Spain remained neutral in World War I. While combatants censored the press to sustain morale and hide any vulnerability, Spain had no such concerns. Spanish newspapers freely reported a raging influenza in May 1918 and the months that followed. The earlier cases recorded at Fort Riley, Kansas, in March got no publicity. Americans and others, hearing nothing but reassurance from their own governments, took Spain to be the epicenter.
No one knows for certain the birthplace of the “Spanish flu” of 1918-19, which killed more people than the war. The Spanish called it the French flu. Germans called it Flanders fever. It spread fast, and everyone blamed somebody else.
For Americans, calling the epidemic “Spanish” fits a long, unsavory linkage of germs with foreigners and immigrants. We had the Asian flu of 1957-58 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69. And then there was H1N1 or the swine flu of 2009-2010, first detected in a ten-year-old boy in California. Remember how everyone called it the American flu?
You don't? Neither do I.
Thanks for pointing out how the "Spanish" flu just may have started in the US. I only learned that recently. Glad the current pandemic has a more neutral, non-geographical name. Blame doesn't help much once the genie's out of the bottle. Containment, hygiene, testing and tracking are key.
9/15/2020 07:59:52 am
Blame rarely helps with much, except to whatever extent figuring out how things happened helps prevent or prepare for future issues. The formal name is non-geographic (and was for the earlier epidemics too). The wonder this time is that top-level efforts to assign the virus a xenophobic nickname didn't take hold.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.