Epidemics Show Societies Who They Really Are
Of the history of madison and author of epidemics and society from the black desk to the present when we spoke to him in march. He told us that. An epidemic quote holds a mirror to the civilization the bubonic plague in the fourteenth century shows want our relationships to our fellow human beings you read invo cacho doubt. The terrible flight of people and terror from the plague husband left wife and vice versa. Parents fled their children. One can see the scapegoating the search for a demonic influence. This is not something that we ourselves did. of course. it's always some other group person that we want to blame. That seems to me one of the constants. We can see it in homophobia in the american epidemic ids aids today and the assault on asian. People it's something that seems us to be with us since the very beginning the hunt for which is programs against us. Zena phobia unleashed societies coming to a halt. I want to move. Onto a more modern infection that certainly changed the face of the western world bedeviling napoleon. let's start with his invasion of russia in eighteen twelve where his superior armies were overrun not by the czars troops so much has what oh dysentery and typhus. His military tactics were predicated on lightning strikes and sudden rapid movement. He wanted his army not to be laden down with supplies and with food but to live off the land and so he marched an army. That was half a million men. Imagine the whole city of powers going into russia and napoleon having decided not to take medical supplies advantages or sanitary precautions of any kind of the time and so they went into russia. Marching for this vast distance in what was the immediate creation of what we might call a terrible urban slum living in the dung of the animals and that they themselves made drinking water that was polluted in the rivers and very soon they were immersed and tremendous outbreak of dysentery. That was killing something. Like three thousand men a day then after moscow napoleon finally decides that they can't survive a winter in moscow. Pee has to return to france. Napoleon himself took off in a sled with the bodyguard and abandoned his troops. Only about ten to fifteen thousand return to france. And almost all of those. Four hundred eighty thousand or so died of i the dysentery and then the typhus and there was regime change in france and disease had a major role in that okay so pathogens to sociopath zero and as long as were talking about the french in the midst of corona virus. You're thinking of napoleon. And feeling a bit of deja vu. I think about napoleon lot because it seems that he's a model of how not to react to the threat of disease that was about to overwhelm the five hundred thousand men. He was commanding and the larger society and empire for which he was responsible. He reacted by doing something. That sounds very similar to the present day by saying it was false facts. We don't need to think about these diseases. Were going to march on ever forward. So napoleon seems to be someone who had contempt for the impact of the environment nature disease and the threat that it posed not willing to think of this in terms of planning and mobilizing resources and deploying them and the way that people with knowledge and science and the lessons of history all urge should be done and to your earlier point. He seems to take as a personal political assault. The behavior of microbes. Napoleon took great umbrage that a disease could harm the the almighty emperor of the french well on the subject of politicisation of pathogens halfway between the napoleonic invasion of russia and the coronavirus today came the spanish influenza pandemic of nineteen eighteen and nineteen nineteen that killed more than fifty million people around the world but in this country officials for various political and economic reasons. Soft pedaled the threat. Evan osnos into new yorker talked about a political appointee and wilmer cruz in a city public health director who called the killer flu quote old-fashioned influenza or grippe and the news organizations played along one headline in the philadelphia inquirer was scientific nursing halting epidemic. In fact the troops on the ground was horrifyingly different. That's exactly what's happening even before. Very is where there is the sense that this crisis that we're facing is just the common cold or no worse than seasonal influenza. There is a tendency of some people when confronted by something new not to admit that they don't understand but instead to label it something different that they think that they can manage. That seems to me the story in philadelphia and the story before today if the public health officials in philadelphia in nineteen eighteen were responding to what they thought was their short term political propaganda interests. Did we not see exactly the same thing with the outbreak of sars and the chinese government's attempt to suppress the news in the long arc of the history of epidemic disease. It's a theme from plague. Down through sars and the bola and i think it's probably at work today in dealing with corona virus. This is bad news which will show that we as rulers have done something wrong that we have been negligent in some way it will harm trade or tourism and our economic interests. It will link our political party. Look bad let's pretend it's not actually. They're in china with regard to source where the regime denied that it existed. But this goes back to the beginnings of the democ disease in my book. I treat one thousand nine hundred. Eleven epidemic of asia cholera that was covered up by the italian government and has never been fully admitted because by nineteen eleven. Cholera was thought to be an asia. Sign of backwardness and up disgrace and so to admit that it existed meant that you're an uncivilised nation and meant that maybe left wing parties would hold you accountable and it also meant that the celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of italy would have to be set aside so this is a perennial temptation and it comes up again and again and again.