Thursday, October 22, 2009

Monograph #14 William Henry Mcneill

Spanish Flu Strikes the World

“Plague and People (1998)”, the masterpiece of William Mcneill who is the one of the most respected historians nowadays, emphasizes great effect and vital role of disease throughout history. As an epidemic parasite, various diseases have struck the world. Some civilizations which could not cope with diseases declined and were killed off. On the other hand, diseases also have brought great innovation in several countries like Italy where the first quarantine emerged. Regardless of goodness and badness of the diseases’ effects on the world, I would say it is quite obvious that every time severe disease swept civilizations they caused great changes.

In my monograph on Mcneill, I would like to present the one of the most severe diseases that struck the world and that caused great changes in the direction of the world history: Spanish Flu in 1918.

The Spanish Flu was an influenza pandemic that spread to nearly every part of the world. It was caused by an unusually virulent and deadly influenza a virus strain of subtype H1N1. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify the geographic origin of the virus. Most of its victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or otherwise weakened patients. (Wikipedia)

It was quite terrible disease. It killed about from 50 to 100 million people worldwide. And as estimated people, one third of the world population at the time became infected. The 1918 flu received its nickname Spanish flu primarily because the flue gained greater attention after it moved to Spain.

The noticeable fact is that it was during the First World War when Spanish flu swept Europe and America. There were many combats between allied power and central power in Europe countries, and as America got involved by German attack on US ship, the war was becoming larger. A large number of army crowded in specific area, and most of soldiers’ immune systems were weakened because of stresses and chemical attacks. Indeed, it was quite great chance for pandemic to strike this large number of people.

In fact, Spanish flu made great impact especially on the First World because of its unique feature that it killed many young adults, healthy victims rather than weak individuals and children. Its main target was soldiers, young adults who were fighting or would fight the war. It is quite interesting fact. Spanish flu seemed to be a pandemic which was prepared for the war because obviously its target was people in the war.

During the War, 100,000 of American soldiers died. In fact, 43,000 of them, around 50% of casualties were killed by Spanish flu. This fact shows us how strong and horrible the Spanish flu was. It killed as many people as the army did. So some researchers even insist that it was Spanish flu that stopped the war. After Spanish flu, there came worldwide flu prevention and it led to invention of penicillin which is preventing flu.

History tells us that every time strong diseases swept the world, there were great impacts at that time. We can easily find the examples of it aside from Spanish flu. Black Death which swept European countries during 14th century killed One-Third of Europe population only for 4 years. As a result of Black Death the feudalism, a political and social system which was strongly prevalent at the time was destroyed. Likewise, smallpox, yellow fever, and cholera which were extremely epidemic caused great changes in History.

Perhaps, History has been being led by plagues that are something we, human beings cannot control. Our history is giving various evidences on it.


McNeill, W.H. (1998). Plagues and peoples. New York: Anchor Books.

Spanish Flu (October 5, 2009). In Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia Retrieved 18:52 October 5, 2009 from

Spanish Flu (2009) Retrieved from


  1. so boring .. i cant relate .. i hate history .. bwhaha !

  2. haha that's what people say who don't know the worth of history haha ignorant ! puhahaha

  3. haha ! hainaku .. !yabang mo ! but during my high school days i really hate history .. haha ! not kidding ..and i really love math :)