The invisible cloud of avian influenza now gathering just over the horizon may eventually dissipate and be remembered five years hence as only the latest in a long series of hyperventilated news events predicting a global doomsday that never quite arrives. Or it may be the precursor to a true apocalypse, of biblical proportions, that kills more humans than all of the wars, tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters, both natural and manmade, of the past 20 years or more combined. 

Regrettably, the latter possibility seems more likely than the first. 

The misnamed “Spanish Flu” of 1918 and 1919 (which medical researchers say may well have started somewhere in Asia) killed anywhere from 25 million to 50 million people worldwide. Despite notable improvements in scientific detection and research technology, medicines and vaccines, and the treatment of mass casualties, the outbreak of a similar pandemic today could be even more lethal. Of course, no one knows for sure what the final death toll might be. 

The only thing really known for sure, in fact, is that time is on the side of the suspect avian flu virus officially designated as H5N1. The several interrelated articles in this special Pandemic Influenza issue of Dom Prep Journal discuss how and where the virus probably started, the ways it might mutate and evolve into a medical threat, of terrifying magnitude, to the citizens of all nations of the world, and the need for a massive cooperative international effort to stop–insofar as possible–the spread of the disease and, if that effort is too late (or not enough), to mitigate the short- and long-term consequences. 

Again, insofar as possible. Included in this issue’s lead article, by Dr. Jerry Mothershead, is a long and reasonably comprehensive list of some of the most important preventive and/or remedial steps that contingency planners, public-health officials, and the medical community recommend be taken both on the international level and by individual nations to protect their citizens. The financial cost of following through on these recommendations will be extremely high–whether that cost is paid in dollars, dinars, or drachmas. The cost–in human lives and in the massive social, economic, and political disruption that would result–of not following through would be much higher. 

It also should be kept in mind, though, that excessively rigorous implementation of seemingly sensible (albeit painful) measures might cause other problems that are even more disruptive. Dr. Mothershead points out, for example, that millions of domestic fowl “already have been destroyed in Southeast Asia.” If that example is repeated in too many other countries the result might be not only a significant reduction of the world’s food supply but also, perhaps, a precarious shift in the delicate balance of nature. There are, in short, many options to consider, some of them worse than others–but none of them good.

James D. Hessman

James D. Hessman is former editor in chief of both the Navy League’s Sea Power Magazine and the League’s annual Almanac of Seapower. Prior to that dual assignment he was senior editor of Armed Forces Journal International.

Translate »