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What History Could Have Told Us About Dr. Fauci and His Methods

Good ol’ Dr. Fauci. The man who has long led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and who in the last few years has become the public face of the COVID-19 virus, announced that he will be stepping down in December 2022.

Fauci, who seems to be framing his departure as an attempt to “soothe … national tensions,” told Politico that leaving was “bittersweet.” Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, also spoke with Politico and discouraged speculation over whether Fauci’s departure is due to increased scrutiny of his performance should Republicans win a majority in the midterm elections. “I think when the history books look back at his tenure over time,” Benjamin said, “history will clearly support his view of his work, not the view of his detractors.”

Perhaps … or perhaps not. Given that scientific studies are increasingly calling into question the effectiveness of Fauci’s pet promotions—such as masks and vaccines—it appears that history may have a different opinion of the doctor than Benjamin does.

Regardless, the better question is not about what history will show, but how much history of this event will be forgotten by future generations.

I got a good look at just how much history we ourselves have forgotten when, earlier this summer, my sister and I were at the James J. Hill House, viewing a special museum display on the 1918 Flu Epidemic. Reading some of the clippings from that era, we pulled out the camera and began clicking away, quietly laughing and groaning over how much history had repeated itself only a century later during the COVID pandemic.

1918 Flu

Look at all the mask-promoting posters in the photo. Some of them even explain how people can make their own masks out of simple household materials—such as cheesecloth (!)—a suggestion that should ring a bell for anyone who, in the early days of the COVID pandemic, started making their own cloth masks because there was a shortage of N95s.

The Red Cross poster also has some very familiar language to those of us who have lived through COVID. “A Gauze Mask Is 99% Proof Against Influenza” it shouts. Or “You must wear a mask, not only to protect yourself but your children and your neighbor from influenza, pneumonia and death.”

For those who have investigated the science of masks and recognized their ineffectiveness, it’s easy to laugh at these efforts and to wonder what these poor benighted souls were thinking back in 1918. Unfortunately, many of us were simply following in their footsteps only a couple years ago.

Apparently, though, there were arguments back in 1918 about the prudence of mask mandates, just as there have been in the COVID years. The picture below features a poster for an “Anti-Mask Meeting” held “to protest against the unhealthy mask ordinances.”

It appears technology was also used to encourage people to stay in their homes, only in 1918, it was Bell telephones—rather than the Zoom calls and the online school classes of today—that were supposed to get people through the loneliness of isolation.

1918 Flu Vintage Poster

What’s sad about all of this, though, is that if more of us had simply looked at history, we likely would have had a pattern to follow—or not to follow—for the COVID pandemic. My sister even noted, as we looked at these posters, how she remembered reading about the 1918 flu epidemic in her college history textbook. She specifically remembered a picture of a nurse wearing a mask, with a caption explaining that many people wore masks even though it was eventually discovered how ineffective they were at preventing the spread of the disease. How soon we forget.

“The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding,” Will and Ariel Durant noted in their book, The Lessons of History. Perhaps if we remembered that and actually studied the past to understand our present circumstances, we would be far quicker to recognize characters like Dr. Fauci and whether the methods they try to force down our throats are true or false, before hindsight tells us everything we need to know.

Image Credit: Flickr-NIAID, CC BY 2.0

Annie Holmquist
Annie Holmquist

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