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Thursday, May 13, 2021
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Oh, rats! Those who don’t know history are bound …

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In the early Sixth Century CE, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian had almost restored Roman control over the Western Roman Empire.  

The Franks, Lombards, Goths, and Visigoths had ground the Western Empire into dysfunction. The Eastern Empire rose to rescue the West.  The East recovered much of the West.

But then the rats appeared. As commerce became available between the East and West, the Bubonic Plague spread.  Justinian recalled General Bellisarius and his forces to protect Constantinople, and Europe lapsed into what we know as the Dark Ages.

Fast forward almost a thousand years and Europe is beginning to arise from its barbarian roots.  The Venicians, Genoans, and other Italian merchants had re-established trade with the Eastern Empire despite the predations of Muslim piracy.  But then, the Plague came again.  As best we know, the Bubonic Plague came from Southwest China; sound familiar?

Art Chance
Art Chance

There were several other small outbreaks of The Plague in the ensuing years, but they were largely localized.  Commerce once began to burgeon in the Mediterranean and Europe. Once again Europe was beginning to prosper after the fall of the Western Empire and the Muslim incursion into the Mediterraian and Southern Europe.  Then as trade with the East increased, the Plague came again in the mid-Fourteenth Century.

Somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the population of Europe died from the Bubonic Plague in the Fourteenth Century.  

The social order we know today resulted from the Black Death. For the first time in history, there was a labor shortage. Most of modern labor law has its origin in the laws passed in response to the loss of labor caused by the Black Death.

Civilization all but collapsed in the mid-Fourteenth Century. Such as government was in those days, it had no capability to deal with the crisis; the streets were littered with bodies; the cemeteries were unable to handle the bodies. Strange cults emerged and people danced naked through the streets whipping themselves to ward off the Plague. Those who had the resources, secreted themselves to rural retreats to avoid the Plague; today we call it self-quarantine.  

There were no antibiotics in the Fourteenth Century. There were no vaccines in the Fourteenth Century.  If you survived the Black Plague, it was either luck or your own personal strength. 

Fast forward 500 years; I’m old enough to remember the polio epidemics of the early 1950s.  We lived in terror. Every edition of “Reader’s Digest” or “Life” had a story of the attractive, athletic teenager who was going to spend the rest of his/her life in an iron lung.  If you don’t know what an iron lung is, you should have been there.

I remember the influenza epidemic of the mid-Fifties.  Schools closed for awhile; that is the only time I remember that happening.  In those days, we were used to getting sick.  We lived in wood-heated houses and only a small minority of us had central heat. You called the doctor when you were just short of dying. 

For those of you who’ve seen the movie “The Patriot,” remember the scene in the church when the background sound is people coughing; that was the sound of human life in winter 100 years ago and before.

We live a charmed life.  Nobody in human history has lived as well or safely as a modern American — no pharaoh, no Caesar, no king, or emperor has ever lived as well and safely as a modern American.  

Suck it up; this too will pass. We will survive, after all, our ancestors survived the Black Death.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 

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Latest comments

  • Right on Art!!

    • Norway just recalled all its citizens from the US. Our “modern” health-care system is the laughing stock of the civilized world. South Korea’s numbers are going down, while ours are still a mystery. Those “drive-up” lines at your local hospital are to find out if you need to be hospitalized. You’re not going to get tested. My state can process 115 tests a day.

      You need to get in line with reality.

      • There is probably a flight to Norway or any number of other countries you can catch; don’t let the doorknob hit you in the butt.

  • Great perspective and advice.

  • Well Said!!!

    • Thank you!

  • Thanks for this piece Art…..it will be widely read and I hope ‘;understood’

    • Thank you for the kind words!

  • Yeah…Recalling the iron lung pictures & films. Gives me the creeps even today. The things worked but just something about them.

  • I very much enjoy reading Art’s history lessons. Please keep it up. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

    • He does fill in a lot of blanks, details which we wouldn’t hear from any other source. His articles have taught me more about how governments and agencies really work backstage than I’ve ever learned in class or out of any book.

  • “What do you mean we, paleface?” said Tonto to the Lone Ranger.

  • I don’t care how long some people live or how alert their minds remain, but I will pray that Art lives to be over 100 and still giving everyone hell that deserves it. Good on ya, Art. I love your opinions.

  • Great content!

  • I always find it strange when I agree with Art, but he’s pretty much on target with this article. When I look back on where I was born, and who my parents were, and when I was born (about Art’s age), and what has transpired in the interim, and how easy it was to die if you were young, or poor, or sick, or lived in the wrong part of the world before the time I was born, and how many diseases have been vanquished since I arrived on the planet, I truly have been blessed. This crazy Corona virus thing will pass. It’s not the Andromeda strain, which killed everyone. It’s lethality rate is likely less than 5%, perhaps much less It’s a piker by plague or Ebola standards, when a third, or half or more of the population died.
    Perhaps, someday, that Andromeda strain might arrive, and we will all be screwed.
    So, take Art’s advice. Suck it up! Don’t let this ruin your life. We have it easy by old time, world-class standards.
    And, Irish whiskey isn’t half bad, either.

    • I went to the liquor store and stocked up for a couple of weeks of cheap white wine for forced togetherness yesterday.

      • Dewers and JW Black aren’t bad either, Art.

        • I had a long, close, and personal relationship with Chivas Regal and my traditional Christmas present from my wife was a bottle of JW Blue, which I tried, usually unsuccessfully, to make last until New Year’s. Gave up distilled spirits in ’11. Now I stick to wine and the occasional Bloody Mary.

  • I inherited my last name (Frank) from my German born grandfather who emigrated to Canada in the early 1900s, but we are much more civilized now.

    Yesterday I made myself a new drink to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It is called a quarantini, it is the same as a martini, you just stay home and drink it alone.

  • I am going to have to get your recipe for a bloody mary without distilled spirits, undoubtedly a kind of alchemy. 😉 Good iron lung talk! I have added my local angle on same on Facebook, and also shared your article.

    • I did say the occasional Bloody Mary; you just can’t fly to Mexico or Hawaii without having a few Bloody Marys.

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