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Q: How did the Influenza epidemic affect World War 1? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: How did the Influenza epidemic affect World War 1?
Category: Reference, Education and News > Homework Help
Asked by: osxii-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 11 Sep 2003 19:27 PDT
Expires: 11 Oct 2003 19:27 PDT
Question ID: 254857
How did the Influenza epidemic affect World War 1?
Subject: Re: How did the Influenza epidemic affect World War 1?
Answered By: digsalot-ga on 11 Sep 2003 21:20 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello there

The fact that you put the word "the" in front of Influenza epidemic
leads me to believe you are asking about the Spanish Flu epidemic
which was the only 'big' one of the era.

The years of the pandemic were 1918-1919 which was largely after the
war was over (at least after Oct. 1918).  So it would seem that it
would not have effected the combatants all that much.

However, that is not the case.  The flu did have an impact during the
war years and of course the war years impacted the way the flu was

Wherever the origin of the flu was located, it was called the Spanish
flu because Spain was the first country that suffered serious attacks
of it.    The illness then began to be noticed at military
installations in the United States. Fort Riley, Kansas was the first
in the spring of 1918.  By October 1918, some U.S. Army camps were
reporting a death every hour.

This was perhaps the greatest influence of the flu as far as US
participation in the war.  When the United States declared war on
Germany in April, 1917, the regular army medical service was not
organized and was inadequate for the task of servicing the new forces.
Much of the medical care was under contract surgeons who retained
civilian status.  They had no official rank nor were they subject to
military discipline. The army had to turn to hospitals throughout the
country to organize the units to provide medical service and medical

In other words, two things happened.  American troops were sent into
regions where flu outbreaks were already underway and the medical
sector associated with the military was unprepared to deal with it. 
The bridge for the flu was built across the Atlantic.  Though as you
will learn later, some think the flu went the other direction from the
US to Europe.

"...A first wave of influenza appeared early in the spring of 1918 in
Kansas and in military camps throughout the US. Few noticed the
epidemic in the midst of the war. Wilson had just given his 14 point
address. There was virtually no response or acknowledgement to the
epidemics in March and April in the military camps. It was unfortunate
that no steps were taken to prepare for the usual recrudescence of the
virulent influenza strain in the winter. The lack of action was later
criticized when the epidemic could not be ignored in the winter of
Quote from "Life at Camp Funston" - Reflections of Army Sergeant
Charles L. Johnston - website of Oklahoma State

Just when everyone thought the war was over, the influenza epidemic
stuck home in the US.

As for the military in europe:  In June of 1918 - "Captain Ivor
Williams wrote that 600 out of 750 men in his camp in France had
contracted the flu. Although the decline in wartime health due to
rationing can be partly blamed for the immense impact of the flu,
countries such as Sweden that were not involved in the war, also
experienced high mortality from the virus." - From website
"Australians in France"

 The movements of armies across Europe and Asia also became the means
by which the flu was spread.  while cases were showing up at various
places in Europe, it was in France that the bug changed its character
and became deadly.  This was first noticed among African soldiers who
had been recruited into the French military.  Many now claim the bug
started in Tibet. Others claimed that the disease started in the
Middle Eastern battlefields, whereas others blamed it on China and
India. A recent study argued that the disease was brought to the
Western Front by a group of USA soldiers from Kansas.

Regardless of where it originated, after the first mild wave of cases
were reported, the second-wave of the epidemic spread quickly. In one
sector of the Western Front over 70,000 American troops were
hospitalized and nearly one third of these men failed to recover.  By
the end of the summer the virus had reached the German Army. The virus
created serious problems for the German military leadership as they
found it impossible to replace their sick and dying soldiers.

One major question is still unanswered to the satisfaction of some; Is
it proper to consider the Influenza pandemic as part of the overall
death count for the war, given the important part the war played in
its transmission?

For most historians, the Spanish flu is not included with information
about the war itself but as part of the aftermath of the war when the
disease spread through both neutral and warring countries.

Perhaps its greatest effect on the First World War had to do with the
ending of that war.  There is even a chance that the Second World War
could have been avoided if it had not been for the flu.

President Woodrow Wilson contracted a case of the flu while he was in
Paris working out the details of the Treaty of Versailles. It is
believed that if Wilson had not been so ill, and bad tempered because
of it, the Treaty conditions would not have been so harsh and the
Second World War may never had taken place.  Much of Hitler's rise to
power was based on the German hatred of the excessive penalties of

search - google

Terms - spanish flu, spanish flu world war 1

The above answer was assembled from information provided by: - "The American Experience |
Influenza 1918" - "Chapter 31 Outline - World War
I" - history class outline - "1918 - Influenza"
- from website "Australians in France" - "the
treaty of Versailles" - website of - "chronology" - "Influenzia
in the First World War" - From Spartacus Educational

If I may clarify anything, just ask


Request for Answer Clarification by osxii-ga on 15 Sep 2003 09:42 PDT
Did the US (or other countries) make any official statements or
anything?  Would the war have been different if the flu did not occur?

Clarification of Answer by digsalot-ga on 15 Sep 2003 11:18 PDT
Just running down the clarification flag for now.  Will be back this
evening with the clarification after I have done some additional

Clarification of Answer by digsalot-ga on 15 Sep 2003 19:55 PDT
Hello again

By the time the epidemic had passed in mid-November, the “Spanish Flu”
had killed over 600,000 Americans.  It was the worst human disaster in
US history. Worldwide, influenza was responsible for the deaths of at
least 25 million people in 1918-19, with some estimates being as high
as 37 million, making the carnage of World War I pale in comparison.

We must presume that the flu was spoken of in the highest circles on
both sides.  But as far as I can find, no "official" statements were
ever forthcoming from either side mentioning the flu pandemic as a
reason for either surrender or pushing for a harder effort.  Whatever
these discussions were, they seem to have remained among those
'highest circles.'

As for what the war would have been like if there had been no
pandemic, that is asking a researcher to write an alternative history.
 We have researchers who are expert at it, get paid well for it, and
receive awards.

But, it is fiction.  To answer what the war would have been like
without the flu, would involve estimating the differences in troop
strength, armamants, personal attitudes and moral, whether the
pandemic effected any research projects due to illness among the
researchers, supply delivery changes, etc, etc.  And even after all of
that, it would still be fiction.

The answer to your question: "Would the war have been different if the
flu did not occur? - -  is yes, of course it would have been

We just can't tell you what the difference would be.  Even if we knew
each and every "probability," each and every fact and figure, the
human and natural variable is so great in its effects on history,  we
could not answer such a question about an unknown, and only
"potential" history without making something up.  It would be fiction.

I'm sure you would not want educated guesses passed off as factual
statements of truth by a researcher.


Request for Answer Clarification by osxii-ga on 16 Sep 2003 06:59 PDT
Ok, one more thing.  Could you elaborate on your point "There is even
a chance that the Second World War could have been avoided if it had
not been for the flu."

Clarification of Answer by digsalot-ga on 16 Sep 2003 13:25 PDT

Perhaps if President Wilson had not been feeling so poorly, he could
or would have fought a little harder for his points.  While the fact
that he had the flu during the negotiations is widely known, and what
the emotional state of a person suffering a fever as well as other
associated discomforts, and in the days before immunizations and the
clear knowledge flu could be deadly, could effect all other aspects of
life during the time of illness is also widely known, little is known
of just how the bout with the flu effected willingness or ability to

However, the question is still kicked around and enough is known about
probability, that speculating about the flu, Wilson and Versailles,
does not come under the heading of alternative history where a changed
event creates the fiction of an alternate future.  This instead comes
under the heading of "speculative history" where real events leading
to 'actual history' are approached in an alternate but highly detailed

It is much on the order of "Chaos Theory" in that the flutter of a
butterfly wing in Central America can lead through a series of related
and cascading events to a storm ravaging the coast of East Asia.

In this case, the butterfly wing is the flu, and a small, or series of
small errors, such as perhaps cutting a session short because he was
not feeling well, or continuing with a session when fever had him not
thinking clearly, etc, etc, are all things historians need to look at.
 The very minuteness and percieved triviality of such studies keeps
them out of the mainstream of published history, much as the concepts
of the physics of "Chaos theory" are specialized enough that the
majority have yet to hear about them.

Wilson went to Versailles as an idealist.  He hopped to shape the
peace and drive some sense into the Europeans.  Wilson's 14 points was
to be the foundation for the peace.  He wanted a just and lasting
peace founded on equality and democracy.  He did not want
double-dealing or punitive damages.  The Europeans regarded these as
"too idealistic."  However, they could not be rejected out of hand as
the Europeans still needed the US to defeat Germany.  They could also
not embrace the 14 points wholeheartedly since public opinion in both
countries was running so high.

Wilson was an intelligent man and it was not easy to get around him. 
Could the changes in attitude brought about by the flu be one of the
reasons he was so famously bamboozled by Lloyd-George and Clemenceau?

Wilson's main goal was to prevent the pre-war situation from ever
arising again.  He wanted secret diplomacy and alliances to be a thing
of the past.  Ultimately the Germans hoped that the peace would be
based on the 14 points, as they seemed fairer than anything else the
other powers were suggesting.   Such plans included the establishing
of a League of Nations in order to keep the peace.

When all was said and done, Wilson had been bamboozled and the final
draft of the treaty was a far cry from what he had envisioned.

From the moment that the terms of the Treaty were announced it was a
hugely controversial document. It pleased no-one.  Some felt it too
harsh. Many condemned the terms as unworkable and unrealistic. The
issues of reparations and were thought to be unworkable.

1 - No German representative was allowed into the negotiations and
they did not see the terms before they had to sign them. It was
therefore a diktat Treaty
2 - The reparations figure was believed to be far too high 
3 - The War Guilt clause was seen as unfair: most realized that many
nations were to blame for the War.
4 - The principle of self-determination had been adopted for everyone
but German minorities living in the new countries, this was extremely
5 - The Germans had too much territory taken away form them. 
6 - Why should they have to disarm when no-one else would. 
7 - How could you call it a League of Nations when only the victors
were allowed to join. It seemed a punitive organization set up purely
to enforce the terms of Versailles. Even then the League had very
little power and would always rely on economic and moral weight to
enforce decisions.
8 - A host of small vulnerable states had been created which would
undoubtedly spell trouble in the future when minorities might want to
reunite with their motherland. Particularly those German minorities in
the Sudetenland and Polish Corridor.
9 - There were too many untidy ends, reparations were not sorted,
freedom of the seas was not sorted and many territorial claims would
all hang over to make the Treaty seem like a real compromise peace.

The enormous difficulties faced by the peacemakers and the unrealistic
expectations raised by Wilson made disappointment inevitable.

It was largely the outcome of this treaty which led to the series of
events within Germany which led to the Second World War.

While there is no absolute proof, there will always be the question as
to how much Wilson's temperment was changed by the flu and whether
that change in temper (or more correctly, to what degree) it effected
the negotiations of Versailles.

As I say, we are no longer in the realm of speculative fiction, but
speculative history.

osxii-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks :)

Subject: Re: How did the Influenza epidemic affect World War 1?
From: probonopublico-ga on 11 Sep 2003 22:45 PDT
Assuming that the flu ravaged the German forces, I wonder if its
effects made the German Government more amenable to agree to the
Subject: Re: How did the Influenza epidemic affect World War 1?
From: kemlo-ga on 15 Sep 2003 14:17 PDT
Minor point, the reason it became known as the Spanish Flu' was at the
time Spain was the only European country without censorship in its
All other european countries clamped down on their own mortality rates
while allowing while allowing reporting of forign neutral news
Subject: Re: How did the Influenza epidemic affect World War 1?
From: highlander277-ga on 10 Jun 2004 04:34 PDT
In Situations of Mass Deadly virus poping up out of seemingly no
where, I think that they need to put the war on "hold". When people
are sick they are very irratable, as well as irritability being part
of human nature it makes for bad dessicions(however u spell it). These
"Bad Decisions" Lead to even worse things, as u said WW2 might have
been avoided, I completly agree, everyone was irratated at the
decisions at hand and made them without full consent of there brain.
Chaos Theory Shows its Evil Little Eye Once Again in History.Not
Saying it is evil, it makes bd things happen. It also makes good
happen,cuase and effect (simple i know) we have sun,people plant
seeds, sun gives energy, add a little water, seed grows,food is
harvested, and fed to hungry people cuaseing hunger to go away. In a
wierd thought, If your hungry look to the sun.

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