I’m starting a new weekly installment called Factual Fridays. It will cover military facts (maybe you know it already but hopefully not) and I’ll try to be creative!
As I’m currently reading “The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916” by Alistair Horne and multiple places around the US are declaring flu emergencies, I thought it would be appropriate to cover the Spanish Flu and it’s potential impact during World War I.
First, Spanish Flu or Spanish Influenza is a misnomer. Spain, being neutral during WWI, didn’t have a blanket censure of its newspapers and as a result, could report actual deaths related to the flu pandemic. Most other countries involved in the war (especially the U.S. and Great Britain) did keep a lid on any news story that could dampen morale and therefore, did not cover the significant number of deaths. Because people read stories of the large number killed by the pandemic in Spain, it was assumed it started there and was termed the Spanish Influenza.
An academic named Andrew Price-Smith was credited with the research leading to the controversial theory that due to the flu epidemic, the tide of the war turned in the Allies favor. This was due to the number of Germans killed by the flu was higher than the number of Allied soldiers (France, Britain, U.S., etc.) killed by the pandemic. It was noted that it spread quickly through both sides owing to the fact the troops were so closely huddled together both in the trench-style warfare as well as transportation of the troops via train. I haven’t read Price-Smith’s book “Contagion and Chaos: Disease, Ecology, and National Security in the Era of Globalization” (MIT Press, 2009) so I’m not sure why he thinks it impacted the Central powers more than the Allied powers but I’m adding it to my to-be-read list.
The pandemic ran from January 1918 through December 1920 and figure estimates of the deaths are as high as 100 million people killed. WWI deaths from the total years of the war numbered approximately 10 million military and 7 million civilian deaths. Of those, it’s estimated about 1/3 of the deaths were due to the Spanish Flu. That certainly put things in perspective for me.
What do you think of this new feature? Any requests? Also, what do you think about Andrew Price-Smith’s conclusions being labeled as controversial?
Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me research this quickly (searches were for WWI casualties, 1918 flu pandemic).