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15 February 2006

The Great Pandemic
an essay by
Richard B. Messer
Richard provides an alternate history background for his story, "Keep the Lights Burning",
which provides a reason for a Spontoon Island setting with Human and Simian characters,
though they are now a very small reminant population, compared to their numbers in 1917.

This back history applies to Richard's stories, and is an option for the other contributors.
You may want to contact Richard for his OK if you choose to incorporate this history into your stories.

The Great Pandemic
The Spanish Influenza Epidemic
Of 1918-1920
And how it affected the Human
And Simian Populations of the World

By Richard B. Messer

(Author’s Note: This essay is my way of explaining why there are
very few humans existing in the world of Spontoon Island.)

    War is a way and means of generating death on a grand scale.  But sometimes there are other sources that can rival war in its grisly harvest.  The Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1920 was such a source, outstripping the Black Plague of medieval Europe and Euro-Asia of the middle 14th Century.  In the two years of its devastating reign the pandemic took the lives of 20 to 40 million people worldwide, mostly humans and the upper level primates, i.e., gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and some baboon species.

    The first reported cases came out of the Catalonia region of Spain in the spring of 1917.  Close to one million people died in the three months the influenza ran rampant through the countryside and the streets of Barcelona.  But this epidemic died out as quickly as it appeared.  It was during the early winter that this strain of influenza reappeared, and in the Midwestern United States.  America had recently declared war on the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Romania, and the Ottoman Turks.   Every able-bodied man and furry volunteering for the military services were gathered across the country at the myriad training camps springing up.  But it was at the established Army posts of Fort Riley and Camp Funston in Kansas, Fort Leonard Woods in Missouri, and Fort Sam Houston in Texas that the first outbreaks of this particular influenza occurred. 

    The Army medical staffs at these establishments were puzzled at first with the strain’s selectiveness of victims.  Most of the men who had caught the disease recovered from their illness though they were left in a weakened state.  Some had to be mustered out because they were in no shape to continue training, let alone to be sent overseas to fight.  And as the military continued to gather in its recruits, some became infected with the influenza but showed no outward signs of coming down with the illness. 

    With training completed, these units of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, along with their support battalions, soon arrived at the eastern seaports to be loaded onto transport ships for the journey to Europe and the ongoing conflict.  Arriving in England and France, the Americans were assigned to French and English army commands to continue their training and serve with the more seasoned troops.  The influenza found a fresh breeding ground among the tired trench warriors.  Men grew weak and died, bogging down already overloaded medical services along the front.  And whenever a mass assault was conducted against the Germans, most simply dropped into shell craters, out of breath and unable to carry on.  Those taken prisoner merely spread the disease to their enemy.  In short order the Imperial German High Command became aware of the devastation that was taking place among its troop along the Western Front.  Reports of men dropping over during guard duty, of humans bedridden to leave their animal comrades in charge of running the military bureaucracy, and worse, most of the air service squadrons grounded due to lack of pilots in any capacity to fly, raised an alarm that reached to the residency of the Kaiser in Berlin.

    By the spring of 1919 the vast war machine that was the Great War began to grind to a crawl as humans and apes began to die off at an alarming rate, leaving gaps in the chains of command.  And those Americans who had been released from military service took the influenza home.  Soon word was coming from every village, town, and city of a virulent strain of influenza that left every man, woman, and child dead, with ‘blue lips flecked with a blood-tinged froth.’  Medical practitioners began compiling their discoveries until the results of the analysis sent the American Red Cross establishment reeling from the news.  What had been thought of as an ordinary influenza had ‘developed into the most vicious type of pneumonia ever.’  People were struck down with the illness on the street, contracted cyanosis, and simply suffocated to death.  One physician recalled how patients ‘died struggling to clear their airways of a bloody froth that sometimes would gush from their nose and mouth.’

    As word of what was happening in Europe arrived in America people soon began to realize the extent this virus had spread.  The major cities began establishing quarantines around parts of their communities most devastated by the disease but these proved ineffective.  Even restricting travel did nothing to slow the spreading contagion.  Panic set in, resulting in a mad rush to get away from those places suffering from the outbreak, but this only hastened the spread.  It became apparent to local governments that the disease affected only humans and simians, leaving the animal portion of the population free to fill the vacuum left in the political and service areas.  There followed a mad scramble to fill these empty positions, sometimes with mixed results.

    And so it was by the attrition of disease rather than war that the European conflict became bogged down, resulting in a general stalemate along the trenches running from Switzerland to the English Channel.  The animals and avians that filled the posts held by sapiens soon found that the having was a far greater challenge than the wanting.  Attempts at jump-starting the fight only resulted in fits and starts along the battlelines as half-hearted assaults only led to more casualties with no visible achievements in gaining ground. 

    By mid-summer the entire war machine on both sides lurched to a halt and refused to continue.  The General Staffs among the various national services faced a major dilemma and turned to their respective governments for help.  It soon became clear that the conflict was over.   All that could be done now was to work out an agreement between the combatant nations to settle the matter diplomatically and call for an armistice.  But even that took time as the pandemic had made inroads into the hallowed halls of government and left the negotiating parties bereft of their most influential ministers and secretaries.  Thus the negotiations dragged on until early spring of 1920, by which time the devastating virus had disappeared, leaving in its wake a greatly changed world.

    While most of the devastation in the human and simian populations occurred in North America and Europe, the Black Hand (and blue lips) of Death had stretched across South America, Africa, and Asia, albeit slowing.  Soon word of small villages and way stations along caravan routes and jungle trails being found empty of humans and apes found their way into colonial headquarters.  But not all the deaths could be blamed on the disease.  Most of the bodies discovered had either been shot, stabbed, beaten, or hacked to death.  It quickly became known that the animal world was exacting revenge on the human populations for real or imagined persecutions, and was extracting a grisly redress.  Even among the more civilized nations, riots and murders followed in the wake of the pandemic as pent-up fury broke out into the open. 

    While a vast majority of furries stood by and let the savagery unfold on the remaining humans, a goodly portion rose up to stand by their “hairless cousins.”  It took local and state governments considerable time to muster any sizable force of state militia and national guard units to quell the madness running loose through the streets.  For many animal and avian species, the near extinction of mankind was considered a “blessing from God.”  That is, until government operations and utility services began to falter and the vacancies in key positions became difficult to plug in the short term. 

It would be a few years before the fallout of the pandemic settled down and a vague semblance of normalcy in the world had manifested itself.  It was during this time period that medical science became aware of a secondary effect of the virus among humans: sterility!  In some parts of the world the birthrate of human babies showed a leveling off, while in others a slight decline.  In either case, the inability to reproduce cast a shadow over mankind, leaving it forlorn and feeling hopeless.  In some cases, governments had put into moratorium certain bestiality statutes that would allow interspecies relationships to develop in hopes this would pull humans out of their “blue funk.”  It would be nearly ten years that signs of human population growth begun to emerge, as couples were able to produce children once more.  This new sign of hope, in which the after effects of the pandemic were only temporary, gave men and apes the lift they needed to take their place once more in the sun.