It is interesting that, with all the advancements today in weaponry and defense, the thing that kills the most people is natural and too small to see with the naked eye. When we put so much emphasis on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, a virus that we should have prepared for is the thing that most endangers us. The emergence of COVID-19 reminds us again that, if you take on nature, you might end up on the wrong side. Humans certainly are capable of mass destruction; however, historically speaking, we are nothing when compared to disease.
Think of some of the largest events in history. World War II killed around 70 million, the Holocaust around 6 million, and the communists are estimated to have killed around 100 million. Yet, HIV/Aids has killed over 36 million, 1968’s Hong Kong flu 1 million, the Asian flu in 1956-1958 2 million, and finally the Black Plague somewhere between 75-200 million.
In most American wars the total number of deaths is larger from disease than from battlefield wounds, at least before modern medicine. The Mexican American War had 1,733 battlefield deaths and more than 11,000 from disease. The Civil War had more than 140,000 battlefield deaths but more than 224,000 from disease. The Spanish American War only saw 385 battlefield deaths but an additional 2,000 from disease.
The last of the wars where disease claimed more lives than guns is World War I. We lost more than 53,000 men in the trenches of Europe, but another 63,000 men died from disease. However, this did not include the Spanish Flu, one of the worst pandemics in world history that came right on the heels of WWI. The Spanish Flu killed 50-100 million people worldwide and at least 675,000 Americans.
The problem was that we were still a rural society. Most of our men in these wars lived on farms and in isolated communities. You put all these men together from around the country and they bring their diseases with them. For many of these early wars, it was childhood diseases like measles, chicken pox, small pox, and mumps that killed off many. Then of course a bunch of young men came together without mothers and wives and they lived in filth which brought about the greatest killer, dysentery. Finally, there was lack of any knowledge, until after the Civil War, of germs. In that bloodiest war, we could have cut the deaths in half if soldiers had followed the most basic of instructions that is currently being hammered into our heads – wash your hands.
Diseases have always been part of the American story. With first contact, Europeans brought diseases to America that obliterated the native population. Historian Jared Diamond explains in his ground- breaking work, Guns, Germs, and Steel, how this happened. As most of us know by now, diseases come from animals. Swine flu, bird flu, and our current COVID-19 are believed to have come from bats. At the time, Middle Ages Europeans and Native Americans had a very different relationship with animals. Native Americans had only domesticated the dog, whereas Europeans not only had domesticated all of our current barnyard animals but were partially living with them. This close relationship not only spread more diseases to Europeans but eventually made them immune to diseases. However, when they brought these diseases to America, the Natives had no such immunity built up and their populations were devastated.
Europeans also brought over a device of sorts to help new diseases spread. Historian Elliot West in his work, The Last Indian War, demonstrates that it was the horse that helped diseases spread. Without Europeans introducing the horse, in our current language, it would have been easier to flatten the curve. Natives were dying faster than the disease could spread. Yet Natives became such excellent horsemen that they could cover much more ground before they knew they were infected. West shows that the Nez Perce of the Northwest were affected from disease long before they made contact with white men. It is estimated that at least 20 million Natives died from European diseases.
Historically speaking, what we are learning again is that nature is powerful. All of our modern technology can slow down nature, but we have yet to able to conquer it. COVID-19 is not our first pandemic. We know there have been many in history, but what we have learned is that these types of pandemics are not just a thing in our history. We need to study how we got through in the past and find new ways in the future to obliterate them.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.
Travel Bans 2021
Two of the biggest stories in the past couple of months have been about travel and immigration. First, with the fall of Afghanistan, we have opened our borders to refugees escaping the tyranny of the Taliban. And then just last week, President Biden has placed travel restrictions on eight African nations. What is interesting is that both occurrences, an opening and a closing, have drawn the most criticism from the right while the praise came from the left. As most readers of this column know, immigration and travel restrictions are not in any way new and, historically speaking, we have been having similar debates for more than a hundred years.
We do not have to go back very far to find travel restrictions. In Trump’s last year of office, he placed similar restrictions on African nations because of COVID. The only difference then was the right praised his actions while leaders on the left condemned them as racists. Nancy Pelosi released a statement that said, “The Trump administration’s expansion of its outrageous, un-American travel ban threatens our security, our value, and the rule of law. The sweeping rule, barring more than 350 million individuals from predominantly African nations from traveling to the United States, is discrimination disguised as policy.”
While this type of hypocrisy is expected today, barring travel or even those escaping persecution go back much further, and with some of our most respected presidents. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter put a ban on all travel and immigration from Iran. The previous year the Islamic Revolution took over the country and held American embassy workers hostage for what turned out to be 444 days. Even though many Iranians worked with the U.S. and feared the revolution, they were cut off from seeking refuge in the U.S.
Even more tragic were the events in Europe leading up to WWII. You have probably heard the Holocaust referred to as the “final solution.” The meaning behind this term is that the eradication of the Jews in death camps was not the Nazis’ first attempt to solve the “Jewish problem.” Earlier plans included shipping Jews off to somewhere like Madagascar or, better yet, push for Jews to immigrate out of Europe on their own. As the Nazis began to make life difficult for the Jews by clamping down on their rights, many Jews did try to immigrate to neighboring nations, but soon those nations came under Nazi influence and their troubles began again. The one bastion of hope for many of these fleeing Jews was America.
America, however sympathetic to their plight, was not really excited about opening its doors to thousands of Jews. To appear helpful President Roosevelt organized a conference in France to discuss with national leaders how to help. Thirty-two nations arrived and tried to help Hitler solve his “Jewish Problem,” but most of them, including the U.S., in the end determined that, when it came to Jews, they were full. There was no room at the inn, you might say.
The most tragic example came in 1938 after what is known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass. Jews were already being persecuted, but after that night those who could leave knew they needed to. Several hundred Jews boarded a ship called the St. Louis heading for Cuba, hoping they could stay there until they gained access to the U.S. Upon their arrival, the Cubans revoked their visas and would not let them off the ship. Out of desperation, the ship sailed to Florida, believing America to be a land of freedom. Once again, they were not allowed to disembark even after pleas to Roosevelt himself who refused them out of political necessity. Giving up hope, the ship finally sailed to Canada only to be refused one more time before returning to Europe. The Coast Guard even followed them until the ship was well out of sight of the U.S. coast to make sure no one jumped off. Once home, half of the refugees, some 254 Jews, eventually lost their lives to the “Final Solution.”
While there is plenty of fault to go around, it is also true that no one could have ever imagined the Nazis trying to exterminate an entire race. All nations were suffering the economic effects of the Great Depression and were concerned with more mouths to feed. There was also a growing fear that bringing in European refugees of any race or ethnicity had the potential of bringing in communists. Stopping African tourists because of Covid is not exactly the same thing as stopping Jews during the Holocaust, but it is interesting that both times it was done in the name of protection to the U.S.
As always, I am not trying to support or condone the President’s policies but simply to shed some light on the subject. So, make your arguments and support your stances on immigration and travel bans, but if you use history try to get the details correct. When these same restrictions were passed under Trump, he was called a racist by the same people putting the policies in place today. Also, remember as much as we want it to be true, America has not always been open to all immigrants, even those fleeing repression at home.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.
Councilman’s federal employment scrutinized
As it has been reported by multiple news sources, including the Rachel Maddow show on Wednesday (Dec.1), it has come to my attention that one of your town council members has a highly unusual fascination with girls’ menstrual cycles. According to those reports, it appears that Scott Lloyd likes to push teen girls, including some who had been raped, into reporting to him all about their periods. He kept mementos of these nosey inquiries in the form of governmental records that include the girls’ names and the dates they menstruated.
It is very disturbing that a grown man like Councilman Lloyd would have such a detailed interest and that he would feel entitled to act on this interest as soon as he has immigrant girls in custody who are captive to his whims. I assume it is a personal absurdity on the part of Councilman Lloyd to inquire of raped girls about their periods, as I like to hope that the average person in your town does not share the councilman’s obsession with periods.
I’ve tried to imagine why a grown man would behave this way.
I’ve asked myself if it is possible that Councilman Lloyd has read “Twilight” and that he has a secret longing to be Edward Cullen – a vampire who is obsessed with a teen girl’s blood?
I’m also curious to know if he would accept a COVID vaccine if it came with a complimentary box of Kotex and a copy of “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret”.
(Editor’s note: This letter is a reference to news reports culminating with a story on the December 1st Rachel Maddow show exploring now Front Royal Town Councilman Scott Lloyd’s tenure as Director of Refugee Resettlement at the southern border during the Trump Administration. It concerns the incarceration of teenage female refugees, tracking of their menstrual cycles, and blocking of medically approved abortions for some while in U.S. custody at the border. The writer explained that the “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” reference is to a Judy Blume novel about a young girl coming of age, who talks to God about the changes, including physical, puberty brings to her life.)
No Good Happens After Midnight
When I was a teenager growing up in Front Royal, my father would tell me and my sister two things before we went out on the town: “First, remember it takes years to grow a tree and only minutes to cut it down.” He told us the tree was like a reputation that takes a long time to build and only one foolish, thoughtless action or word to destroy. Be careful, be smart – what we did or said had consequences.
The second piece of wise advice was, “Be home by midnight because nothing good happens after that time.” My dad would reinforce this by explaining that we will encounter situations where people may ignore their better judgment when dealing with social pressures. This could be caused by drugs/alcohol or outside influences, driving some individuals to act without thinking of the consequences of their bad decisions, especially under the cover of darkness. He would reinforce his statement by telling us that he and other family members would have peace of mind knowing we would be home before that time. They cared and let us know it. The consequences were clear when not heeding his sage counsel, which could be the loss of the car and being grounded. We would often hear at school, following a weekend, that some of our classmates had gotten into serious trouble from not heeding or hearing caring, parental guidance.
It was my father’s concern for our well-being and his good advice that I followed during my adolescent years. It was the same advice that I passed on to my kids when they were teenagers and out of our protective sight.
I feel obligated to write about this as a result of the trial of the young man in Wisconsin who was acquitted in the killing of two people during the civil unrest in Kenosha. It’s unthinkable for me to comprehend that an under-aged teenager managed to take a semi-automatic weapon in public without adult supervision, even more, unimaginable that he could travel to another state and involve himself in an area of dangerous civil unrest. Most troubling is that a certain segment of our population, and elected leaders, have elevated this young man to a position of respect and hero status after killing two human beings; solely to promote their own self-serving ambitions and craving for attention. Just think if this young man had someone in his life who saw the need to impress upon him the above wisdom maybe this situation would never have happened. After the aura of gratuitous back-slapping has worn away he would not be stained for life when the spotlight becomes as dark as midnight.
The actions and resulting consequences for our kids today have escalated to an unbelievable degree compared to when I was a teenager or when my kids were growing up. It’s scary that as a society we have become so blinded by the political dogma that we can no longer separate common sense right from wrong. The consequences of our actions as adults may now be creating a generation of young people that feel unpowered, even encouraged to make a bad decision.
No good happens after midnight and shame on us adults for allowing it to happen to any of our kids.
Front Royal, Virginia
For the Record
I want to publicly congratulate and thank Melanie Salins for stepping up to the plate. She has displayed unrelenting fervor for this community. If you have ever been as lucky as I to have a one on one conversation with her, you know how much she desires to support others who have experienced injustice.
As someone who is compelled by the current state of affairs (not specifically Warren County, but overall the reports from Public Schools throughout the last decade-only worsening) to homeschool my children, I respect Melanie for the years she has sacrificed educating her children. Every time I see them I am amazed by their vocabulary and manners. I am encouraged by her election to the school board. Perhaps she can help drive the positive change needed to reassure parents that they can trust again and enroll students.
The negative things said of Melanie have been untrue. Even when accused of being involved with illegal activity, Melanie upheld the board’s code of conduct by remaining silent. Melanie’s appointment was not illegal and was advertised as required by law. She was competitively interviewed along with other applicants prior to the board vote.
As with any position and experience, there are lessons to be learned. Melanie has shown me at every turn how willing she is to learn.
She will continue to do a good job for our community.
Thank you, Melanie, for putting up a tough fight. I pray God leads you and gives you the strength to continue each and every day! May His light guide you as your term has just begun!
To those who saw past the rubbish and voted her in: thank you, from outside of your district! To those who are less than happy for her election: keep your chin up and give her a chance!
Warren County, Virginia
Religion In Government
I am inspired this week by an assignment my wife is doing for a Law in Education class. Her assignment was to write about religion in school and particularly release time for religious classes. It is an interesting assignment for her because, unlike most of her class, she grew up in a state that actually does have release time in the high school. Religion, in general, is an interesting subject and historically speaking I have found most people are confused about what the Constitution says.
When I teach classes on the Constitution, after I cover the checks and balances and go over how the Constitution protects the people from the government and the government from the people, I then like to throw out some interesting questions to my students. First, I ask what the Constitution says about political parties, hint it says nothing. Then I like to ask, which article covers the separation between church and state. This is a trick question because even though the vast majority of Americans believe this line is in our founding document it is not. In actuality, the original Constitution said nothing at all about religion or God. You cannot argue for or against religion using the original document, there is simply nothing there to support your claims. Now after the Constitution was ratified, the first Congress amended the Constitution with the First Amendment which contains the Establishment Clause that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” You can interpret that for yourself if that clause restricts religious influence on government or just whether government cannot interfere with the practicing of religion. If you are wonder where the wall between church and state comes from, it was in a letter Thomas Jefferson sent to the Danbury Baptist Association.
If you are so inclined to see the Constitution as a Christian document, there are two good arguments. First, all the framers of the document were Christians, not all active church goers, but all would profess a belief in Christianity. Secondly, the Supreme court will not take up a case about religion until 1878. So, for eighty-nine years the courts, nor the government had any problem with some blending between church and state. The state simply could not interfere with how people practiced their own faith. That is until the government decided to crack down on polygamy in Utah in 1878. The courts really did not start taking up religious cases until the 1940s. If you are inclined to believe there should be a wall between the two, the best historical ground is simply if the Founders wanted to protect Christianity, they could have done so. Almost every state Constitution in 1789 had religious protections. The Founders did not just forget to add it.
However, while not everyone reads the Establishment Clause the same way, what is important is how the courts have interpreted it and the Supreme Court today has seen it as a wall. Today, whenever the courts have to decide a religious issue they apply what is known as the Lemon Test. In 1971, the Supreme Court struck down a practice in Pennsylvania where the schools were helping to pay for teacher’s salaries and books at religious schools. Alton Lemon led the charge against Pennsylvania for violating the Establishment Clause. Acknowledging the First Amendment’s language is vague, the Court determined a simple three question test to determine if any government is running afoul of the Constitution. The Lemon Test asks, 1) the primary purpose of the assistance is secular, (2) the assistance must neither promote nor inhibit religion, and (3) there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.
For my wife’s assignment, the Lemon Law had not come into effect when the Supreme Court originally denied an Illinois school board the ability to allow release time in 1948. The case, McCollum V. Board of Education said that since the school was allowing religious education on school grounds that it was unconstitutional. However, four years later the Court saw things differently in the case of Zorach V. Clauson in 1953. In this case, New York was allowing students release time for religious instruction off campus. They saw the difference in schools supporting religion as opposed to just accommodating it. Though it was not a unanimous decision Justice William Douglas wrote in favor of release time, “The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather, it studiously defines the manner, the specific ways, in which there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise, the state and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly.” In other words, Douglas was arguing that the government does not need to be hostile to religion to be separate.
Though release time from schools is still allowed by law, the Lemon Test since 1971, though controversial, has moved government more towards a wall of separation. The controversial part of the test is “excessive entanglement” and what that means. The test was supposed to clarify the Establishment Clause and yet in some ways has only made it more confusing. With conservatives now the majority on the bench the question is will the Lemon Test continue to apply or might the Court swing the other direction and protect religious rights as we have seen with Hobby Lobby in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.
Parents/Guardians of High School age students (Public, Private and Homeschool)
If you are interested in a wonderful opportunity for your High School student to learn about community service, engage with other local students, and learn more about leadership, please reach out to me at email@example.com
There is a wonderful program through Rotary International called Interact and RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership). You can learn for yourself by going to www.rotary.org or watching this video.
Specifically, and locally, there is a “free” full-day event at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center on Saturday, December 4, with guest speakers, free lunch, snacks, and a Rise Against Hunger Service project, where we will package 10,000 meals in two hours, in order to help fight global poverty.
Students will network with other students (from their school and others) to learn how to become true humanitarians, positive citizens, and be good stewards of their community and World.
Michael S. Williams
Vice President, Rotary Club of Warren County, VA
Lifelong Youth Advocate