WHAT I AM READING: SEPTEMBER, 1918
Two years ago, this book by long-time journalist, TV anchor and Google executive Skip Desjardin came to my attention,. “1918” has always resonated with Red Sox fans, that being the year the Sox last won a World Series before 86 years of falling short, often woefully and sometimes in heartbreaking fashion. There’s plenty of baseball in this book, but Skip also wove in the story of the final months of World War I and the outbreak of the Spanish flu, a pandemic that claimed a horrific number of lives but somehow faded away in public consciousness…until now.
A short excerpt:
In Boston, government officials were still battling over whether to close schools in an attempt to prevent further spread of the virus. Dr. (William) Woodward (the city’s health commissioner) continued to argue for keeping the schools open, reluctant to admit that the situation was as serious as it appeared to be. “I believe the epidemic has reached its maximum,’’ he repeated for yet another day, despite his previous predictions having proven so wrong. He seemed more preoccupied with preventing widespread panic than preventing the spread of influenza. Rather than offering practical advice, the man in charge of public health for the city of Boston continued to downplay the risks to the civilian population with decidedly non-scientific, almost homespun , public announcements like “the conditions won’t improve through worry; on the contrary, they are likely to become worse.” Like his argument that kids could avoid infection by concentrating on their studies, he offered a totally unfounded opinion that the disease ravaging his city could somehow be spread further by failure to maintain a positive attitude. In crisis, his shortcomings were being exposed.
Estimates of deaths worldwide were from 50 to 100 million, Desjardin wrote. Nearly 700,000 died in the United States. That is the proportional equivalent of two million American deaths today.