The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918

I’m still sick but yesterday I felt well enough to sit in the living room and watch movies with Henry and do some knitting. And I’ve been reading a fantastic book that I got from the library a few weeks ago. I’m not done yet but it’s due tomorrow and I’ve already renewed it once so I really do need to give it back. But I’ll just check it out again as soon as I can so I can finish.

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It

The story of the pandemic is just crazy. Around 40 million people died, worldwide. Forty million! (Record-keeping was spotty, so the death toll was probably far higher.) The pandemic hit near the end of World War One; more American soldiers were killed by the flu than were killed in combat.

In one division of soldiers who fought on the front lines in France from October 26th until the end of the war, “the flu killed 444 men. The number who were killed, wounded, missing, or captured in the war was 90.”

This was less than 100 years ago, and probably affected almost every family in the US. Probably most of us have a relative who died. (Family legend has it that my Great-Great Aunt Irma died in this flu pandemic but she actually died a couple of years earlier, in 1916.)

But this pandemic was, according to the author, “expunged from newspapers, magazines, textbooks, and society’s collective memory.”

Why? One theory is that it was just too horrific. So many people died in such a short amount of time, plus it was combined with the brand-new modern horrors of WWI (mustard gas, trench warfare, automatic weapons). People just wanted to forget the whole thing. Understandable, but I want to KNOW about it. I suspect that more people are familiar with the Black Death of the 14th century than are aware of this very comparable outbreak in modern times.

I watched a wonderful episode of American Experience a couple years ago about the 1918 flu pandemic. I need to see if that’s online somewhere and watch it again.

Category: Blog 2 comments »

2 Responses to “The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918”

  1. Jerry Nicholson

    Quote: ‘But this pandemic was, according to the author, “expunged from newspapers, magazines, textbooks, and society’s collective memory.” ‘

    I fail to see how the author could conclude that information about the pandemic was “expunged….”. Actually, information has been quite wide spread and the subject is brought up again every time there is a new flu scare. There is always the question as to whether this was truly a flu pandemic or a pneumonia pandemic. I do know that my mother’s brother died from pneumonia at that time. Our great uncle John Nicholson also died during that period but I found a letter indicating that he died after an operation in which it was discovered that he had liver cancer. I don’t know if he died from the cancer or died from being operated on in the Guthrie OK hospital in 1918!

    Jerry

  2. amy

    That was a fascinating book. See, I knew we shared good taste. I hope you feel better soon.

    Amy


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