View Full Version : History lesson from the 1918 Pandemic

05-18-2020, 12:50 PM
'Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.'

The quote is most likely due to writer and philosopher George Santayana, and in its original form it read, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Santayana was known for aphorisms, and for being a professor in philosophy at Harvard which he abandoned.
According to Santayana's philosophy, history repeats. The phrasing itself certainly is catchy. It's a big one, not only because it is so common, but also because if it is true and if history, driven by human nature, is ugly (hint: it is), then this saying ought to guide our public and private policy.

An article I just saw (originally published March 27) about the measures taken in 1918-1920 to stem the flu pandemic. Note that the measures taken this year are based on what worked well then, and the success of them then depended on how soon and long they were used, and how too early lifting them sometimes had issues.

"How some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 flu pandemic
Social distancing isn’t a new idea—it saved thousands of American lives during the last great pandemic. Here's how it worked."

"The studies reached another important conclusion: That relaxing intervention measures too early could cause an otherwise stabilized city to relapse. St. Louis, for example, was so emboldened by its low death rate that the city lifted restrictions on public gatherings less than two months after the outbreak began. A rash of new cases soon followed. Of the cities that kept interventions in place, none experienced a second wave of high death rates. (See photos that capture a world paused by coronavirus.)"

"In 1918, the studies found, the key to flattening the curve was social distancing. And that likely remains true a century later, in the current battle against coronavirus. “[T]here is an invaluable treasure trove of useful historical data that has only just begun to be used to inform our actions,” Columbia University epidemiologist Stephen S. Morse wrote in an analysis of the data. “The lessons of 1918, if well heeded, might help us to avoid repeating the same history today.”"

"Shortly after health measures were put in place in Philadelphia, a case popped up in St. Louis. Two days later, the city shut down most public gatherings and quarantined victims in their homes. The cases slowed. By the end of the pandemic, between 50 and 100 million people were dead worldwide, including more than 500,000 Americans—but the death rate in St. Louis was less than half of the rate in Philadelphia. The deaths due to the virus were estimated to be about 358 people per 100,000 in St Louis, compared to 748 per 100,000 in Philadelphia during the first six months—the deadliest period—of the pandemic."

05-20-2020, 05:54 AM
My father was a college professor who taught American history. He loved that “condemned to repeat it” phrase. IMHO after many years of reflection on this concept, I think that the reality is is slightly different: Those who can remember the past are also condemned to repeat it. The human race as a whole has not changed in any significant way since the last ice age. The more things change, the more they stay the same. When human nature changes, things may go in new directions. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that day to come. C’est la vie - deal with it. Most scientists don’t understand politics and don’t want to. Most politicians don’t understand science and don’t want to. Add it all up and welcome to the train wreck... pick your way through the mess with care and you may get lucky. Get out on the water and find joy in the moment when you can. Good luck to us all...

Sent from my iPad using Winnipesaukee Forum mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=92687)

05-20-2020, 07:29 PM
science will keep you alive longer.

05-20-2020, 11:37 PM
Well said!

05-21-2020, 08:46 AM
As a kid, my parents told me no one is perfect, and it's ok to make a mistake. The key was to learn from our mistakes.

That may be easy to do as an individual, maybe not so easy as a group (as in our country).:rolleye2:


05-21-2020, 10:17 AM
As a kid, my parents told me no one is perfect, and it's ok to make a mistake. The key was to learn from our mistakes.

That may be easy to do as an individual, maybe not so easy as a group (as in our country).:rolleye2:


This is one of the saddest things to me about this situation--it appears that a large number of individuals have no interest in learning enough to avoid future problems that are obvious

05-21-2020, 11:25 AM
Don't forget Winston Churchill's quote about American, too.

"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."

05-21-2020, 04:23 PM

You had me at "Add it all up and welcome to the train wreck..."

So true.