History and pandemics

Posted6/29/2020 1:00 AM

Hindsight is 20/20 and here's what history teaches us about 2020.

There is no reason to believe that history repeats itself. But intellectual/philosopher George Sanayana's statement that "[T]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is oft quoted for good reason. History can be instructive.


The Black Plague devastated Europe in the mid to late 1300s. It was much worse than today's COVID-19 since it was not unusual for large areas of Europe to see deaths in the range of 30% to 50% of the population. Thankfully, we are not there ... not close. But, it's bad.

Poverty increased and governments were ineffective. They turned their armies on peaceful citizens. Because they could, countries went to war against each other. France against England, England against Spain, France against Flanders [now part of Belgium] and just about all permutations thereof and more.

Europe was unequivocally mad ... from pestilence, nonresponsive governments and greed. Barbara Tuchman's book, "A Distant Mirror" is a wonderful recounting of that time. Tuchman wrote her book forty years ago but it seems that the distant mirror is much closer today.

Dear reader, please reflect on whether this observation of Tuchman's is instructive. "[L]ife was the same as is made of government ... in any age: it was composed of hypocrisy, flattery, lying, paying and betraying; it was where calumny and cupidity reigned, common sense lacked, truth dared not appear, and where to survive one had to be deaf, blind, and dumb."

Sanford Morganstein

West Dundee

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