Then and now

In trying to get some perspective on this Covid threat, I’ve been looking at what happened with the so-called Spanish Flu from 1918. It seems that epidemic is the one most often likened to the current event, with all its confusion on rates of infection and numbers of casualties.

As it appears, there isn’t even much certainty about how many people in total died from the 1918 flu. I’ve seen a wide range of estimates, from 50 million to 100 million. That’s a lot of variation, a lot of uncertainty and guesstimating, it seems. I don’t think that in those times a precise number could be calculated, given that there were so many isolated corners of the world, in that (blessed) day before globalism and the ”small world” of today. In 1918 people could still isolate themselves, unlike today in which cheap, easy, frequent, and often needless world travel is rife, and widespread disease is an often unacknowledged result.

The BBC has an interesting article about how the 1918 flu was far from universal in its reach; there were actually towns, schools, or islands with populations who escaped the illness altogether.

How did they do it? The obvious way. They practiced what they called ‘Protective Sequestration’, which is just a more pleasant way of saying ”quarantine”. Compare today’s careless habits, with reports of ‘quarantine breakers’, infected or possibly infected people who refuse to isolate themselves, choosing to go out and share their germs with all and sundry — with few consequences, it seems. Back in 1918 people were more responsible and less selfish. Today it seems it’s all about ‘me’ — or me, myself, and I, and to those with this mindset, nobody has any right to ask an ill and contagious person to stay at home and refrain from infecting others. And too many people in authority seem willing to impose penalties on those breaking quarantine and acting like Typhoid Mary.

The Spanish flu did not spread uniformly; some communities, not many, escaped the epidemic, but some places were depopulated, as in some Alaskan villages of mostly Alaskan Natives. That group seemed especially susceptible to severe infection in the flu epidemic, apparently due to lack of antibodies from previous epidemics of similar flus.

The BBC article, though interesting and informative in its facts, still stays true to its political ideology, as the article tells us that isolation saved lives, and that widespread travel carries diseasse (of course it does; do we need to be told?) — but then the BBC article reminds us that we live in the small world, the global village they tell us about, and that we can’t just up and close borders or close off our towns or villages. It would disrupt too much. So, implicitly they are saying we must leave ourselves open to whatever diseases and epidemics for the sake of Openness and One-Worldism. I find this attitude too fatalistic to be acceptable, but yet it is a common attitude.

One thing I find puzzling: the older generations of both sides of my family always had stories about the Big Events of the past, whether first-hand of second-hand from parents or grandparents. In the days before TV and movies and even before radio, storytelling was the big pastime of an evening, and people usually had true-life stories to tell, and they had long (and accurate) memories.

Neither side of my family had any stories about the 1918 flu, and nobody, even in my large extended family was said to have died of the flu. There were no dramatic stories, as in movies or TV series about WWI, of anyone dropping dead on a crowded street from the flu. As far as I know nobody on either side contracted the 1918 flu. Maybe it helped that, on my paternal side, most people were robust and hardy, and lived mostly in rural areas, far from the overcrowded cities which usually harbor the diseases.

Meanwhile in the area where I live, there have been some cases a couple of counties away (lots of immigrants there, many recently back from their regular visits to their homeland) and many people are starting to hoard, emptying grocery store shelves of necessary items. That doesn’t bode well, if people start hoarding and scarcities are created. I think there is some profiteering going on, and some people may suffer because of the inability to get what they need. It probably wasn’t like this in my grandparents’ time.

Is this epidemic being over-hyped? I think there are too few hard facts known for certain. It’s not possible to say. But it’s not something we should take lightly.

I may be thinking wishfully, because of my own vulnerability to this threat; But we can hope and pray that this will not be the mega-disaster some seem to believe.

Oddly it seems as though some people want this to be The Big One. Why? I can’t explain that mentality; it’s foreign to me. I hope that we all come through this safely and none the worse for it. And it would help if it seemed that somebody in authority made the correct choices as to how to deal with it.

4 thoughts on “Then and now

  1. My great grandfather nearly died from the 1917 flu. Interestingly my grandfather had gotten the mild but extremely infectious flu that circulated before and never caught the Spanish Flu. He told me the dramatic story and the life and death struggle years before he passed away.
    As for COVID please be careful. Get ready what you can. This is the real deal and it’s become obvious from our grossly inadequate “leaders” that we’re on our own.


    • Thanks for your comment. I wrote a reply but it got lost on my end, so I’ll try again.
      Thank you for telling your family story; sorry that your grandfather and great-grandfather were ill with that deadly flu. I am sure it was hard even for those who survived it. I hope and pray that this one won’t be on that scale or as deadly.
      Like most people I am taking precautions as much as possible but there’s no way to eliminate risk altogether, though it’s foolhardy to ignore the danger.
      Sadly in the year 2020 we have less of the neighborliness and mutual concern that was around in 1918 or thereabouts. So if it becomes bad I fear that our social alienation will make it harder for a lot of the sufferers, but let’s hope and pray that it won’t.


    • Thanks so much for this comment and the prayers. I will be praying these prayers.
      I did notice that in the older prayers there was often more of a humility of attitude and an acknowledgement of our sins rather than apparently believing as in many modern prayers that we’re really not so bad as people and not in need of contrition or repentance.
      I am taking this thing seriously just because we can’t know how bad it will be just yet, and of course we know that pestilence is foretold. But it does remind us of our relative helplessness and yes, our mortality but that’s something I have to deal with regardless.


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