How World War I's Legacy Eclipsed the 1918 Pandemic
By Elizabeth Yuko
via the History.com web site
World War I came to an end on November 11, 1918—nine months after the first cases of what was referred to as the “Spanish Flu” were reported in the United States. Against the backdrop of the war, the 1918 influenza pandemic surged at a time when people were already experiencing scarcity in everyday supplies, coping with having loved ones serving overseas, and living in a wartime economy.
A second global crisis had started before the first one ended.
World War I was devastating, leading to around 20 million deaths worldwide. Deaths from the 1918 pandemic were even more staggering: At least 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans, died from the disease. But the legacy of World War I overshadowed the pandemic, making the unprecedented loss of life from the flu almost an afterthought.
“When the flu impact resolved, people engaged in a kind of collective amnesia,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD, a medical anthropologist specializing in public health emergency preparedness at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. “At the same time though, there still was the collective trauma of the war. And so you had processes of post-war rituals and remembrances and monuments.”
Investment in World War I Memorials
For an event to become entrenched in the collective memory, it requires the public to be actively engaged in remembering it, according to Maria Luisa Lima and José Manuel Sobral in Societies Under Threat: A Pluri-Disciplinary Approach. This happens through referencing the event among family members and in everyday conversations, as well as commemorating it in monuments, rituals, archives and narratives.
“The contrast between the investment in memorialization of the war and what happened with the Spanish flu is huge,” say Lima and Sobral. They point out that, unlike wars, pandemics don’t offer the same “monumental benchmarks” that lend themselves to a monument or public commemoration, like a particular battle or the signing of a treaty.
Commemorations to mark World War I emerged quickly in the wake of the war—and in a variety of forms. School textbook narratives were updated, Veterans Day was established, and monuments and memorials were placed at sites across the country.
Read the entire article on the History.com web site.
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