The Flu, The U, & WWI

For November 7, 2018        
Hi WN@TL Fans,
Elections have consequences, as the saying goes.  Sometimes, the drivers of elections seem to spiral along in a repeating helix of history.  In 1916 Woodrow Wilson was re-elected President after running on a promise to keep the US out of the European War.  In 1940 FDR was re-elected President after running on a promise to keep the US out of the European War.  
The parallels between the two world wars, with but a span of 20 years and 10 months between the Armistice of Compiegne and the Invasion of Poland, are sometimes astonishing. For the US, the run-up to entry into each war was marked by an isolationist fervor, followed by a declaration and a patriotic fever. Quickly came the re-tooling not only of industries but also of universities to beat plowshares into swords.  
However, only in WWI were the civilian populations on both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond) scourged and slaughtered by a pandemic that was aided and abetted by the mass movements of sailors and soldiers across oceans and continents.
All politics are local, as the saying goes.  So too for epidemics.  In every corner of the country the influenza played out not just in numbers but in names.  
These stories of the interplay of the war and the flu were salted with regional flavor.  Madison had its own savor, because of the mix of the war, the flu and the U.
This week (November 7) Steve Oreck of the Department of History will share a story both new and intriguing to me in his talk entitled “UW and Madison and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.”
Here’s how Steve describes his talk:

In the summer of 1918 the misnamed “Spanish Flu” arrived in the United States, coming from Europe on a returning US vessel. Once established in the Boston area this strain of flu spread throughout the United States, literally like a speeding locomotive. The most lethal strain of influenza to have been documented, it would kill an estimated 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 Americans. By the late summer, just in time for the beginning of the university semester, the virus had reached Madison, a city and university in the throes of the “Great War.”

The fall semester saw a very different UW. The university was part of the SATC (Student Army Training Corps) system. All physically fit male students (almost all of them) were members of the SATC, in the Army as privates, in uniform, marching to & from class in formation, and sleeping in dorms and other facilities converted to barracks. Additionally, living in and studying in newly constructed buildings were vocational students destined for various military technical ratings. The attitude of the “SATC system” was that the purpose of the universities involved with the SATC was to turn out officers for the US military. America was also in the midst of a war fever, and Wisconsin was a flash point for some of the internal conflicts. It was in this unusual and highly charged environment that the “Spanish Lady” arrived.

About the Speaker: 
Steven L. Oreck, M.A., M.D., is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at UW-Madison.  He is also Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, UW School of Medicine & Public Health (retired) and Captain (Medical Corps) United States Navy (Fleet Marine Force) (retired). He served as an Intelligence Officer with the US Navy and as a Surgeon with the 4th Marine Logistics Group, US Marine Corps.
Next week (November 14), we continue our commemoration of the end of World War I with a talk by John Brugge, professor emeritus of Neuroscience, on the physical brain damage and the psychological trauma endured by war fighters, and how the military and the medical field have viewed and treated such injuries and those so injured.
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.
Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Cooperative Extension