One stark example of what one could call pandemic amnesia is that, while there are over 3,000 monuments to the First World War in the United Kingdom alone, there isn’t a single public memorial to the 228,000 Britons who died of the Spanish Flu.
If you ask Americans about the most important events of the 20th century, the Spanish Flu is very rarely mentioned — despite the fact that more Americans died of it than perished in the First World War, Second World War — and the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.
“As societies, we tend to remember wars, and we tend to remember great political struggles,” said Bill Hirst, who teaches psychology at The New School for Social Research in New York.
“Natural disasters are much lower down the list — they don’t figure very much at all actually.”
A nurse and patient in the influenza ward of the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., November 1918. (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress/The Associated Press)
Why? One reason, Hirst argues, is that for an event to be remembered by a society in the longer term, it needs to serve a purpose, to be part of the story which that society wants to tell about itself — a function pandemics rarely fulfil.
It is not usually in the interest of the powerful to have people remember a pandemic, or think too much about it: unlike war, pandemics don’t feature heroic deaths; instead, they reveal the flaws in our societies starkly and painfully, and expose all sorts of uncomfortable truths about social inequality — as well as the arbitrary ways just whose work is seen as truly essential, and whose isn’t.
— Read on www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/why-do-we-commemorate-wars-but-not-pandemics-1.6246133