Plague. A word that has struck fear in the hearts of man since the
earliest of times. It has also lead to some of the greatest historical events
and stories of our time. The ancient cities of Rome and Athens, in their
downfall, were finished off by pestilence. The Bubonic Plague, also known as
The Black Death, devastated Europe in the 14th century, starting a new age. The
great warrior Ivan the Terrible was stricken with disease, and driven mad.
During the "exploration" of the new world, Cortes's greatest ally against the
Aztecs was smallpox. Napoleon's Grand Army was defeated by the Russians, and
typhus. Queen Victoria spread hemophilia to her heirs, leading to the illness
of the only son of Czar Nicholas, and the fall of monarchy in Russia.1 All the
events are horrible in every way, but have struck a chord with people around the
world. Perhaps it is our inherent morbid curiosity. So, the question is, if
these events happened once, why can't they happen again?
Let us take a look at the most horrible, so far, of the plagues: The
Black Death. It took Europe by storm from approximately 1345 to 1361. It would
also make small comebacks throughout the next 400 years, but never like it did
the first time. It also reached into Africa, China, Russia, and the
Scandinavian countries. It was truly a worldwide pandemic. But, it has a
secondary effect that not many people are aware of. The colonies of Greenland,
settled by the Vikings, were stricken by the plague and they soon disappeared.
It is known that these colonies kept in contact with "Vinland", which was near
New Foundland, in Canada. The Vikings had already discovered North America!
But, alas, with these colonies all dead, Greenland was forgotten, and not
discovered again until 1585.2 It is estimated that the plague took 24 million
lives, about a quarter of the European population. This may seem incredulous to
people today, but it happened. During those times, where there were humans,
there were black rats. And where there are rats, there are fleas. And where
there were fleas, there was the plague. Bubonic plague, and also pneumonic
plague, were everywhere. France, Italy, Russia, England, you name it. When a
village was infected, people fled, most likely taking the plague with them to
the next village.3 One ca...
... middle of paper ...
...n't, but it
sure does sound good. I hope to have entertained you through this paper, and
given you something to chew on for a few weeks. And I have just one more
thought. When people think of the end of the world, they think of a big
mushroom cloud destroying everyone in a pillar of light. But, I just don't see
that. I see something less spectacular. When the end comes, it won't be with a
bang. No one will see it coming. An army of the smallest soldiers will attack
us from the inside out. One-billionth of our size, and they'll beat us.
1. Abel, Ernest L. America's Top 25 Killers. Hillside, N.J.: Enslow
Publishers Inc., 1991
2. Archer, Jules. Epidemic! New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1977.
3. Berger, Melvin. Disease Detectives. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell,
4. Cartwright, Fred F. Disease and History. New York: Thomas Y.
5. Guerrilla Warfare. "Time: Frontiers of Medicine." Vol. 148, No.4, Pg.
6. McNeill, William H. Plagues and Peoples. New York: Anchor
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