The 1918 Flu Pandemic In Russia

I’m a historian by training and even if I’m not officially using my degree (I mean, aside from the writing skills, research skills, and presentation skills I learned while completing my degree—I say this to emphasize that humanities degrees do help you in the workplace, everyone!), I love encountering random historical things. I mean, there’s a reason this blog is called Fluent Historian. I wouldn’t have called it that and kept that name if I weren’t a huge history buff.

Anyway, one of my recent discoveries is a fascinating photo essay on The Atlantic called The 1918 Flu Pandemic: Photos From a Century Ago. It contains thirty black-and-white photos from 1918 and 1919, when the so-called Spanish Flu swept across the world and killed 20 to 40 million people. That’s more than the casualties of World War I (15 million). That could be more than World War II (66 million) as well (it’s hard to tell since casualty figures for World War II vary, as do the figures for World War I)*. Nevertheless, it’s a ton of people.

The photo that caught my attention is the second one. Here’s a direct link to it. And here it is, below.

Courtesy of the National Archives

According to the article, the caption from the National Archives reads: “February, 1919. U.S. Army at Archangel Front, Russia. Funeral of member of crew of U.S.S. Ascutney. Three members died in Archangel and many were sick with influenza.”

As morbid as this sounds, I find that to be so fascinating. For those of you who aren’t as obsessed with the Russian Civil War as I am (and that’s probably most of you, because my obsession knows no bounds! 😉 ), that picture is from the doomed Allied intervention in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution. After Lenin and his nasty band of followers seized power in 1917, the Russian Civil War broke out. You see, a large amount of people realized the Bolsheviks and their leadership, especially Lenin, were a bunch of nasty pieces of work and didn’t want to be ruled by such people. During the war, the (largely) pro-monarchist Whites fought the Reds (Bolsheviks). There were also the anarchist Greens, the anarchist Blacks of Ukraine, and even a group called the Blues. As you can see, identifying yourself by a color was all the rage.

Anyway, Allied forces also intervened in the war, though I would argue their involvement was too little, too late. The flu pandemic was sweeping the world during this time—even though I know about both the Spanish flu and the Russian Civil War, I hadn’t specifically thought of them as occurring at the same time, even though they obviously did. And as we can see from the photo above, American soldiers were sent to fight in Russia, with some dying and being buried there. Just a fascinating bit of history for you this week.

*Note: Casualty figures for the flu come from this Stanford site. The ones for World War I and World War II come from Matthew White’s excellent book Atrocities.

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Happy Independence Day!

I like the vintage look of this photo.

Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

–From the second verse of Francis Scott Key’s poem The Star-Spangled Banner. This poem is our national anthem, though usually only the first verse is sung.

Happy Fourth of July, fellow Americans! Today we celebrate our birth as a nation. Even though I didn’t do anything in particular to celebrate today—aside from not working and listening to our national anthem—this is the best Fourth of July in a long time.

Happy Independence Day and may we have many, many more!

What A Week!

As you’ve probably heard, we Americans had a presidential election almost two weeks ago. Between trying to stay away and see who won—I only made it to one in the morning or so, which was before they called the election—and reading the news more in the past ten days than I have in the prior year, well, readers, I was exhausted. Much too exhausted to blog, unfortunately. I actually deleted the Twitter app early last week so I could have some peace and quiet to do some reading.

Before I deleted the app, I did a mass unfollowing of people I followed on Twitter. In the aftermath of the election, a lot of people I thought were nice suddenly revealed themselves to be… not so nice. I didn’t unfollow them because of disagreements in our views. I just have no desire to unfollow people who enthusiastically post and retweet a photo endorsing a disgusting act of violence against the future First Lady. As a result, my Twitter feed suddenly has a whole lot more Russian in it. And more Russian is never a bad thing. 🙂

Anyway, I digress. Blogging should return to normal, pre-election levels shortly. I also hope to resume Wednesday Music—I’ve actually completely forgotten about it for the past weeks!

No Words

It’s the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and I’m not really sure what I can say anymore.

Source
Source

Towards the end of last year, I went to New York for the first time since the attacks took place. I stayed in a hotel near the site where the Twin Towers stood. The memorial there is very nice. So much time has passed that I feel like we’re a completely different country sometimes. There’s an entire group of people in school now—including my own cousin—who don’t remember the attacks at all and don’t fully grasp their significance. I can’t relate to that. I may not remember the Berlin Wall coming down or the Soviet Union collapsing, but at least I still recognize the significance of these events! It’s a bit demoralizing that some people don’t fully get what happened. Of course, this isn’t limited to young people. Some adults who remember the attacks still don’t get it, either. Will they ever get it? Time will tell, I suppose.

Вечная память.

Happy Independence Day!

fourth-of-july

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Today marks the glorious day in our history when we finally threw off the shackles of the British Empire once and for all. Or rather, we took the first steps that led to us throwing off those shackles. After all, the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, but we didn’t win the war until 1783. But all is forgiven because we’ve been allies for ages, right, Brits? 😀

I hope everyone has an excellent day. I’m off from work (hooray!) and I might just watch a nice patriotic movie later. A rewatching of The Patriot doesn’t sound like a bad idea, if you ask me…

Thoughts On Watching ‘The Patriot’ Again

I think they photoshopped Mel's eyes to make them look bluer.
I think they photoshopped Mel’s eyes to make them look bluer.

When I was younger—still a kid, because this was about fifteen years ago—a little historical film called The Patriot came out. Of course, I’m being facetious when I call it little because it was actually quite big, both in length (it’s almost three hours long) and budget. My parents and I were on vacation and they decided to rent it in the hotel we were staying at. I begged to see it with them. Even then, I loved history and historical things.

Unfortunately, I only got to see about half of it. It was so long I would have been up way past my bedtime if I watched the entire thing, and they also worried about objectionable material being present. When they determined it was fine for me to see, we rented it again once we were home and I got to see the whole thing. I loved it. Then I grew up and didn’t watch it for a number of years because I was too busy doing other things.

Last week, I read something online that reminded me of The Patriot, so I rented it and watched it last weekend. I know some people say they’re disappointed by books they reread or movies they rewatch because they don’t said book or film anymore. I’m happy to report that was definitely not the case with my rewatching of The Patriot. I love it as much as I did when I was a kid. Basically, The Patriot is a fabulous movie and you should rewatch it—or watch it for the first time if you haven’t seen it already. Here’s my advice if you decide to do so.

  • Getting the director’s cut is TOTALLY WORTH IT. Okay, since it costs the same as the regular version on iTunes, “worth it” may not be the best way to phrase it, but you get what I mean.
  • If you get the director’s cut, it’s an extra fifteen minutes or so, mainly of Jason Isaacs (the British guy, Colonel Tavington, who is the main antagonist). He’s such a great actor and it’s a shame they cut so many of his scenes. Besides, he really pulls off that British uniform quite well, if you ask me, so get the director’s cut!
  • It’s nice to see a good solid patriotic film. I feel like a lot of people don’t care about this country or it’s history. Heck, I’ve been fed up with a lot of what’s gone on recently, so it’s nice to see a reminder of where we came from.
  • And yes, I know some people may say that the British are portrayed too harshly in this film—but remember, dear British friends, you didn’t want to let us go back when we declared our independence. The government did put up quite a fight!
  • I completely forgot Heath Ledger was in this. It’s really sad to think that he was alive the last time I watched it…

Just go rent this movie, okay? It’s full of historical goodies: cool costumes, battles that look really realistic, and all sorts of other delights. Amadeus will probably always be my favorite movie ever—but The Patriot definitely vies for second place.

A Different World

The Lusitania coming into port. From here
The Lusitania coming into port. From here

I’m reading an excellent book right now that my coworker L. lent me. It’s called Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (see it here on Goodreads, or on Amazon). It’s a great book—I love it so far. It’s quite easy to read, too, which is probably why I’ve read almost one hundred pages of it just this evening.

The book describes the circumstances behind the last voyage of Cunard Line’s ship Lusitania, a ship that the Germans sunk in 1915 at the beginning of World War I. In fact, most people in the United States are taught this was the reason our country decided to get involved in the war. (That isn’t completely true, at least according to a professor I had as an undergraduate, but that’s a story for another time.)

As I said, I’m about a hundred pages into the book. The Lusitania still hasn’t set sail on her final voyage yet. The author has been describing the circumstances around the sailing—as in, what certain passengers were doing at the time, what the captain of the U-boat that torpedoed the ship was doing, what was going on with the British Admiralty, etc.—and it’s made me realize what a different world existed back then.

For example, men’s raincoats in New York cost $6.75 apiece in 1915. Admittedly, that was “less than half their usual price” (p. 42), but still, it’s so odd to think of a decent piece of clothing with that price. (And I’m sure those raincoats were a lot better quality than the usual made-in-China rubbish that populates so many American stores nowadays!)

Here’s another interesting fact I learned: the national country with the third-most amount of passengers on board the ship was… Russia! There were 949 British citizens and 189 Americans on board—both these numbers make sense because the ship sailed between England (I guess to the port of Southampton?) and New York. But I hadn’t expected Russians to come in third place numerically. Granted, there were only 71 of them, which pales in comparison to the 949 British people, but still. (See p. 43 for more information about the passengers on the ship.)

Seriously, this book is great. It falls firmly within the realm of popular history, but that’s okay. (Remember, I’m a recovering academic, and academic historians look down on so-called popular history. I think they feel it sacrifices quality of research in order to be more accessible. There are some poorly researched popular history book, of course, but many of them are well-researched and actually written in prose that is a pleasure to read. Many academic historians would do well to write in a less abstruse manner, if you ask me.) I definitely plan on reading it a bit during my lunch break today.

American Soldiers Meet Poroshenko in Ukraine

So remember when I blogged last week that the US military is training some units from the Ukrainian military to fight the Russian invaders/rebels of Donbass/brave freedom fighters/evil Putin robot clones bent on Communist world domination/whatever term you want to insert here? Well, that training commenced yesterday and I have hilariously amazing photos culled straight from the Runet (Russian-speaking internet) for you! I found them here, but I’m going to showcase all of them here, with amazing commentary, so you don’t need to even click on that link (unless you really want to, of course).

You know this training has the stamp of approval when US ambassador to Ukraine shows up! Seriously, Geoff, the glasses aren't that great of a look for you. Though Poroshenko seems to like it...
You know this training has the stamp of approval when US ambassador to Ukraine shows up! Seriously, Geoff, the glasses aren’t that great of a look for you. Though Poroshenko seems to like it…
The flags are flying at the same height because they just respect us that much. Or, they just want our money that badly. I'm betting on the latter.
The flags are flying at the same height because they just respect us that much. Or, they just want our money that badly. I’m betting on the latter.
Once I saw a photo of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in the rain. He had a person holding his umbrella. Apparently Poroshenko isn't important enough to have one of those. At least that soldier has a hat, though.
Once I saw a photo of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in the rain. He had a person holding his umbrella. Apparently Poroshenko isn’t important enough to have one of those. At least that soldier has a hat, though.
Lunch in the mess hall! I wish I could have been there for this. I think that soldier to the right of Poroshenko has a Ukrainian last name. Also, please note the uniform Poroshenko is wearing. He never misses an opportunity to wear it...
Lunch in the mess hall! I wish I could have been there for this. I think that soldier to the right of Poroshenko has a Ukrainian last name. Also, please note the uniform Poroshenko is wearing. He never misses an opportunity to wear it…
Geoff Pyatt, US ambassador to Kiev, is standing behind Poroshenko. He looks exhausted. I guess fomenting a revolution in a foreign country and then making sure the preferred party stays in power isn't easy.
Geoff Pyatt, US ambassador to Kiev, is standing behind Poroshenko. He looks exhausted. I guess fomenting a revolution in a foreign country and then making sure the preferred party stays in power isn’t easy.
More lunch. I'm telling you, I wish I could've been there. It would have been so much fun.
More lunch. I’m telling you, I wish I could’ve been there. It would have been so much fun.
No witty comments here because I have no idea what this is. Probably some boring presser.
No witty comments here because I have no idea what this is. Probably some boring presser.

Anyway, this training is supposed to go on for several months, if I remember correctly. If you think about it, the US is sort of fighting Russia right now, by using Ukraine as a proxy. I hope Russia does not return the favor.

A Diplomatic Spat In The Czech Republic 

Note: I’m blogging from my phone for the first time ever, so please excuse any errors!

Have you heard about this diplomatic spat in the Czech Republic going on? It’s quite funny and quite ridiculous. From reading this article, I think this is what happened: the US ambassador to the Czech Republic said on TV that he didn’t approve of the Czech president going to the upcoming Victory Day parade in Moscow. The president took offense and has now banned the ambassador from coming to the presidential office. 

Now, I don’t approve of the Czech president’s attendance at the parade, either, but my position has nothing to do with the Russian actions in Ukraine and everything to do with the fact that the idiotic leader of North Korea will be in attendance, too. (How dare he be invited?!? My form of boycott will be not watching the parade, which kills me. But oh well.) However, I don’t think it’s anyone’s right to go on Czech TV and tell the president not to go. If anything, I think he’s even more determined to attend since it’s about the principle of the matter now. 

Sigh. I’m sure this spat will blow over eventually… But a part of me thinks that the State Department takes a perverse pleasure in creating these incidents.