The Great Sickness

By the year 1918, America was ready for peace. The Great War in Europe was finally coming to a close, and more than a hundred thousand American lives had already been claimed in trench warfare there. However, something much deadlier than war was about to afflict the American people – epidemic. In the winter of 1918, an unusually large number of people began dying from influenza. It started in a small town in Kansas, where over five hundred people had suddenly fallen ill. The disease then spread rapidly all over the world, from North America to Europe and even to Far East Asia. It had a large mortality rate, killing about 15% of its victims and over 50 million worldwide.Unlike previous diseases, the flu affected the young and healthy just as much as it did the weak and elderly. manciniAt the peak of the influenza pandemic, about a quarter of Americans were diagnosed with the sickness. The American Red Cross issued face masks for people to wear in an attempt to prevent infection. Ordinances were put in place to prohibit the gathering of many people in one place. In an effort to raise morale during the final months of war, the government limited public press concerning the spread of the flu, as did the leaders of many other countries involved in the war. Since Spain was a neutral nation and had no such censorships, the disease became known as the Spanish influenza. By the pandemic’s end in 1920, almost 675,000 Americans had died from influenza – almost six times as many killed during combat in the war.2 Though the United States succeeded in ending a war that was killing its people, the main source of death during the Great War era ended up being a factor beyond its control. Posted by Laura Mancini

Iranian Hostages, Then and Now

The New York Times recently had this short video about the Iranian hostages, who were taken during Carter’s administration, and the Iranian situation as it now stands.  Think you might find it interesting.

Iranian Hostages

Yeltsin goes to Houston (really–Clear Lake) and and shops at Randall’s

“It was September 16, 1989 and Yeltsin, then newly elected to the new Soviet parliament and the Supreme Soviet, had just visited Johnson Space Center.  At JSC, Yeltsin visited mission control and a mock-up of a space station. According to Houston Chronicle reporter Stefanie Asin, it wasn’t all the screens, dials, and wonder at NASA that blew up his skirt, it was the unscheduled trip inside a nearby Randall’s location.  Yeltsin, then 58, ‘roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” wrote Asin. He told his fellow Russians in his entourage that if their people, who often must wait in line for most goods, saw the conditions of U.S. supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.’ ” Read the full blog/ article in the Chronicle here .  thanks to G.Campbell for this note. 

Executive Listening

Presidents have not immune to the wonders of technology. As soon as new devices were invented, political leaders put them to use. President Hayes installed the first office telephone.  It connected directly (and only) to the Treasury.  Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have experimented–some more extensively than others, with recording their conversations.  Historian Taylor Branch writes that the secret recordings of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon offer “a democratizing glimpse into how our government really works…. They humanize the institution of the presidency in a way that’s good for all Americans because we tend to think of these great impersonal institutional imperial forces and everything and forget that the president is a person like all of us: often flummoxed, sometimes passionate. A lot of things that perplex us, perplex them as well.”

The Rosemary Woods Stretch

Rose_Mary_WoodsRosemary Wood served as President Nixon’s secretary.  Although she most likely had a full array of talents and skills (like Mrs. Landingham, maybe, on The West Wing?), her name survives in history as the woman responsible for erasing  18 1/2 minutes, an apparently crucial 18 1/2 minutes, on one of the Watergate tapes.  Here’s a photo of her demonstrating how it all happened.



The Cold War and Children’s Literacy

Remember reading Dr. Seuss’s, The Cat in the Hat?  Was it the fish in the bowl that concerned you most?  Or the fact that the mother left for the day, leaving a fish in charge of “Sally and me”?  Or maybe you liked the Cat, with Thing 1 and Thing 2 stuffed under his tall hat?  Louis Menand wrote a short article for the New Yorker explaining that Suess’s book, which was written in response to the national need to improve reading during the 1950s (it appears that American children in the 1950s had fallen behind Europeans), is truly a Cold War artifact.  Consider the problem of the pink spot that the Cat and the children try to get rid of–only to spread pink  (pink!!) over everything.  And then, they did manage to eradicate every speck of the stain, with a mighty explosion.  ——     VOOM    You can read the entire Menand article, including the part in which you find that Suess’s own mother was beautiful, six-foot-tall, and a champion high diver. 

9/11 and The History of Pearl Harbor

John Dower, a historian who wrote a fantastic book about the role of American and Japanese racism during WWII (see this page for more on War Without Mercy), has a new work about what he calls “cultures of war.” He’s trying to answer the question of how policy-makers and government officials can fail so drastically at predicting enemy actions and reactions. These “failures of imagination,” as he calls them, can be exemplified by the response a U.S. admiral gave to somebody who asked him why the fleet at Pearl Harbor remained in place after receiving a warning ten days before the Japanese attack: “I never thought those little yellow sons-of-bitches could pull off such an attack, so far from Japan.” Dower’s thesis doesn’t stop at blaming lack of insight on racism; he says that unrealistic belief in our own superiority is embedded in national institutions, coloring policy decisions no matter how intelligent and worthy the decision-makers may be. You can read an excerpt from the book, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9/11/Iraq, here.

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