The Black Death or the Bubonic Plague, ravaged Europe in the 14th century. By some estimates in the year 1347 alone almost one third of the population of Europe died. The disease was so contagious that doctors and priests refused to visit the sick. Relatives abandoned their own marriage partners and children. Frequently those with the plague were left to die alone.
The disease could manifest itself suddenly and could sometimes take a life within 24 hours. The victim would often break out with black colored, oozing boils with pus. Bodies were stacked up in the streets like cord wood. Mass graves swallowed up the thousands of bodies.
Though it happened centuries ago and there are more recent lessons to learn from the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic (February of 1918 to April of 1920), there are still some haunting points to be made from this ancient event in history.
1.) Pandemics and plagues are almost always accompanied by hysteria and paranoia that is sometimes worse than the sickness itself.
After the plague, Christian authorities decided that it has been sent from God as punishment. It triggered a terrible massacre of Jews across Europe. Jewish villages and neighborhoods were burned to the ground. Families were often burned alive.
2.) Another lesson learned is that that the authorities, the experts, are often wrong and contradictory.
During the Middle Ages the church was the authority. In fact, modern science had its beginnings in monasteries. For some reason kings and queens, as well as royal families, often survived the Bubonic plague. The experts, all theologians, concluded that God had spared them. After all, they were ordained by God to rule. This doctrine was known as the “right of kings.”
Only in recent years have we learned that the plague was carried by rats and transmitted to humans and livestock by the fleas of those rats. Horses provided a natural repellent to the fleas. Most aristocrats owned horses and worked with horses. Modern bathing and toilet hygiene, common in China, was still hundreds of years into the future for Europe. So the aristocrats and their clothing smelled of horses. Picture ladies in dresses that dragged the ground and streets filled with horse manure and you will get the picture. The fleas stayed away.
Today, scientists publicly lecture about the coronavirus but the reports are often contradictory, or driven by politics or emotion. Masks are good, no they are bad, wait, they are good again. Hydroxychloroquine is good, no it will kill you. Oops, the authors of that study admit their data was flawed, it won’t kill you after all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 80% of those who contract the coronavirus are over the age of 65. Of those who actually contract the disease, less than 1.38% actually die. The national media never apologizes for false information. It just bravely plows ahead.
Facts and policies are weighed on a criteria of whether they will help President Trump or hurt President Trump. Apparently, hoping to depress the American economy, the media and states controlled by Democratic governors have been the last to open up their economies. When experts pointed out that only the elderly were really at risk, NBC News began running stories showcasing the danger of the virus to children. On a night in which 26 were murdered in Chicago, the leading news story for NBC was that one more child in America had died of the coronavirus.
3.) Finally, another great lesson from the Bubonic plague was that the economy – even the form of government – was forever changed.
The Black Plague wiped out millions of peasants, serfs, or slaves. When it was over the lords and ladies had no one to toil their lands and harvest their crops. The solution lay in selling land to tenant farmers who now had a chance to build a future for themselves. It was not yet the beginning of a middle class but one could argue that it was the beginning of poverty – a step up from slavery and serfdom for many.
In hundreds of years, when they come racing back to study the 2020 coronavirus I expect they will likewise find that we reacted with hysteria. We blamed the wrong persons, did the wrong things to deal with the crisis, let emotion supplant science and yes, they will find that our economy and politics was forever changed.
If the American Republic finally comes to an end, if it now becomes a socialist or American version of a communist state, or if we descend into anarchy, it will probably be during a time such as this, when an emergency clears the way for a few to impose their will on the many. In the Middle Ages, out of great loss and pain, the world was reborn a better place. It remains to be seen what the impact will be from this modern pandemic and whether we will come through better or worse.