After a reference to the so-called “Spanish flu” during an academic event at the Humanities Center at my own university (University of Miami), I couldn’t resist the temptation to question the identification tenacious of the worst epidemic in modern history with the Spanish territory. I suggested that these references be accompanied in written information by a footnote or verbal explanation specifying the incorrect national “authorship”.
My daring was “rewarded” by Hugh Thomas (the coincidence of the name is a little ironic), director of the Center with the mission of finding a Spanish specialist to help elucidate the harmful identification. It is also worth pointing out the causes of the “Spanish flu” pandemic and its consequences. As an additional mission, it was recommended to note its parallels with the current tragedy.
I admit satisfactorily that I have learned a lot from the experience, in addition to having the honor of contributing to a better integration of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Barcelona, Antoni Trilla, in the academic community of my institution. Although the course of the program did not reveal any specular topicality, it did help us to assimilate fundamental aspects that should not be forgotten.
Identification of the pandemic with Spain
First, for those who may still be confused by the national identification of the pandemic with Spain, the mysterious “Spanish” origin is curiously due to a classic politico-historical peculiarity of the country. The pandemic of over a century ago occurred in the midst of the dramatic end of World War I. Fighting countries, virtually the entire planet, have hidden the explosion of the virus that has affected half of humanity and claimed more lives than the war itself, as advertising would reduce the necessary recruitment of cannon fodder. Thus, a strong censorship of the press was exercised. Spain, neutral in the war, did not apply this measure and the news was transmitted freely.
Thus, the disease was identified as being of Hispanic origin, while the most serious investigations led it to a US Army regiment in Kansas. From there it spread to the United States and was soon sent by American troops to the battle fronts in Europe. Apparently, the trafficking of Spanish and Portuguese workers to France, where they filled the agricultural void left by French soldiers, has contributed to the fullest legend of the Spanish origin of the virus.
A Spanish peculiarity
This episode confirms once again a badly deserved Spanish characteristic. The Spanish governments, often rightly referred to as dictatorial, boasted on this occasion of the freedom of the press. Having been weighed down with the wrong adjective, he failed, as has often happened in history, to shake off the unfair labels. The “Spanish flu” label is another example of the failure of official public relations mechanisms. This identification is part of the Spanish endorsement of the Inquisition, the exclusivity of the slave trade in the Americas, and the annihilation of the indigenous peoples.
Trilla’s presentation helped to understand the enormity of the pandemic and to warn that such phenomena are virtually impossible to eliminate completely. Its consequences survive its apparent exhaustion. This innate detail should lead us to reflect on two specific cases of contamination by “Spanish flu” suffered by the leaders of the time. One was US President Woodrow Wilson and the other was the “Spanish” King Alfonso XIII himself.
Diagnosis and sequelae
Wilson, at his residence in Paris, was stricken with a mysterious illness that left him out of action for a long recovery and was later recognized as a case of an epidemic. Apparently restored, the US president has not been strong enough to prevent his European partners from applying the strict punitive measures against Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. Moreover, his groundbreaking League of Nations project, the United Nations’ utopian precedent, was shamefully vetoed by the United States by the Senate itself. The reconstruction of Europe was born mortally wounded. The disaster was exploited by Hitler.
Meanwhile, in Spain, Alfonso XIII has apparently recovered from the virus. But the 1920s were a succession of catastrophes caused indirectly or tolerated by the monarch. The tragedy of the Moroccan war, the military reaction in the Rif (where Francisco Franco’s brilliant career began), the surrender of power to General Primo de Rivera, the Second Republic, the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship are the lessons successive groups of absence. of authority by a monarch who apparently did not conquer disease.
The recent diagnosis of side effects of Covid (amnesia, imperfect locomotion, mental irritation, visual disturbances) in certified healthy victims should lead us to recommend that leaders receive favorable treatment in the administration of vaccines and then in their healing. Who can certify that Trump made a miraculous recovery from his illness and his surreal limousine ride? To what extent can your behavior before and after the attack on Capitol Hill be attributed to the survival of the virus? Are senators who oppose punitive measures for deferred dismissal really vaccinated? Remembering Wilson and Alfonso XIII can help.