‘We’ve never seen times like this before“. “Unprecedented”. “No model for how to proceed”.
Have we ever had a Pandemic, social unrest, violent protests, a polarizing president, difficult global relationships, a far-off war that keeps us involved, a rising cold war, and the stock market peaking and struggling to find its footing?
We have…parts of it are like 1918-19; parts like 1929-32. Some of us remember the late 1960’s as being particularly volatile, specifically 1968.
In 1968 we had race riots and burning of buildings in multiple cities (LA, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit to name a few), cities had to call in the National Guard- thousands of them, we had riots at the democratic convention, we were in a cold war with Russia, the Viet Nam war was in full swing, there were protests over the Viet Nam war both here and abroad. This was the time of Black Power, the Black Panthers, and the end of the use of the word “Negro” to be replaced by “Black”. That term lasted for the next 45 years until recently when it has begun to be replaced by “African-American” (at least in this country). The Women’s Movement was beginning to stir as well.
And we had a pandemic, too. Say what? I thought the only other pandemic affecting us was the Spanish Flu of 1916?
Well, as it turns out, in 1968-69 there was a serious epidemic called The Hong Kong Flu. History discussions now also call it The Pandemic of 1968.
When I’ve said this to people old enough to be adults at the time they all say, “I remember the name”. A look back at history tells us that actually it was rather serious, but at the time there was not the capability to get daily counts from everywhere, and there were no 24x7 news channels to repeat the same information over and over. It was one of the items on the news hour in the evening.
The Hong Kong Flu came in two waves – 1968 and 1969. It killed over 1 million world-wide and killed between 50,000 and 100,000 in the US. For comparison, the current pandemic has taken over 120,000 lives in the U.S. So, the Hong Kong Flu was a serious factor back in 1968 added to all the other political, social and economic trauma of the time.
Thus, we’ve been here before. How did it all end? In short, it was a period of uncertainty and transition.
We were still protesting two years later. We rolled into a recession. This was the beginning of a decade-long slow economy and the topping of the stock market after the fabulous 60’s. The pandemic came in two waves and then faded away as a concern. A new president from the other party came to office. His approach represented the old school, satisfying some and enraging the rest. Hair styles changed; for men from medium or shorter parted toward the side to long hair, and for women from the curled and quaffed to long mostly straight. Clothing styles changed, too. Popular music leapt to a new era with Abby Road. The racial and war protests continued for several more years. Protests were violent and so was the response. We finally were forced to exit the war as a failure. The new president left office in disgrace in his second term.
I think we are there again now.
Pandemic of 1968, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Hong Kong Flu:
The Hong Kong flu (also known as 1968 flu pandemic) was a flu pandemic whose outbreak in 1968 and 1969 killed an estimated one to four million people globally. It was caused by an H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus, descended from H2N2 through antigenic shift, a genetic process in which genes from multiple subtypes re-assorted to form a new virus.
The first recorded instance of the outbreak appeared on 13 July 1968 in Hong Kong. There is a possibility that this outbreak actually began in mainland China before spreading to Hong Kong, but this is unconfirmed. By the end of July 1968, extensive outbreaks were reported in Vietnam and Singapore. Despite the lethality of the 1957 Asian Flu in China, little improvement had been made regarding the handling of such epidemics. The Times newspaper was the first source to report this new possible pandemic.By September 1968, the flu had reached India, the Philippines, northern Australia, and Europe. That same month, the virus entered California, carried by troops returning from the Vietnam War, but did not become widespread in the United States until December 1968. It reached Japan, Africa, and South America by 1969. In Berlin, the excessive number of deaths led to corpses being stored in subway tunnels, and in West Germany, garbage collectors had to bury the dead due to insufficient undertakers. In total, East and West Germany registered 60,000 estimated deaths. In some areas of France, half the workforce was bedridden, and manufacturing suffered large disruptions due to absenteeism. The British postal and train services were also severely disrupted.
Worldwide deaths from this virus peaked in December 1968 and January 1969. By that time, public health warnings and virus descriptions were widely issued in the scientific and medical journals. The H3N2 virus returned during the following 1969/1970 flu season, resulting in a second, deadlier wave of deaths. It remains in circulation today as a strain of the seasonal flu.