Don't Know Much

“Have Americans Forgotten the History of this Deadly Flu?”

Members of the St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty on five ambulances during the 1918 flu pandemic. Via Library of Congress

This is from a PBS interview that ran in November 2018 about the impact of the Spanish Flu and the possibility of another pandemic outbreak.  This is the subject of my book More Deadly Than War. As I said at the time,

Could this happen again? The answer is, of course. And I’m sure there are people at the CDC who probably have nightmares about this. But we are much better prepared than we were 100 years ago. We would possibly have a vaccine that would work against such a virus, if it were identified and produced in massive numbers quickly enough.

We have erected enormous guardrails around the world through international cooperation, the World Health Organization, perhaps one of the most effective parts of the United Nations. Those guardrails are weakened when we deny science, when we ignore sound medical advice for short-term political considerations.


Read more of the interview here:

“In autumn of 1918, the largest military offensive in American history was raging on Europe’s Western Front. The battle concluded on Nov. 11, 1918, when the Armistice with Germany was signed, ending what was known as the Great War.

But more U.S. soldiers died of disease (63,114), primarily from the Spanish flu, than in combat (53,402).

Overall, 675,000 Americans were killed by the Spanish flu. This number surpasses the total of U.S. soldiers killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War combined. Current day estimates put the death toll from the 1918-1919 outbreak of the Spanish flu between 80 to 100 million worldwide.”

PBS NewsHour Interview

You can also read my article in Smithsonian, “Philadelphia Threw a WWI Parade That Gave Thousands of Onlookers the Flu.”