By Stan Gudmundson
There is nothing new under the sun, the Good Book says. For eons that was essentially true in the way people lived and of human nature itself. Today, virtually everything has changed or is changing. Except for human nature. But people tend to view history as significant only over the time we, as individuals, live on earth. Consequently, we often lack historical perspective. Maybe we shouldn’t.
Books about the 1918 pandemic provide interesting history about where medical practices were and what they are now. Here is an abbreviated overview.
That pandemic killed somewhere between 20 and 100 million people. It also was a horrible death that finally faded out around 1924 or so.
No one knew what caused it. Some “physicians” were so desperate that they resorted to bleeding patients. That practice went back to Galen’s ancient theory that supposed the body was made up of four substances called humours. These were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. Illness was believed to be caused by an imbalance of any or all of these. Fevers, for example, were thought to be caused by too much hot blood. Reducing its quantity was their solution.
Going to a pre-modern doctor for an illness was likely to make one sicker or even kill. There were a few folk remedies that worked but, all in all, if you got sick, you recovered on your own or you didn’t. The four humours were the basis of medicine until relatively recently as the 1918 pandemic helps illustrate. Moreover, the germ theory was not quickly accepted as the four-humour theory had been the set-in-stone “truth” for centuries.
Now, if we get sick, we go to a doctor who can usually help us. Penicillin, the first really effective treatment for infections, was discovered less than 100 years ago (1928). Since then, medical advancements have been absolutely incredible.
Centurions today were born when most medical practices were still thousands of years old. Others of us have lived through most of the subsequent medical discoveries.
If you read any history, you might be struck by how terrified our ancestors were about diseases they couldn’t understand. That was true of everyone from the peasant family to royalty. But that isn’t all.
Famines caused by nature too, were not uncommon, something else to fear. I can’t imagine how terrible it would be to starve to death while watching your family starve to death as well. Look up famine on the internet and you will be amazed by how widespread and horrible they were.
Not well known is that the blight that caused the Irish potato famine also hit Norway at the same time. Crop failures were devastating. And sometimes the fish didn’t come in places reliant on the sea for food.
But there is even worse. These were the unbelievable famines caused by human beings. There isn’t agreement on numbers, but Lenin and Stalin starved upwards of 20 million. Especially hard hit were Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Purposely so. Mao Tse-Tung’s famines caused something like 40 million deaths. Proportionally, famines in Cambodia and North Korea may have been worse. All caused by the leftist pursuit of a “utopian” fable, that was, and still is, one of the vilest and deadliest “faiths’ ever concocted. Satanic even.
Communism/pure socialism hasn’t really been tried many campus “intellectuals” still contend though. Not true! Tried in more than 20 countries; failed in all except the few that have adapted some market system reforms to survive. Somehow.
When wrapped around the axle about racism, gender, pronouns, intersectionality, critical-race-theory, and many other relatively trivial/outlandish notions, we fail to have even a marginally decent perspective about the days of yesteryear compared to today. I would bet that our ancestors would have considered most of the current “intelligentsia’s” hysteria about comparatively petty things, to be completely absurd. They had more serious stuff to worry about. Like trying to stay alive.
In less than a century, medical science has progressed from the ancient to the modern and to a world in which famine is almost unheard of. One hundred years may seem to be a long time, but it is a very, very short period.
Be thankful for living in today’s world. Merry Christmas!