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Retro Report

Four Lessons From Two Pandemics

A historian offers some takeaways from the calamitous 1918 flu pandemic as we move from a year of lockdown into an uncertain future.

By SANDRA McDANIEL | July 26, 2021

As the world emerges from more than a year of pandemic lockdowns, Retro Report invited John Barry, the author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” to take a look back in history for lessons from and comparisons to the convulsive 1918 pandemic, which killed between 50 to 100 million people worldwide. Barry has advised past presidents on pandemic preparedness and response.

1. Disjointed public health messaging leads to distrust.

“The №1 lesson coming out of 1918 is that public health officials and the government have to tell…


WATCH: Transgender issues today are rooted in a decades-long struggle for equal rights that took shape in the 1960s, and included a little-known uprising at Gene Compton’s all-night cafeteria in San Francisco, then continued in New York City, most famously at Stonewall.

Nazis burned down Berlin’s LGBT center, run by the “Einstein of Sex”

When Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman in 2015, it was front-page news. Jenner, who lived publicly as a man for decades, gained fame at the 1976 Olympic Games, winning a gold in the decathlon. For many Americans, Jenner was the first openly transgender celebrity — and possibly the first openly transgender person — they had…


Curtis LeMay was behind some of deadliest bombings during WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Considered alone, with over 300,000 active duty members, the United States Air Force would be the 17th largest military force on Earth, larger than many countries’ entire operations. It flies over 5,000 aircraft and has over 400 nuclear missiles, with a budget of slightly over $153 billion this fiscal year. “In this day and age, you cannot undertake any military task unless you have superiority in air power,” a former Air Force chief of staff, General Curtis LeMay, said in an interview shortly before his death in 1990.

LeMay was a major force in expanding the United States’ military power…


In my new short film for Retro Report, I highlight a little-known chapter in the history of another epidemic — polio — to explain racial disparities we’re seeing today with Covid-19, which has been much more deadly for Black and Hispanic Americans than whites.

Covid-19 is exposing inequalities in healthcare that have roots in 1930s “Jim Crow medicine.”

Racial and health biases have a long history in America. During the polio outbreaks of the 1930s, white scientists had pushed the theory that Blacks were less susceptible to polio. But in fact, many cases of polio in Black victims went undiagnosed. …


Retro Report spoke to witnesses who saw Pigasus first hand for our series on the history of American political conventions.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” omitted a spectacularly chaotic episode of the 1968 Democratic National Convention

From “The West Wing” to “The Social Network,” snappy dialogue has always been at the center of any project Aaron Sorkin works on. His most recent film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a historical drama taking place largely in a courtroom , is no exception. So it’s no surprise that the Oscar-nominated picture left one real event on the cutting room floor. It’s tough to write witty dialogue for a farm animal.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago…


Today’s books for children about the coronavirus pandemic join others on illness and ailments.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began last year, children’s books explaining the virus, social distancing and the emotional impact of Covid-19 have joined a long shelf of stories that help young people cope with illness and loss.

Two sisters discuss being in quarantine in a new book by Samantha Harris and Devon Scott. (Image: MillieandSuzie.com)

One new example is “Why We Stay Home: Suzie Learns about Coronavirus,” written by medical students Samantha Harris and Devon Scott and available free on their website. In it, Millie explains to her little sister Suzie what coronavirus is, and why their family must stay at home.

Here are three past examples of children’s books in which a young protagonist experiences illness.


Diphtheria was ravaging the remote city of Nome, so dog sled teams came to the rescue bringing a life-saving serum.

Teams of healthcare workers have braved severe wintry weather to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to remote Alaskan villages this year. Their work echoes a similar episode almost a century ago.

Today, healthcare workers are flown by bush planes to villages across the state, and then are sometimes towed to remote clinics on sleds pulled by snowmobiles. During a diphtheria epidemic in the 1920s, a lifesaving serum was delivered on sleds pulled by dogs.

Dog sled teams carried the diphtheria antitoxin to Nome. (Source: Alamy)

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that attacks the nose and throat, making it difficult to breathe and swallow. In the late 19th century, an antitoxin was developed to…


President Trump is the 10th American president to try and fail to win reelection. Here are the others in that club.

When Joseph R. Biden was sworn in as president, the moment also marked another political milestone: Barring a 2024 bid, former President Donald Trump is now the 10th American president to try and fail to win reelection for a second term.

These are the other nine:


In Fresno, Calif., the coronavirus pandemic has magnified harm caused by decades of discriminatory housing practices.

In the city’s poorest neighborhoods, people of color face eviction at a higher rate than their white neighbors, a result of decades of unfair housing practices.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin, many of the roughly 110 million Americans living in rental housing were having a difficult time making ends meet. Nearly 4 million eviction petitions were filed each year. On any given night as many as 200,000 people were homeless.

Now in the pandemic, the eviction is a threat to renters on a far larger scale, by some estimates potentially affecting upwards of 30 million tenants.

In Fresno, Calif., the coronavirus pandemic has…


If you want to learn why and how Section 230 came to be (spoiler alert: porn websites are partly to be blamed) check out the video I produced for Retro Report, in partnership with our friends at Vox.

Democrats and Republicans agree that the law doesn’t serve Americans but disagree on why. Will a repeal help any of their cases?

Somewhere between the early days of Usenet and The Well in the 80s and the rise of Facebook and Twitter in the 2000s, the Internet became our public square. At some point we just accepted that much of our talking, connecting and arguing would happen online. …

Retro Report

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