A century on, why are we forgetting the deaths of 100 million? | Martin Kettle
The 1918 Spanish flu outbreak killed more people than both world wars. Don’t imagine such a thing could never happen again, says the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle
“By the time the pandemic finally ended, it had killed around 25 times more people than any other flu outbreak in history. It killed possibly more people than the first and second world wars put together. As Laura Spinney puts it in her new book, Pale Rider – the best modern account of the Spanish flu crisis – “the flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death”. Think about that. Not the western front, not Hitler’s invasion of Russia, not Hiroshima. But the flu.
In the face of such figures, it seems unbelievable that we forget or look away. Yet we do. Perhaps that is because, unlike equality for women, a disease has no ultimate prize to win and celebrate. Perhaps it is because, while wars have victors, pandemics leave only the vanquished, as Spinney puts it. Perhaps too, as the critic Walter Benjamin once argued, silences about public horrors can permit human societies to cope with collective recovery and to progress. Or perhaps, as Spinney also reflects, the Spanish flu has been consigned to the footnotes because its onslaught did not occur in public but in private, behind closed doors in millions of homes.”Posted on 2018-11-04T20:25:38+0000