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Declaration of a Peaceful Revolution

Worst Year Ever Series: Just after the worst war the world had ever seen ended, 1919 saw 50 million die from a flu

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“Africanized” killer bees swarming into America from the south were another notable case that once caught public attention. North American invasions of pests as diverse as carp and fungus have been tagged as “Asian.” Federally regulated invasive species in Canada include Chinese yam, Syrian bean-caper and South African ragwort.

People tend to blame other countries and continents for the nastiness of the natural world, and this is one of the ways in which bad years get remembered: as someone else’s fault, far away.

Hence, the China Virus, the Wuhan Flu.

Spanish Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas. Photo by Courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19, which started in America, was variously known in other countries as the German Flu, the French Flu, the Brazilian Flu, and others. But what stuck is the Spanish Flu, largely because Spain was neutral in the Great War, seen as a mixing place, but also because its press reports on the outbreak were uncensored, making it seem worse there than in other places, although it was not.

To the righteous annoyance of Spaniards, this name lasted, and gave way to assigning moral blame for communicable disease, the same stigmatizing impulse that would later show up in the AIDS pandemic. To this day, an estimated 500 million cases and 50 million deaths are assigned to the Spanish Flu.

Spread initially among soldiers, the Spanish Flu pandemic was also occurring during the worst warfare the world had ever known, in which an estimated 40 million civilians and soldiers died before the Armistice in November, when the virus was at the peak of its second wave.

As a bad year, 1919 projects a legacy through history because the Great War remained fundamentally unresolved, despite the grand visions at peace treaty negotiations in Versailles.

It was a bad year for the astonishing scale of death alone, arguably the Worst Year Ever, at least until Germany went to war again.

Other years in the series:

536CE

1348

1781

1945

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