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Why is the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 not more prominent in our history and almost absent from our literature? It’s a staggering absence, given that almost 250,000 people died here.
Interesting new research gives us an important part of the answer, by examining how those deaths were thought about at the time. Not a lot, is the sobering main takeaway, with a surprising lack of public or political focus on the deaths, even accounting for them coming after the bloodbath of the First World War.
In contrast to the war, there was a lack of commemoration of the pandemic’s victims – what the authors call “a silencing of grief”. Given how many memorials and statues we have (the less said about this week’s addition the better), the fact there wasn’t a single public memorial to the influenza pandemic stands out.
The researchers argue that our failure to remember left us underprepared for this pandemic. And we do seem to be repeating the mistake, collectively pretending that the disgraceful number of deaths in care homes never happened.
How we remember shapes what comes next. There is a hope that the experience of this crisis will prompt major change. Building Back Better is the slogan everyone shares, while agreeing on nothing else. But if the public want to forget the pandemic, they may choose to party afterwards, rather than demand change. After all, the 1920s were called the Roaring Twenties for a reason.
• Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at resolutionfoundation.org
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The flu pandemic of 1918 can teach us to remember our dead | Coronavirus