Turn of the Century

Spanish Flu Endgame w. Ben Kitchings

January 12, 2021
Turn of the Century
Spanish Flu Endgame w. Ben Kitchings
Show Notes Transcript

Benjamin Kitchens, host of the History Voyager podcast, re-joins the show to discuss the end of the Spanish Flu and its consequences for our modern world.

In many ways, the “Spanish Flu” represented the beginning of modern medicine. So how did such a deadly and mysterious disease shape public health for over a century? What tools did the government and hospitals use to make sure this kind of crisis never happened again? And what similar lessons might we learn from the Covid crisis? The History Voyager delivers a mix of hope and realism.

Hosted and produced by Joseph Hawthorne
Edited by Jordan Hawthorne (surprisingly unrelated)

You can find The History Voyager at
The History Voyager Facebook Group

@BensCharlie on Twitter

and email at [email protected]



Joseph Hawthorne:

Welcome to turn of the century, a podcast about the turn of the 20th century. I'm your host, Joe Hawthorne. And today we're back talking about a global health crisis. Benjamin kitchen's host of the history Voyager podcast rejoins us to discuss the end of the Spanish flu, and consequences for the world, even today, you can listen to this episode on its own. But I also recommend going back if you haven't already, and listening to our previous episode with Ben, about what the disease could have been, and its effects on the world. He shows how eating hundreds of medicine and social Moore's made this such a disaster. On today's podcast, we get to the 1900s and beyond, in a way, the Spanish Flu represented the beginnings of modern medicine. So how did such a deadly and mysterious disease shape public health for a century? What tools do the government doctors and hospitals use to make sure something like this never happened again? And what similar lessons might we learn from the current pandemic? Or are we unlearning those lessons? Let's see how we can connect the past to the present. Hi, everyone. I'm excited to be back with fellow podcaster. Benjamin kings, as we discuss history and consequences of the Spanish flu. Ben, thanks for returning.

Unknown:

Hi,

Joseph Hawthorne:

thank you for being enthusiastic. I'm really excited because we left off our last conversation about the Spanish flu, we were talking about what was or wasn't the the Spanish flu, why it was important, the consequences, and how we could learn a little bit more about the time period before the Spanish Flu before 1980 and of World War One, etc. And so this episode, I want to get into that turning point, why the Spanish Flu was a turning point or how it helped to change the world going into the 20th century, and our modern era. So then let's start very broadly, how did the Spanish flu and how much of idea Do we have of why it ended? Well, so

Benjamin Kitchens:

like I, I believe I told you in your previous episode, there was a government report that was declassified under bush the second so George W. Bush, for those of you who didn't study political science, under this report, we learn we we the people learned that there was a the government scientists believed that the bloodstream held the Spanish flu virus from about 1900 to somewhere in the 1920s. So that's how long it was. Now it just essentially it just petered out. Essentially, the virus, we think, just basically died, died out. Or at least that's the popular theory. Now again, there's a lot less that we know about the Spanish Flu than we used to now because it's been reappraised like before people thought it was in France. Like you can go to the library right now. And check out books from 2000 saying it was in France, it started in France. So if it starts in Kansas, which probably did, right. The big mystery is how it got to France. Before we did like before the US military did

Joseph Hawthorne:

so we not only don't not only do we not quite know how it ended besides petering out, but we're still stumped on how its exact movement happened. There's a lot that we don't know, there's a

Benjamin Kitchens:

whole lot. And actually, I had to quit doing the Spanish flu. Because, well, I chose to, because, look, if you think that a half a billion people, somewhere between 25 million and a half a billion died from the Spanish flu, okay, now, I don't know if a half a billion people died. But it was a whole lot more than 25 million. Now. If you think that say half a billion people died, you could literally do deep dives in every city in the world for the rest of your life and never talk about anything else in a podcast. Okay. Now, the biggest mystery that people don't understand is Tehran. With the Spanish flu is Tehran, Tehran, actually wasn't on Western trade routes. Okay. Persia was not in Persia which is where it was. geopolitically speaking was not involved. them one at a time. But Tehran was nailed by the Spanish flu. absolutely nailed by the flu. And nobody knows why.

Joseph Hawthorne:

So are there any particular theories that we have now? Or is that still an absolute mystery about Tehran?

Benjamin Kitchens:

Well, the only theory that anybody really has, that is a traveler, because it was still a world city is somebody had it, or somebody carried it, or could have been a little probably wouldn't have paid because they were Muslim, but it could have been a cow. They mainly think so Kansas was the was the butcher shop of the world, in 19. In the 20th century, right, Kansas was the butcher shop of the world. So those cows went everywhere.

Joseph Hawthorne:

So talking about Tehran and mysteries of the Spanish flu, and you're mentioning the sickness counts, the death counts of the flu. You know, why was tracking so inaccurate? This is kind of a question that we still have relevancy today about our pandemic, why was it so inaccurate then,

Benjamin Kitchens:

because like I, like I said, last week, you might die in front of a doctor that didn't think you could have died of the flu, like precious few people died in San Francisco by a doctor who thought they would have died of the flu. Like a whole lot of people. Literally, it's almost funny today, a whole lot of people died of something in San Francisco that modern folks believe was the flu. But we just don't know, it's funny, too, because the doctors specifically said, Well, this person didn't die of the flu. But they totally died of a stroke or whatever, like, like Chinatown. During the Spanish Flu was deserted. They're just deserted. But those people were lauded by medical professionals as being immune to the flu. So they died is something right. Or, okay, I talked to a guy, I was actually doing some IoT stuff. And I talked to a guy and I said, Well, I'm doing a podcast, and he says, whatever, you know, blah, blah, blah. And he says, Well, my uncle or my, my grandfather died of the Spanish flu, but my grandmother died of a cold. And I said, Well, no, your grandmother died of the Spanish flu, because they died around the same time. You can't die the cold. Your grandmother died of the Spanish flu. And he basically, I mean, it was like, I had to do a therapy session right there. Because why would they lie about my, my grandma. And you know, I mean, he was Hispanic. So it's kind of that that was racism right there. That's the legacy of racism, right? There are like the fact that so in Boston, the medical guy in Boston, was the head medical guy in Boston was so bad that the Navy decided to take over and the way the Navy and what I mean by takeover was the Navy, the head of the naval installation in Boston was all okay, if you're in Boston, and you believe you have just come here, don't don't, you know, don't go there. Don't worry with those people just. And it was because that doctor, like I said last week was he literally said, You know, I used to think you couldn't die the flu. You know, I don't believe that now. And I have to protect these. But not only that, but he thought that black people could give him the flu. You know, you know, I'm saying I mean, that right, there was a leap. Okay, that there was a leap where he thought, not only can you die of the flu, but a black person can give me the flu, and I could die of somebody else's foot. Do you see what I'm saying?

Joseph Hawthorne:

So so he specifically was worried about black people? Can you clarify a little bit?

Benjamin Kitchens:

Yeah. Oh, no problem, no problem. The Okay, so the head of the Naval Medical installation, and the head of the nascent Boston Board of Health had what you might charitably call a professional disagreement. The head of the nascent Boston Board of Health was roaming the world believing that only black people could die of the Spanish flu and was very public about

Joseph Hawthorne:

so we know a lot about the problems of what happened during the Spanish flu. The things that doctors, public officials brought from really the 1800s really early 1900s or before to this global health crisis. So how did experts, public officials, scientists, etc, respond after the Spanish flu?

Benjamin Kitchens:

Oh, good question. Okay, the first thing that happened was there was a cohort of doctors that tended to be young. They tended to be new in the doctoring profession, though not always, okay. Who thought? Okay, I don't know anything about doctoring. So I have to stop what I'm doing and relearn. And let's figure out out that humans are the same. And also let's let's at six, the whole putting livestock in, in cities like, the reason why until very recently in our lifetimes, you couldn't raise chickens in the suburbs is because of the Spanish flu. It's directly because the Spanish Flu the reason why you have counties say, Well, this is farmland, and this is not, it's because of the Spanish flu. I mean, also, there's a lot of evidence that the Nazi Party came up, you know, expanded greatly because of the revelation that we're all basically the same creature,

Joseph Hawthorne:

and they were reacting to that.

Benjamin Kitchens:

Exactly. I mean, there's just there was this, the idea that, okay, there, here's something that I managed to go this long and not say, Alright, so we're just gonna put this on the table right now, public health, was essentially there was this whole thing where people were like, Oh, we need public health, we can't just leave this to the synagogues and the Catholic Church and the Episcopalians, we can't do that we have to have public health boards in public, you know, that it ended. And we have to standardize doctors, we have to teach doctors and make sure they're learning the same types of things the same, because you ended up with, okay, like, you might drop dead next to a doctor, that was a great doctor. But somebody else might drop dead next to somebody that had about as much medical training as I do, which is to say, none at all,

Joseph Hawthorne:

other than researching the Spanish flu. Well,

Benjamin Kitchens:

what I am is a guy with a master's degree in a Google connection.

Joseph Hawthorne:

It's a good name for a podcast, too. So Oh. So, you know, I think you were mentioning before about the presidential politics or cabinet. You know, the changes from let's say, a Woodrow Wilson, who thought that the pandemic was a hoax, too, to more, say, let's say modern, enlightened, maybe, or just more responsive public officials?

Benjamin Kitchens:

Well, okay, so starting with Teddy Roosevelt, we set we in this country settled on the idea of the hyper competent bureaucrat, as President. So we just decided that the President was going to be super knowledgeable about an area you look at Jimmy Carter, he was a nuclear scientist, you look at Clinton, he was a governor of a state for years and years, the new the new, different codes backwards, forwards and sideways. Okay, so we kind of settled on this idea of the hyper competent bureaucrat. And until recently, we all assumed that the President would be washed with some kind of knowledge of science, or some kind of thought that science was that expertise was a good thing that experts knew what they were talking about, because they were experts. Right. And this was something that we delude ourselves into thinking. It turns out,

Joseph Hawthorne:

so I think we're hinting at this as well. What similarities differences would you draw between our current pandemic or recent one, if you're listening to this, hopefully in the future, about COVID-19 versus the Spanish flu? You know, what, what can we suss out between these two crises?

Benjamin Kitchens:

Here's an idea that hit me like a two by four the other day, because I was going through some old class notes 10 years ago, starting about 10 years ago, there was this thought in psychiatry, that we're just not meeting stupid people anymore, that, you know, everybody's IQ is rising. And I think you can't understand our lack of a response to COVID. Without understanding that, okay, that we got into thinking that the President, whoever the president is, is a super competent human, in an area of subject. So therefore, he's going to listen to the experts, whoever the experts are, we got into thinking that we also got into thinking that because we are not meeting stupid people anymore, that when you win, because we get really, really good at picking out a brand new disease before it gets to epidemic, you know, insane proportions. You're going to be able to tell really smart people, please try to behave yourself. Right, and they'll generally comply. And I think we're learning now that that was not a good idea that that was not an idea that you know, that is true that you know that people just can't imagine The government stepping in and helping, right they can't imagine that. And they actually believe in their in their being that it is their job to keep their communities going. And so they go out in the world and, and do things about it and it up. So you that's maybe why people go out to eat in a COVID situation and go to go to the buffet in a COVID II situation,

Joseph Hawthorne:

how similar Do you think that people's actions behavior was the Spanish Flu to COVID-19? You know, where people still throwing off masks 100 years ago or is going to the all you can eat buffet of the time? What was behavior like they were,

Benjamin Kitchens:

they were but I've got an even more poignant story. I, my grandparents, all four of my grandparents came through the depression. They had older siblings, who vividly remembered the Spanish Flu very vividly. None of these people went to college. I think I'm right in saying that, that none of my grandparents, siblings went to college. Yet they had a better understanding of illness than people that I, in my family, my current generation in my family, who have master's degrees in things I am alive because my great grandmother told her family don't go into the town don't go into Brunswick, I say on my podcast, because they have the flu in Brunswick. Okay, I am alive because of that. All right. And she I don't know if she finished school. Right? I don't know if she had school to finish in terms of high school or grammar school or whatever. just amazes me how, in some ways we've gone backwards in our thinking, as a culture.

Joseph Hawthorne:

Right? Why do you think that is? Or how is that manifested?

Benjamin Kitchens:

How has it not manifested? Okay, at some point, we woke up and put our pants on and decided that Google, it should be the keeper of all knowledge that we don't need to learn anything else, because Google will store it for us. Right? At some point, we decided that experts that what an expert says is actually a matter of political opinion. And if the expert says this, well, there's another expert that's going to say something else tomorrow. You look at global warming, for example, or you look at any of anon to be even

Joseph Hawthorne:

more specific than Do you think that there are examples of things that people learned from the Spanish flu, let's say, that have been unlearned by today's

Benjamin Kitchens:

crisis? Oh, absolutely. Without a doubt, the idea, okay. Where I live, it is a badge of wealth. among people of my age, I can see you you can't see me we're around the same age. About it's become a badge of wealth among people of my age to grow chickens in their yard. Because they're too good to go to Publix and buy eggs or whatever grocery store you have up in New York, right? We have Publix in Atlanta. So you know, I'm saying, but they're too good. They buy chicken eggs in public, so they have to raise chickens. My grandfather, both of them got rid of chickens as soon as soon as they could. Okay, both of my, my dad's dad actually lived on a farm for most of his life. And he wouldn't let the kids go any he wouldn't let any children go anywhere near those chickens. And he kept the chickens I you know, I remember hearing this but he kept the chickens as far away from from people as he basically as he could. Because sick chickens, man.

Joseph Hawthorne:

I mean, that's what you mentioned at the beginning of our conversations was you know about waterfowl or fowl, I guess, being, you know, a huge public health risk, I guess to put it moderately, and I was just thinking I didn't even think of this before I asked the question but you know, the, the fears about vaccinations are something that at some point we learned to fear. Well,

Benjamin Kitchens:

something that I just find shocking to think about I didn't mean to interrupt but to my, my granny, my my dad's mom, she had three boys, one had polio. One had the scarlet fever, and she was all about vaccines. She was telling people get a vaccine for whatever it was. I know. I know for a fact But if my granny were alive today, she would be out front and center telling people to get a vaccine.

Joseph Hawthorne:

So So then, as we round out this conversation and think about the relevancy, of course, having a conversation about a pandemic feels very relevant, what do you think will happen or is started to happen in regards to public health, you know, do other lessons that we can see being repeated? From the Spanish Flu to COVID? What do you think the future holds,

Benjamin Kitchens:

here's what I think is gonna happen, the next time this happens, we won't be a country anymore. I really believe that. You look at the technology, you look at how fast you can, you can do things online. And suddenly, you can like, I can talk to you, and you can talk to me, and we live 1000s of miles away. And I can have a conversation with a woman in Singapore, and I can have a conversation with a man and, and New Zealand and, and so on, and vice versa. And it's easier for me to talk to New Zealand than it is for me to talk to my sister in northern Florida. What I'm saying is, the powers that be in this country are old. Physically, they're they're old, they're elderly folks, if they knew how close we were to being able to become a network of city states, and not having to worry about the rural places in between if they understood that in their bones, they would act better, you know, let's get people a stimulus check. Let's, let's make mass mandatory, let's Baba Baba, but you know, they would treat this seriously. Because the next time This comes along the technological powers that be are going to be like Goodbye. See you later.

Joseph Hawthorne:

So, you know, do you think that the Spanish flu and COVID-19 are almost to like Spanish flu is kind of a beginning of modern global pandemics in a nation state era and COVID-19 might be the other side.

Benjamin Kitchens:

Not only do I not only do I think that about the flu, the Spanish flu, they teach that that's what they think that caused people to go to school on. How did this spread it spread from the steam engine? It's spread, because you're raising up chickens next to people that can't wash themselves, who work jobs who get on trains who take this disease to here, take it to their but I

Joseph Hawthorne:

like to even narrow down further because I think what you're saying is super interesting about, I guess, nation, state versus city state that, you know, we're talking about pandemics that spread from nation to nation. And you're talking about a future where we'll probably have another health crisis. Again, those things happen. But that this may be the last time that we have a pandemic between nations as opposed to like you said city states or some other kind of governmental unit.

Benjamin Kitchens:

No, I think the next one will cause the breakout.

Joseph Hawthorne:

Okay, so we got one more. So COVID, come into the middle,

Benjamin Kitchens:

sit around and go. I thought this was going to happen. Now I don't, right. You can read stuff about the Spanish flu, written in the written in the halcyon days of 2005. That talk about how we are more progressive than they were in 1918. And you listen to what you read what they say they did in 1918. And Damn it, it's the same thing. It's the same thing

Joseph Hawthorne:

I actually I have a distinct memory of before Trump was elected before the 2016 election finding a book about the Spanish Flu from 2005. It's saying something very similar about you know, how we didn't know everything, but this can never happen again. You know, so a lot of this could never happen again, moments

Benjamin Kitchens:

you talked about on learning. Here's something that somebody learned somewhere. Apparently, there was a period of time in American history, where Jared Kushner believe, was roaming the world believing that only democrats could get COVID. Okay,

Joseph Hawthorne:

yeah, I mean, it sounds unbelievable. It just does. So, I think this is a really great, a whole bunch of really great nuggets for thinking about where we were and where, where we're at where we're going. Is there anything else that we have not talked about that you really like to stress about the legacy of the Spanish flu?

Benjamin Kitchens:

I want the legacy of COVID to be that we have to see the humanity in people the humanity in the so called other side, okay, do you see what I'm saying? Like we've all seen these protests and these these demonstrations, and we've all seen the ugliness of our country. But let's please remember that our we're not an ugly country. A lot of the time. We have ugly sides. Sure. But all of us came here to make a somebody in our family tree came here to make a better life for themselves. You know, yes, you have the Africans that were brought in chains. But when you talk about your Asians and your, and you know, your your Germans and your Jewish people in all of our family tree wanted the best for their people. And they said, the best way to do that is to come to this island continent, a new country and try to, you know, get on with your life. You know, that's, we need to understand that this virus doesn't care who you vote for, irrespective of what Jared Kushner used to think

Joseph Hawthorne:

that's well said, I think it's a good place to end. What is, you know, a really dark chapter, I say that a lot about a lot of the history that we study, because it is dark and deadly. But I think that's a really good place to wrap up on and hopefully give hope for the future. So thank you again, Ben, for joining us for a couple of great conversations about the Spanish flu and beyond. Again, if people loved your voice and want to find more of it, where can they listen to you?

Benjamin Kitchens:

Like I said last week among the history Voyager on on lots of pod catchers. Basically, all of them Apple, Spotify, Google podcast, just pick I'm even on Amazon podcasts, apparently. Which is amazing. You know, there was a period of time where I was one of the most listened to podcasts in the world. Nobody's more amazed about that than me.

Joseph Hawthorne:

So let's get that number up again. Right now you're in the midst of season two, which is a lot of just really frankly, interesting conversations. And I think talking to anyone right now has to do with COVID and public health. So highly recommend the history of Voyager. And if you enjoyed listening to my voice, please keep doing that. You can subscribe rate review, tell your friends, even your enemies about the show. It really helps get the word out and it helps bring on amazing guests every week. Thank you so much. Look forward to you listening and again soon.