Rebecca Traister is writer at large for New York magazine, whose latest book is GOOD AND MAD: THE REVOLUTIONARY POWER OF WOMEN’S ANGER, published by Simon & Schuster. . Her earlier books include ALL THE SINGLE LADIES, and the award winning BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY. Her work has been published in The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the New York Observer among other publications.
This was the very first edition of what would become Forthright Radio. It was originally broadcast in November, 2004. We spoke with John M. Barry, author of the book, THE GREAT INFLUENZA: THE EPIC STORY OF THE DEADLIEST PLAGUE IN HISTORY. 100 years ago, in 1918, as a war weary world sought to bring those years of horror we call World War I to an end, another horror arose – a new, virulent and highly contagious strain of influenza, which within, a year spread rapidly around the world. We’ll never know the exact number of those killed, but it is estimated that a minimum of 50 million, and as many as 100 million died. At today’s population level, that would be between 150 million and 300 million dead worldwide. As we begin the annual flu season, our guest, John M. Barry, tells us what we know about this pandemic and warns of the possibility of such a global pandemic occurring again in our own time. But this is not just a history of a medical disease, his depiction of the politics of the war-time situation has disturbing foreshadowing of some of the same polarized dynamics with which we find ourselves grappling today, where truth is dismissed as an arbitrary term and “the force of an idea lies in it’s inspirational value. It matters very little whether it is true or false.” As Mark Twain put it so well, History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Although this interview was conducted in 2004, when George W. Bush was president, and we were 9 months into our invasion of Iraq, and the parallels to the Wilson administration are noted, some of those parallels seem even more pertinent today under the current administration.