and was carried by a young man who enlisted and served in the U.S. military during the First World War.

But everyone seems to agree it did not begin in Spain.

World War I had a huge impact on how it was addressed and also how it spread. But the allies–the U.S., France and Britain–didn’t want to undermine the morale of their troops. So, for two months after the first case was detected in Kansas, little was done to confront it or even acknowledge it–fearing it would undermine the war effort and frighten families who were sending their sons overseas to fight someone else’s war.

As the deadly viral infections spread across the world because of the war–first through Allied Forces and later through the Central Powers nations–the death rate began to increase dramatically.

France eventually became a major source for infections and their numbers skyrocketed quickly–and also into countries of the Central Powers, all because of the war and the tight quarters in which the war was fought. Soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in trenches, living often in unsanitary conditions. The devastation of the war destroyed the health infrastructure of many of the cities and communities in the war zones, making infection that much easier.Ê

Yet why did Spain get the blame and the name, one that haunts human beings at just the mention because of the horrific death toll that was worse than the Black Plague?

Well, Spain chose to be neutral in the war effort, rebuffing pressure from the Allies and the Central Powers, and that upset both sides. So when Spain announced several months later, in the spring of 1918, that they were seeing a rise in infections as a result of the pandemic, everyone began to blame it on them.

Maybe this week, after commemorating Memorial Day, an American national observance that began after the Civil War (then called “Decoration Day”) that was eventually renamed Memorial Day officially in 1971, we might consider the current pandemic and the politics than infects the truth.

The debate nationally is so ugly, probably much like the debate that swirled during the 1918 pandemic. Politics seems to be the priority today as it was back then.

I don’t think that will change much, even though the fatalities in this pandemic continue to grow. The name of this virus, which originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China in December 2019 is named the “coronavirus” because of the “corona” aspect of the virus. It is also called COVID-19 (an acronym for COronaVIrus Disease 2019).

The truth is as much a victim of the virus as are the human beings who have died.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning syndicated columnist who covered Chicago City Hall for nearly two decades “from Daley to Daley.” Read more of his columns and download his podcasts by visiting Hanania.com. Email him at [email protected])

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