Go read this, and then, if your head doesn’t explode, come back and we’ll talk.
Survived it? Great! Alrighty then. Mr. Zakaria, are you a health care professional? No? A scientist? No? A historian, maybe? No? Oh, right, you’re a journalist. I have a suggestion for you: do that journalism thing and do some research.
You might want tostart here, in this very well done article about the 1918 Flu by Malcolm Gladwell that first appeared in the New Yorker in 1997. (Psst–I found it using teh Google!) Go down to theII–The Second Wave section and check that out. Aw, hell, I’ll give you an excerpt, seeing as how you can’t be bothered to do the work yourself:
The spring wave was serious but not disastrous, and by midsummer it had subsided. A month or so later, however, the Spanish flu resurfaced. It was the same virus in the sense that if you’d got the flu in the spring you were resistant to it in the fall. But somehow over the summer it had mutated. Now it was a killer.
Got that? A spring outbreak of influenza hits, it’s a nasty bug, but not too nasty, and some people died, but not too many. A garden variety flu. And then September came.
Oh, yes, Zakaria does mention 1918, but only dismissively, saying the world is so different, 1918 is irrelevant. Yes, the world is a different place now. There are a lot of things we can do to treat influenza, public health systems are much more effective, and even simple things like sanitation are so much better now, an influenza epidemic on the scale of 1918 may not occur again. (Never mind that transportation systems also having improved dramatically means that containing an epidemic of influenza is problematic at best…)
But then, how does this final graf of Zakaria’s make any sense at all?
We live in a dangerous world. But it is also a world in which deep, structural forces create stability. We have learned from history and built some reasonably effective mechanisms to handle crises. Does that mean we shouldn’t panic? Yes, except that it is the sense of urgency that makes people act — even overreact — and ensures that a crisis doesn’t mutate into a disaster. Here’s the paradox: If policymakers hadn’t been scared of another Great Depression, there might well have been one.
So Zakaria starts by saying WHO cried wolf, and ends by saying that’s a good thing. I think. Except that we shouldn’t panic. Unless we should. WTF?
Listen, I’ll keep this simple. Before you go saying that the WHO, the CDC, and everybody else telling us to be careful are crying wolf, you’d better be damn sure there isn’t actually a wolf.
Me, I’m still listening to thesmart people, thank you very much. I’m kind of a disaster buff, and one of the things that’s a hallmark of virtually every major disaster is complacency. Columns like this one, Mr. Zakaria, are not helpful.