Woodrow Wilson, President, 1920, The First Progressive
If you don’t allow for investigative journalism, people die. There’s no clearer time to witness this fact than during 1918 when the Spanish Flu broke out.
The Spanish Flu was no ordinary illness. While most flu viruses attack the elderly and the very young, the Spanish Flu produced a reaction called a cytokine storm that essentially turned healthy immune systems against themselves. The stronger the immune system response, the worse the illness, so the flu was deadliest to the healthiest in the prime of their lives. In under two years, it would kill somewhere between 20 million to 50 million people worldwide.
The plague broke out during WWI after a morale law had been put in place in 1917. The law dictated that journalists shouldn’t report anything negative about the US government that might demoralize the populace — for instance, that a disease was spreading through the populace that they had no idea how to combat. If you defied the law, you could go to jail for up to 20 years. The epidemic was called the Spanish Flu not because it originated there (it most likely came from Kansas) but because Spanish newspapers, who had no such laws, reported on it with great frequency as early as May 1918.
In World War I, America suffered 116,000 military deaths and it is estimated 63,000 of those deaths were from the Spanish Flu.
A public health officer shot a man, a farrier, on the street in San Francisco because he refused to wear the face mask in public mandated by a martial law at the time.
Back in the US, as late as September 1918 the El Paso Herald was still running articles like “Vicious Rumors of Influenza Epidemic Will Be Combatted.” This ignorance led to calamitous results in late September in Philadelphia when thousands gathered for a parade. A health expert named Dr. Howard Anders begged newspapers to warn against gathering in close proximity, but they refused. By early October, 117 Philadelphians had contracted the disease, prompting the Philadelphia Inquirer to write, “Worry is useless! Talk of cheerful things instead of the disease.” By Oct. 10, 759 people in Philadelphia had died. The disease would ultimately kill 675,000 Americans.
Spanish Influenza Ward, Camp Riley, U.S. Army, Kansas 1918
That’s a shame, because Wilson’s two terms in office provide the clearest historical window into the soul of progressivism. Wilson’s racism, his ideological rigidity, and his antipathy toward the Constitution were all products of the progressive worldview. And since “progressivism” is suddenly in vogue – today’s leading Democrats proudly wear the label – it’s worth actually reviewing what progressivism was and what actually happened under the last full-throated progressive president.
and it gets worse,
Not surprisingly, such intellectual kindling was easy to ignite when World War I broke out. The philosopher John Dewey, New Republic founder Herbert Croly, and countless other progressive intellectuals welcomed what Mr. Dewey dubbed “the social possibilities of war.” The war provided an opportunity to force Americans to, as journalist Frederick Lewis Allen put it, “lay by our good-natured individualism and march in step.” Or as another progressive put it, “Laissez faire is dead. Long live social control.”
With the intellectuals on their side, Wilson recruited journalist George Creel to become a propaganda minister as head of the newly formed Committee on Public Information (CPI).
Under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, Wilson’s administration shut down newspapers and magazines at an astounding pace. Indeed, any criticism of the government, even in your own home, could earn you a prison sentence. One man was brought to trial for explaining in his own home why he didn’t want to buy Liberty Bonds.
The Wilson administration sanctioned what could be called an American fascisti, the American Protective League. The APL – a quarter million strong at its height, with offices in 600 cities – carried government-issued badges while beating up dissidents and protesters and conducting warrantless searches and interrogations. Even after the war, Wilson refused to release the last of America’s political prisoners, leaving it to subsequent Republican administrations to free the anti-war Socialist Eugene V. Debs and others.
Woodrow Wilson, founder of American Progressivism, contemptuous of unalienable rights and guilty of arrogant negligence and incompetence in the deaths of thousands of Americans.