Why are we forgetting the deaths of 100 million in the Spanish Flu outbreak?

American Expeditionary Force victims of the flu pandemic at U.S. Army Camp Hospital no. 45 in Aix-les-Bains, France, in 1918

The death of 100 million people in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 was a tragic event but I would argue we are right in remembering deaths from human atrocities in preference to natural disaster.

Martin Kettle writes a good article and I understand where he is coming from.  I just feel that if we are to improve as a species we must concentrate on our own behaviour because we are slowly managing to combat natural disasters through science.

We are making no such progress on combating the atrocities perpetrated by our evolutionary instincts.  Yes, I care that 100 million people died in the 1918 flu pandemic and yes perhaps it is curious that less has been written on it than the Black Death which presumably killed rather fewer. But at least natural disaster is no one’s fault. Human bestiality is.

Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with Spanish influenza at a hospital ward at Camp Funston
Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with Spanish influenza at a hospital ward at Camp Funston

The Black Death was sad. So was the Irish Potato Famine. So was the great flu epidemic. But those are issues we are addressing through science, thankfully. War, brutality, greed is not being addressed nearly so well. Without improvement in behaviour Pol Pot and his like will continue through eternity.  That is why I argue we should give prominence in attention to human created evil over natural disaster. We need to improve ourselves if we want to prevent “killing fields”. Scientific progress is wonderful but unless we reflect on our behaviour it will be of little avail to us.

I guess my view is also that while any sort of premature death is horrible, I would rather die from natural causes than at the hands of human hatred and stupidity. I can live with the godless hell of an uncaring universe but I find human evil somewhat harder to stomach than blind and dumb evolution such as the flu virus.

It is the “intent” of a Pol Pot and the lack of any “intent” in a flu epidemic which interests me. As Martin Kettle rightly points out, 100m deaths from flu is a terrible thing. But somehow I find the fact that no one intended it, no one caused it makes it less of a cause for note. But perhaps his point is right: after all much has been written on the black death, rather less on spanish flu which caused a far greater death toll. Mere musing on my part as ever. The struggle to grapple for meaning in chaos.

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims
Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims

 

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