Wave Two: From 2020 To 1918: Tending Haystacks

With thanks to Claude Monet

The date of September 28, 1918 has been rolling around in my mind for the past several hours. I think a follow-up to yesterday’s entry is in order (that entry is here http://historicalsolutions.com/1918-pandemic/wave-two-from-2020-to-1918-september-28/). That this follow-up is so untypical in my Wave Two series ought to give a you a glimpse into my thinking about its importance. I think it’s a big deal. I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t attempt to explain further. At least that’s how I view it.

Let’s go back and tend the haystack we built a day ago.

Context

September 28 is the 1918 pandemic’s version of 9-11, Fourth of July, Juneteenth, and Pearl Harbor rolled into one. It is a specific date with enormous significance and in things like a pandemic, it’s rare for an exact moment of time to have such clarity.

As you know if you read my post of September 28, this was the day when Liberty Loan festivities were held in hundreds of American cities and towns. Thousands and thousands of Americans participated in parades, concerts, public meetings on this day. And thousands and thousands of Americans met the illness of influenza for the first time. In addition, 150,000 formally trained speakers—certified by the Committee on Public Information, an entity of the federal government responsible for pro-war propaganda—fanned out across the nation to participate in the events. A sizable fraction of them likely carried influenza to their destinations or brought it back with them in returning home. The fact that October 1918 became the deadliest month in American history resulted in large part from the events held 48 hours before the month began.

Effect

The World War of 1914-1918 was in full fury at the time of the Liberty Loan events. The war necessitated the events in the first place—they were necessary to raising millions of dollars to pay for the American war effort. So, even though influenza had been a serious problem for most of September, the urgency and immediacy of the World War as the dominant and defining public issue of the year took precedence over the existence of serious illness.

This is a crucial point for you to understand from 1918 before you and I get to 2020. The World War led to the Liberty Loan events, which in turn worsened the pandemic’s Wave Two (Wave One having occurred earlier in spring 1918). Stay with me as we go through four steps.

First, the dominant public issue produced an event that sped up the worsening of the public health crisis.

Second, in this case, worsening meant the illness spread into more human bodies, often resulting in death.

Third, so horrific did it become that the boundaries between death, destruction, suffering, and chaos of the war could not be distinguished from death, destruction, suffering, and chaos of the pandemic.

And fourth, the public’s subconscious reaction was to blur it all together and conclude that the next phase of life must be starkly different, starkly removed, starkly set apart from this terrible experience. The only reason for remembering was to recall that it was awful and should never be repeated. Mark that.

The 2020 presidential debate

The first presidential debate of 2020 will likely be the mega-event of the election’s campaign season. I believe the Cleveland debate of September 29 (2020) and the Liberty Loan festivities of September 28 (1918) will share a general shape.

As an event, it belongs to our overall experience of World War Trump, our equivalent of World War One. The power of World War Trump makes the debate a necessity and a fixation; it will happen no matter what else is going on. But more than this, the debate will produce an effect among the two “sides” of the election contest. True to form from throughout the past three years of World War Trump, each side will go to the extreme in describing the impact of the debate and its outcome. Everything will be at opposite ends of the number line—either 0 or 100 with nothing in between. Each side will claim heaven for itself and hell for the rest.

This outcome will interact and intermingle with the pandemic. Our pandemic is in its Wave Two. Unlike 1918, however, our Wave Two is not primarily physical or bodily in definition—the numbers and rates of cases and deaths are less than 102 years ago, thank God. For us in 2020, Wave Two is attitudinal, in outlook, in mental health and mental condition. That’s why the epicenter for our Wave Two is largely in any and every form of an educational setting, from preschool to grad school, and affects people with direct or indirect connections to educational experiences that began in August and September.

The debate will be the latest and fiercest point of contact between the beleaguered nature of our pandemic’s Wave Two and the embittered nature of our World War Trump. I think it’s worthwhile to adapt and adjust my earlier four-step path from September 28, 1918 to where we go from September 29, 2020.

“First, the dominant public issue produced an event that sped up the worsening of the public health crisis.”

Adapted/adjusted for 2020: a greater burden and weight presses down on the social and psychological aspects of our Wave Two, the moods of people around you, and perhaps including you.

“Second, in this case, worsening meant the illness spread into more human bodies, often resulting in death.”

Adapted/adjusted for 2020: gloom becomes gloomier, frustration increases its frustration, drift slides to despair, irritation rises to resentment, an impulse to withdraw becomes a shove to push away and drive off. Isolation grows and the circle of rings tightens.

“Third, so horrific did it become that the boundaries between death, destruction, suffering, and chaos of the war could not be distinguished from death, destruction, suffering, and chaos of the pandemic.”

Adapted/adjusted for 2020: blame and guilt are assigned to many, or most, or nearly all, or all of those who are judged to be out of step with the winners; labeled as disputants, dissenters, and deniers of the winning side; and regarded as harmful to the recovering health of the body politic.

“And fourth, the public’s subconscious reaction was to blur it all together and conclude that the next phase of life should be starkly different, starkly removed, starkly set apart from this terrible experience. The only reason for remembering was to recall that it was awful and should never be repeated. Mark that.”

Adapted/adjusted for beyond 2020: no change necessary from the American experience of 1918-1920—it will unfold in exactly this way. Multiple waves of water are rising behind a dam, a great tide in the affairs of people, and cannot be held back. When health returns, the dam breaks and everything we can’t see will flood the years ahead in spirit, attitude, outlook, and mood. Know the 20s then to see the 20s now.

Thanks for reading. Haystacks are waiting.

Comments

  1. I’m fearful of the “everything we can’t see will flood the years ahead…” part. Great connections and thank you for sharing this perspective with us all.

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