It’s easy to stare out your window at the nearly empty streets, at the people wearing masks and leaving a six-foot berth for passersby, and to believe that this is a moment unlike any other. To assume that the fear, the haphazard responses to the pandemic, the radical adjustments people are making to their lives—that these are all unprecedented.
But like most extraordinary moments, this one has a long trail that leads to it. Just over a century ago, a new infectious disease overtook the globe. Its history has long been buried, subsumed beneath the story of World War I. Historian Nancy Bristow believes it’s no mistake that Americans have focused on their victory in the war rather than on the devastation of the 1918 flu pandemic.