Drooling on the Pillow

Friday, April 22, 2005

Touch of the Flu 

I had a post last month about The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry, talking mostly about how the 'progressive' Wilson administration turned the nation virtually into a centralized police state to an extent that is astonishing from a contemporary perspective. Given the war, given the fear and panic engendered by the horrible influenza pandemic of 1918, it's still hard to imagine Americans submitting to the limitations imposed on them by Wilson.

The book tells another story of Wilson and the consequences of the disease that I found very interesting.

Apparently, severe bouts of the flu are associated with certain mental deficits which may be temporary or not. They are diagnosed as schitzophrenia and various other disturbances, but two thirds of those suffering from these "influenzal psychoses" recover, which is not the case with true schitzophrenia. These are caused by swelling in the brain and also by macrophages pursuing the virus into the cerebellum and meninges and attacking them so aggressively as to cause cellular damage. They can also cause vascular damage leading to stroke.

Most people are aware of the massive stroke suffered by Wilson in 1919 during which his wife and his doctor pretty much ran the country. Four months earlier, however, at the peace conference in Paris he was felled by what the finest doctors in the world diagnosed as influenza. For some reason that diagnosis has been largely ignored by the history writers and most people assume what he suffered was a smaller stroke. What was noted by all those around him at time, though, was a marked decrease in mental acuity and increase in confusion.

Shortly after recovering from the flu he suddenly abandoned all the principles he had been fighting for in terms of securing a just peace and acceded to the demands of Clemenceau and Lloyd George to punish the Germans. He basically said 'The hell with it' and went home. The subsequent humiliation and economic strangulation of the German state laid the groundwork for the rise of the Nazis and more deaths than even influenza had caused.

Perhaps the clearest indicator of his reduced faculties is the fact that what he extracted from the allies in return for abandoning his clear-headed instincts for peace making was the formation of the League of Nations. Thanks, Woody.

I've seen Bill Clinton described as a man of high ideals and no principles. Wilson was an illustration that high ideals combined with rigid principles is not much of a bargain either. I'm from Jersey. Give me self-interest and a healthy fear of getting caught.
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