Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
We are living in difficult times. We have the COVID-19 pandemic which is claiming thousands of people a day while infecting far more, many of who will be permanently damaged by its effects. We have an economic meltdown going on with businesses going under, millions of people losing their jobs. The unemployment rate is skyrocketing, and many people are left without enough to survive on. They are doing so despite the approved yet unissued $1,200 subsidy, as well as increased unemployment coverage. Many of the newly unemployed have also lost their healthcare insurance.
Of course many of the now failed business offered no health benefits to their employees to begin with. But others did, like Craftworks Holdings, owners of numerous restaurants and brewery restaurant chains, started shutting down many of its most profitable locations in January and February, including our own version of cheers, Gordon Biersch, Virginia Beach. On Sunday, Craftworks closed every one of their remaining 338 restaurants. They notified their 18,000 employees that they were fired with no severance pay or insurance, as they made sure that they had ended their policy to continue health coverage under COBRA before they fired their employees. However, I am sure that the CEO left with a golden parachute worth more than the severance that they denied all their employees.
But now, in barely two weeks six and a half million people have filed for unemployment assistance! over 3 million of those last week. It is worth noting that it is economists expect that the unemployment rate will reach 10% and not go down significantly until sometime next year. We are talking unemployment numbers not seen since the Great Depression, and it will get worse because so many American companies shut down their American operations and moved to countries where they could profit from using near slave labor rather than pay American workers what they worth. Now, like in 1929 we are watching everything collapse before our eyes. In 1929 President Herbert Hoover, maintained a policy of austerity, which only deepened the depression. His actions put more people out of work with no safety net. Food kitchens set up by churches and communities sprang up to feed those without the ability to provide food. Likewise, homeless shelters multiplied, while Shantytowns, nicknamed Hoovervilles popped up all over the country as people lost their homes.
By the summer of 1932 as the Great Depression crushed the economy, and resulted in massive unemployment. With no relief from the Republican Administration of Herbert Hoover, the Republican Senate stopped a House attempt to pay WWI Veterans a previously approved bonus for their service, that was deferred until 1948. In response, veterans from all over the country camped out, many with their families at Anacostia Flats, across the Potomac from the White House and Capital Hill. Eventually the veterans numbered nearly 17,000, with thousands of women and children.
The veterans were falsely accused of being the leaders of a Communist attempt to overthrow the government, which would be backed by the Marines in Washington DC. President Hoover refused to meet with their leaders, and ordered the Attorney General to send the Metro Police to drive them off. The police attempt failed with the death of two veterans. Hoover then ordered in the Army. Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur took direct command of a force of infantry, cavalry, and tanks, the latter commanded by Major George Patton. On the afternoon of 28 July MacArthur took action and attacked the veterans. He even disobeyed the orders of Hoover to not drive the veterans out of their camps on the Anacostia Flats. MacArthur not only did that, but had his soldiers burn down their shelters. The unprovoked attack wounded over 50 veterans, while over 150 more were arrested.
What happened in the United States set off a crushing economic ripple effect around the world, especially in countries like Germany which had racked up massive loan debts from banks in the United States in order to help it out of the earlier Weimar depression, as they also tried to alleviate the effects of World War One and the Great Influenza. When the depression it the American bankers called in their loans and the fragile Weimar Democracy was overwhelmed by massive unemployment and hunger. As this happened the Republic was ripped apart by extreme political movements. On the left there was the Communist Party of Germany KPD, and on the Right, the National Socialist Workers Party, the NSDAP, or the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler.both had the same goal of overthrowing the Republic and replacing it with an authoritarian state.
However, Hitler was much better at wooing the Conservative parties of the German Right Center to support him, than the KPD was in its relationship to the mainline, slightly left of Center Socialist Party of Germany. The KPD hated the SPD worse than the Nazis. They hated democracy more than anything, and at its birth they attempted to overthrow the incipient Republic and replace it with a Soviet State. This alarmed the essentially moderate leaders of the SPD who had been given leadership of the new Republic by the outgoing Imperial Chancellor based on their parliamentary majority. The SPD allied itself with the Army high command in order to build up a new Army to defend the Republic. The Republic authorized the formation of Freikorps, units raised up by officers and NCOs to fight the Communist threat. Some of these were lead by SPD leaders or Army veterans with SPD backgrounds, but many were either monarchists, or represented the extreme right of the German political spectrum.
These formations fought the Communists in the German Civil war of 1918-1920. Communists had seized control in many cities, from which the better trained and disciplined Freikorps drove them and defeated them. While the civil war went on Freikorps fought battles with Polish troops in the disputed boundary areas. All of this went on during the Great Influenza. In defeating the Communist threat the SPD worked with the Army, conservatives, and business to show that they were responsible and to be trusted with the reigns of government. Eventually this odd coalition held Germany together, despite the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles. For their efforts the SPD was blamed for Versailles and gave up power to coalitions of the German right and center parties, while Friedrich Ebert of the SPD remained President. For their cooperation with the Army the KPD never forgave them. Ebert died unexpectedly in 1925 and Paul Von Hindenburg, Germany’s top General in WWI was elected President.
For a time things looked good, and then the Great Depression hit. When it really mattered, the KPD would not join a left wing coalition government which might have provided enough stability in the Reichstag and Republic, ride our the storm. But like the “My way or the highway ideologues” of any stripe do all the time. The KPD hated the Republic more than it did the Nazis, and frequently coordinated its efforts to destroy the Republic with the Nazis. But only one authoritarian party could win, and many of the people on the German right and center, even non-Nazis trusted them more than the Communists. after numerous coalitions of the right and center failed to establish effective governments to lift the country out of the depression, Hindenburg was encouraged by his son Oskar, and advisor Franz Von Papen to give Hitler a chance. They did not believe that a government led by Hitler, with the Nazis having few seats in the Cabinet could survive which would cause Hitler’s movement to crumble, and if it did not they believed that they could moderate it, and contain its excesses. However, Hitler outmaneuvered all of them. Within six months all political parties and free labor unions were banned, and Hitler given full power. In a year Hindenburg was dead, and Hitler combined his office as chancellor with that of President. He also became the head of the military, while key aids became the heads of the police, and the ministry of justice.
Of course this whole situation was due to a number of factors, all mentioned above, but the Great Flu was significant as it killed another 426,000 Germans on top of the war deaths. The H1N1 pandemic was just one of many factors that resulted in the eventual collapse of the the Weimar Republic, and it did not help the United States, which lost over 600,000 people to it.
Pandemics have direct and indirect effects. Some of those indirect effects are more deadly than the virus itself. I expect that will be the case in many countries as a result of the novel Coronavirus of 2019. It’s effects will be felt for many years to come. It is going to change the course of history, but God only knows how. But as for me, I cannot be a bystander. I must both speak out and care for those in my care and those infected or dying from this horrific pandemic. While doing this it is my full intent and purpose to live through it and to bear witness against those who let it happen.
9 responses to “Pandemics and Their Indirect Effects”
I couldn’t agree more. I made a video about the pandemic’s capability of changing history profoundly. You might be interested in it, it’s here: https://youtu.be/rLJuvtf6wP8
Thanks Sean, you and I both know what they do. I could have added stuff on the plague of the 14th Century, but kept getting interrupted all night the past two nights and finally needed to stop where I was. Maybe I can do it later.
Thankyou for you reflections an the reminders of the struggles of our history and the realization that so many of our political leaders have not learned a lesson from these struggles as we face these difficult times
I appreciate your reflections on these issues
from a fellow pastor and historian. I trust you you are keeping in reasonable health circumatances…and your family as well.
Peace and good strength and be safe. Look forward to you continued reflections…even if I don’t respond every sharing.
Thankyou to you for your past and continued service to your country and the world community. And especially for you challenging reflections.
God Bless and Keep you and Yours.
Jeffro Bursey. Pastor Retired
Jeffro, thank you so much for your kind words. I was able to seep late today and have gone back into the mode of serving our Papillons as my wife sets up and organizes her production line for protective masks. I’ve been taking all the precautions and try to observe my protective bubble at work and home. If I have to go our to the grocery store or anywhere else I am in a high quality N-95 or the excellent three layer mask with a polypropylene insert my wife made for me and gloves. Be careful out there.
You need some sleep, brother. I know that current conditions have given rise to familiar troubles for me, and I’m going to guess that it’s the same for you.
Slow down. You don’t have to write a White Paper every day. You don’t HAVE to write anything at all. No one who follows your blog (or whatever one calls this) is going to begrudge you a day or two off.
Ease up. This post worries me for you. It is riddled with error you do not normally make—not just a handful of “autocorrects” or a jumbled transition or two, but serious errors of cognition.
Rest up brother.
Thanks Steven, I was tired reading it and I have taken most of the weekend off from writing.
Steven, I read it and saw what you meant. It was ugly. I did significant revisions to it. In some cases eliminating whole sections, and did God knows how many corrections in grammar, and syntax. Thanks again for pointing it out. I do not intend to write while exhausted again. A rested mind produces a far better product. Likewise, I will take care of myself.
Good. I’m glad you fixed things—I should have known you would—but remember to take care of yourself, too.
It can be tough on those of us who did our bit and didn’t get left in the dirt, this whole living thing. I’m not very good at it, myself. But I **do** understand, intellectually, how it’s supposed to go.
You’re burning too bright, brother. That’s nothing on Sophie Scholl or the German generals of 1944; that’s on the Padre from Iraq who came home, but found that home wasn’t there anymore. Every fight is a stand; every stand is on principle, every principle tied to the penultimate human sanction, death. Tough to keep that up, brother.
Politicians like Trump-Kushner and DeSantis and the Lt. Governor of Texas (and Trump Texas campaign chair) Dan Patrick, always kill great slews of their people, without qualm or regret—not because they are Evil Geniuses, or Militaristic, or even autocrats, but because they are moral weaklings unable to earn respect or prove equal to even their own low expectations of themselves.
You resting for a night does not dishonour your Dead. You don’t have to drop to the floor to prove anything to them—they already know you; they were there, remember?
I’m relaxing tonight with my dogs at my side, eating vegan bean burritos with massive doses of jalapeño and habanero sauce, watching the Blacklist and drinking a dram of excellent single malt Scotch.