War is assumed to be part of everyday world affairs. Who knows but what it might go on a hundred years? Poverty is so stark that some are forced into cannibalism to survive. Sewage, dead animals, and garbage are everywhere. Vermin, especially rats, run rampant.
Does this sound like a scenario from one of those post nuclear war science fiction movies? Could it yet be in our future? That’s a question that may answer itself in due time.
The above is actually how things were in the early 1300’s before the Bubonic Plague wiped out one third to half of Europe’s population! John Kelly wrote about the time before, during, and after this horrendous plague in his book, The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time. Kelly says the book began as an inquiry into what could happen in the future, but became an investigation into the past.
It’s instructive to note the breakdown of society in most places affected by the plague of the late 1340’s and early 1350’s. It started in inner Asia and moved so rapidly once reaching Europe there was nowhere to get away from it as it paraded through. Rats and accompanying fleas thrived on poor sanitation and personal hygiene.
Medical relief was primitive and futile. There were numerous theories as to the plague’s origin and remedies. Kelly describes the attitudes of the church as well as scientists of that time. AntiJewish hatred grew as well, since Jews were accused of poisoning wells. Everything changed from family life to civil government. Some places handled it better than others.
Could we see something like this with an anticipated outbreak of bird flu or some other pandemic? What sort of aftermath can we expect? If you’re curious about history of the Black Death and its potential lessons for us today, then get a copy of The Great Mortality. Click on its title where you see it linked in this post. That takes you to the page where it’s featured. Place your order there.
This is an easy to read and fascinating account of this unique period of history. Let’s hope history won’t repeat itself. But be prepared in case it does…