08 March 2020

When History Rhymes: Woodrow Wilson and the Spanish Flu

What Woodrow Wilson did was reprehensible, even if it was for the war effort.

But for the stock market?

"The year 1917 saw the formation of the Committee on Public Information by executive order which aimed at Wilson getting more recruits for the war. By the summer of 1918, as the disease started to tighten its grip over the country, the government was focusing on the War and encouraging people to do their bit for the War but made almost no mention on anything else.

The committee was not used to combat the pandemic and was looked over. There were also cases of people being prosecuted over public discussion of the flu.

The fact that the government was attempting to keep the 'morale' up turned out to be extremely damaging. The president had been able to sell the war to the people even though he had initially promised that America would not enter World War 1, but fell short on informing the people about a much greater threat with the potential to wipe out the world."

Ishani Ghose, The Great American Coverup

"Asked if he was concerned about the virus getting closer, Trump said: “No, I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not. We’ve done a great job.”

Darlene Superville, Associated Press, Trump ‘not concerned’ as coronavirus cases rise in DC area, 8 March 2020

"By October 1918, the city of Washington, D.C. became a breeding ground for the highly contagious H1N1 strain of the flu. As civilian cases multiplied, local health officials initiated bans on public gatherings in order to quell the spread of infections. Across the city, public schools and universities closed their doors, and Congress and the Supreme Court adjourned.

Meanwhile, emergency hospitals opened across the District as nurses desperately tried to care for the constant influx of patients. Influenza cases continued well into the next year, disproportionately affecting healthy residents in their mid-twenties and thirties, a group normally predisposed to fight infectious disease. The infection of the strong and youthful, in addition to babies and the elderly, caused life expectancy in the U.S. to drop by twelve years in 1918."

Sarah Fling, White House History: Spanish Influenza in the President's Neighborhood

"The president struck a defiant tone as he spoke to reporters about the outbreak at his Mar a Lago resort in southern Florida, where he was hosting his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. "We will have tremendous rallies and we're doing very well, and we've done a fantastic job with respect to that subject," Trump responded when asked if his "Keep America Great" campaign events would continue."

AFP, Trump refuses to halt rallies as coronavirus surges

"...in April of 1917, the United States entered the First World War, and President Woodrow Wilson launched a dubious campaign to shore up popular support and suppress criticism.  He established the Committee on Public Information, whose chairman, George Creel, set out to promote what he called propaganda in the true sense of the word, meaning the ‘propagation of faith.’  Wilson also signed the Sedition Act, which criminalized 'disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government' or anything else that might impede the war effort. The government put up posters around the country urging citizens to report anyone 'who spreads pessimistic stories'...

Throughout history, diseases have posed an unsparing test of political leaders and their fidelity to the facts. According to Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, 'From the political to the purely mercenary, secrecy has almost always contributed to the further spread of a pandemic and hindered public health management.'

Evan Osnos, How Political Spin Has Worsened Epidemics