Looking back with 20/20 vision
When 2020 arrived I was reminded how 20/20 vision was perfect. I thought this year, this start of a new decade, might make use of the symbolism of “perfect vision” to see into the future. I was horribly wrong.
As the year dawned, I also reflected that this was to be my 50th high school reunion. I also thought how high school classes of 1920 celebrated their 50th reunion in 1970.
When one looks backward of 50 years of living, it is always awe inspiring. If I would have thought about it in 1970, looking back to a high school graduating in 1920, it would have been difficult for me to grasp. Now, looking back, first, 50 years to 1970 and then a century ago to 1920, I am struck by what 1920, 1970 and 2020 have in common — world wide pandemics and their “waves” of infections.
In 1920 the world was just coming out of the horrific Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920. The Spanish flu, which actually originated on an Army base in the United States, killed millions — considerably more than the meat grinder of the trench battles of World War I.
When I graduated in 1970, the world was in the midst of the four year Hong Kong pandemic of 1968-1972, which claimed over a million lives world wide and 100,000 Americans. Both the Spanish and Hong Kong pandemics, like most pandemics, struck in three waves, with the second wave being considerably more deadly than the first and third waves.
The Spanish flu lasted almost three years, from January 1918 to December 1920. It infected 500 million people or about a third of the world’s population. The death toll was estimated to have ranged from 17 million to 100 million people making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history.
Its three waves of infections followed familiar pandemic patterns, with the second wave hitting the hardest, killing at least 10 times the number of the first and third waves.
The Hong Kong pandemic started in late 1968 in southeast Asia. It struck Vietnam particularly hard, right in the midst of the Vietnam War, resulting in a lot of GIs infected, who subsequently brought it back to the US with them.
The Hong Kong pandemic returned in late 1969 and early 1970 and then made another return in 1972.
I have little recollection or remembrance of a pandemic that swept the world my junior and senior years of high school as well as my first year in the Navy stationed overseas in the Philippines in 1972. I certainly don’t recall social distancing or quarantines although I remember the military administering a whole lot of injections in bootcamp as we rolled up our sleeves and received “shots” in both arms by medics using “guns” that blasted the various inoculations through the skin.
As high school and college classes throughout the United States miss their graduation ceremonies, I suspect all graduates will remember the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when they celebrate their various future reunions. It is my fondest wish and desire that the youth of America get the opportunity for those future reunions.
Regretfully, we are only in the middle of the first of possible three waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. If this pandemic follows familiar patterns, the worst is ahead of us — young and old alike.
Montana is in an enviable position with a governor who took decisive, early action, potentially saving hundreds if not thousands of lives. Our medical providers and hospitals are in good shape, as are the vast, vast number of Montanans.
Only time and “history” will tell us the eventual success or failures of Montana and the United States fighting today’s pandemic. May we each play our individual part in insuring the classes of 2020 have many reunions to attend.
Tom Muri is from Whitefish, but writes mostly from Sedona, Arizona, nowadays and hopes he can come back to Montana this summer.