Plagues and Diseases

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 can only imagine what the people of that time thought.
In those days, the church was the controlling influence. So, they probably
thought it was the wrath of god. And with wraths of god, comes the need to
search for scapegoats. And the main scapegoats were the Jews. They were
accused of infecting town wells, and spreading imaginary poisons from city to
city. For these "crimes," they were burned, hung, stoned, etc. Also, specific
scapegoats were found and killed in every city. Mass hysteria gripped the known
world. Then, it slowed down. It didn\'t stop, and it wouldn\'t for many years,
but it slowed down enough for society to get back on its feet. And society now
had a new outlook on life. The all-powerful Catholic Church still wielded some
power, but not what it previously had. Europe was ready for a change. So, if
you\'re an optimist, you might say that the plague gave Europeans a fresh start.4
And while we are on the subject of the past, I shall relate another
story of a strange disease and its effects on history. In the opening, I
mentioned the destruction of Napoleon\'s Grand Army at the hands of typhus.
Let\'s delve a little deeper into that event. In the spring of 1812, Napoleon
had reached the height of his power and glory. His empire spread eastward to
the Russian frontier and to Austria. Two of his brothers were kings. His 3
sisters all sat on thrones in one sense or another. His first son was Viceroy
of Italy. And Napoleon himself was currently married to the great niece of
Marie Antoninette, and their first child was immediately named King of Rome.
Napoleon was on a roll.5 Given time, patience, and some luck, he might have
been able to extend his empire to the East, and force those pesky British into
isolation, cutting them off from any matters in Europe and Asia. But these
dreams would go unresolved. Because of something Napoleon could not see.6
In June of 1812, in eastern Germany, Napoleon massed a force of 368,000
infantry, 80,000 cavalry, 1,100 guns, and 100,000 reserve infantry. He now
outnumbered the Russian forces. With the Russian\'s defeat, Napoleon could boast
being in control of most of Europe. But