This epic book captures the mood and the general feeling at the times of World War 1, when one of the most lethal viruses called influenza erupted in an army camp in Kansas. Given that it was a time of war, military camps were crowded, therefore: the virus found carriers among the military men. When the army moved eastwards, influenza moved with them and in the process, it killed millions of people. It is sad to note that, the epic influenza killed more people in a period of twenty-four months, more than AIDS ever did in twenty-four years. For the purpose of this essay, I (Dr. Wilmer Krusen, a political appointee who was the director of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Charities, a minor character in the book), will discuss in details the horrific effects and full impact of influenza to the American society. The author of the book apportions some degree of blame to the authorities of the day, since the federal and local government misplaced their priorities to focus on the war rather than the influenza.
In 1918, a horrific plague swept through the world killing the young and the elderly with reckless abandon. This situation caught everybody unawares, and it worsened. After just a short period, hospitals and morgues were overwhelmed. Dead bodies piled up on the streets because there was no space in the morgues bodies. The huge numbers of the dead being brought in for burial equally overwhelmed undertakers.
The politics of the day and instruments of public trust like the media, all reduced the magnanimity of the situation by giving sugarcoated responses. Official response did not represent the true nature and effect of the reality of that time. It was difficult for the public and the Philadelphia as state and the Department of health services, which I represent, because the only official communication that came from the federal state was a cover-up. Communications like "the epidemic is on the wane," and "there is no cause for alarm if precautions are observed," And "the so-called Spanish influenza is nothing more or less than old fashioned grippe. Such responses calmed the nerves of the public thus the country proceeded with its military advances ignorant to the fact that the crowded ships were “floating caskets.” Influenza is transmittable from animals to humans and vice-versa, therefore, all who aboard the ships including the medics were all infected. Imagine a situation where a patient infects the medic and the two are, therefore, reduced to fatal patients. The short number medical personnel did not help matters at all; hence if any medic becomes a patient, the circumstance becomes irreparable.
As Dr. Wilmer Krusen, a political appointee who was the director of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Charities, I overlooked the matter and allowed the Liberty loan parade to proceed regardless of the fact the local Navy camp had already suffered infections. This in turn facilitated the fast spread of the disease to the civilian population which escalated to huge numerical proportions in due time. Being a political appointee I had to abide by the rule of collective responsibility because the official communication from the White house was, “We have a war, a war we have to win.” Thus, the community’s morale was one thing we could not lower by stopping the liberty loan parade. That is why, when we deployed young and most gallant soldiers to Europe, we were fully aware of the “collateral damage.” (Collateral damage refers to the young soldiers who were infected in the floating caskets/ships). This was the cost of doing something right and so we killed our young men.
As much as we blame the eruption of the virus for the deaths of the soldiers during transit to the war torn areas of Europe, political expediency was given undeserved and undue advantage by the powers of the day. The president for instance against a background of medical advice and wise counsel from the medical practitioners in White House, the political stakes, were just too high for him to let go and the “war to end wars” had to be undertaken regardless of the looming health crisis.
In the above essay, I have highlighted how the great and epic influenza invaded the globe by first attacking the American society. If all the relevant people realized and took cognizance and reality of the matters that happened, I strongly feel that the fatalities would have been reduced. All the best brains in the medical profession failed to capture the gist of the matter at that time. As much as war was on going, the right amount of focus and attention should have been given to the seriousness of the virus. It is no wonder that the flu was reckless that it actually infected the president himself and other leaders. Woodrow Wilson was actually infected by influenza some time before his body was paralyzed by stroke. Thus, his cost of doing the right thing became counter-productive in the end when he was became infected. This was a tragedy of unmatched proportions.