Decaying corpses were stacked all over the burial ground and the streets were littered with the dead. When trains arrived at railroad stations, they had to be cleared of dead and dying passengers. The killer was Spanish influenza of 1918-19. In the U.S., about 500,000 people died, mostly young adults. This plague started (at least in the U.S.) in a Kansas army camp and within a week it was in every state. It then jumped the Atlantic Ocean to cut down millions. Five million people died in India. Total world deaths are estimated to have been up to 100 million people and this pandemic has been called “the greatest medical holocaust in history.”
More people died as a result of the Spanish flu than died in World War I–on both sides. During the Crimean War (1854-56), ten times more British soldiers died of dysentery than from all the Russian weapons combined. Moreover, 50 years later, during the Boer War, there were five times more deaths from disease than from enemy fire.
From the dawn of history, mankind has experienced times of sickness, sorrow, and suffering. Often, times of pestilence were mysterious, sudden, and without remedy. Lack of knowledge, superstition, and poor sanitary conditions often contributed to the progress of the pestilence. Men often felt that God was visiting them with plague to punish their evil deeds. The disease was usually dreadful, devastating, and deadly and often left as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared. Now, we face another deadly possibility: the Ebola virus (EVD). Plus, there are Islamic terrorists with the ability, equipment, funds, and commitment to wreak destruction, disease, and death on a massive scale.
Throughout history, people often reacted out of fear and ignorance, and that only compounded the problem, extending the pestilence. They ran from the towns, but found that when they arrived in a “safe haven” they were met by the same pestilence. Of course, the pestilence had been a traveling companion. Hopefully, the mistakes make in the past will not be repeated in the future. Our present threat could come from Ebola, a nuclear blast, poisoned water or food supply, or biological agents sprayed over a metropolitan area. It might simply be numerous suicide attacks in scattered malls and churches.
The further one goes back into history, the less reliable are the numbers of dead, and the less assurance we have of the pestilence that took them; however, it is a fact that mankind has suffered far more from bugs than from battles.
My use the word plague is a general term for any deadly epidemic disease since even the experts can‘t identify some of the major plagues of the past.
We know that malaria hit Italy in the first-century B.C., and that the dead were in all the houses, and the streets were crowded with funeral processions. Many who had mourned a stricken relative died themselves with such rapidity that they were burned on the same pyre as those they had mourned.
An epidemic that lashed the whole world started in Verus’ Roman army while his troops were fighting in the East in A.D. 165. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, the original infection came from a chest in a temple which Roman soldiers had looted. God warned about those who are greedy for gain in Proverbs 1:19, reminding us that it would cost the lives of the greedy souls. The results of this thievery cost the lives of millions of innocent souls. Verus’ army carried the disease homeward, scattering it everywhere, and by the time they reached Rome, the disease had spread from Persia to the shores of the Rhine, a world plague. Hans Zinsser, American physician, bacteriologist, and prolific author, quoted Orosius’ report that deaths were so many that some cities in Italy were abandoned and fell into decay.
There was so much terror of the disease that no one dared nurse the sick and dying. It even killed Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of Rome, who was among the 2,000 per day that died in that city.
In the epidemic of Cyprian about A.D. 251, the plague skulked through Egypt, leaving the dead and dying, and then boldly attacked Rome and Greece where the daily dead rose to 5,000. It spread over the entire world, from Egypt to Scotland. It was during this plague that the custom of wearing black as an indication of mourning became common, according to Roman Catholic historian Baronius (1538-1607).
The pestilence of A.D. 302, had a companion—famine. The people resorted to eating grass, and the deaths from famine almost matched those dying from disease. Hungry dogs fought over the bodies of the human dead. Hieronymus tells us that the human race had been “all but destroyed,” and that the earth was returning to a state of desert and forests.
Headlines last week reported: “UN predicts global famine” if Ebola continues to explode. Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response revealed that “Ebola got a head start on us.” He also said, “It [Ebola] is far ahead of us, it is running faster than us, and it is winning the race,” adding “We either stop Ebola now or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan.” Note, “We do not have a plan.”
So, maybe Ebola [EVD] or terrorism will do to us what Hieronymus reported about the human race in 302 A.D.–it had been “all but destroyed,” and the earth was returning to a state of desert and forests.
God help us. World health officials have not been very helpful.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.