Book Review: Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider re-examines 20th Century’s biggest tragedy

It’s become a standard bit of 20th Century trivia that as terrible as the First World War was, the 1918 Flu Pandemic coinciding with the armistice killed more than the conflict itself.

Now, an especially pedantic person might want to argue that WWI really was the beginning of the ‘Second Thirty Years War‘; they might treat as bookends both world wars—roping together all battlefield deaths, all civilian bombings, every atrocity and genocide, every preventable famine and epidemic. And put together as a single historical event, they would claim, all the misery springing from human malice between 1914 to 1945 led to up to 100 million untimely deaths in those three decades.

But, as British science journalist Laura Spinney relates in her latest book Pale Rider, the pandemic known in its time as the Spanish Flu (but definitely not originating in Spain) may have killed in three years about the same amount as we murdered each other during those 30, infecting one out of every three people on the earth while killing one-in-20 of the global population.

Continue reading Book Review: Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider re-examines 20th Century’s biggest tragedy

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Torture is awful and we should never do it — unless we have to

It might have been more topical to write a column about the swine/Mexican/North American/H1N1 flu, but I’m sick of it. At this point, the panic seems to be more virulent than the virus, but then again, overreactions can only exist in retrospect.

That’s as close to a segue as I think I can manage, so I’ll just go with it. Some people are now looking back on the anti-terrorism policies and actions of 2001 and 2002 as excessive at best and literally criminal at worst, and at the center of all of it is the supposed torture of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and elsewhere.

Justifiably, it’s a very contentious and complicated issue, even when discussed civilly and with intellectual honesty. Mutually exclusive good principles sometimes butt heads, and this is unavoidable. Most of the time, the conversation is cast to make the opposing views look evil or ridiculous, but this isn’t helpful.

Continue reading Torture is awful and we should never do it — unless we have to