Our History is Not Our Future

Just over 100 years ago, we fought “the war to end all wars.” But wars did not end. Within 20 years, the world was again involved in another World War. Other wars followed―Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and countless smaller conflicts. On Memorial Day, we remember the sacrifices made by the roughly 1.4 million people who have given their lives in the military service of this country.

Also, just over 100 years ago, on the heels of World War I, the world was ravaged by the influenza pandemic. It is estimated that nearly one-third of the world’s population was infected and that 20-50 million people died.

A century later, we find ourselves in the middle of a second pandemic. As we see from the notice from 1918 posted in Mankato, we have used past experience to inform our response of today. Again we are closing schools, banning visitors from hospitals, and advising people to avoid large gatherings. But our history, while giving us valuable lessons, does not determine our future.

This time we have a century’s worth of scientific, medical, and technological advances to help us. This time we have seen the challenge of COVID-19 become a massive humanizing and unifying force. It has been a revelation to see what we can accomplish when we focus our creativity and knowledge together on a single thing. The growth of online and virtual resources has been off the charts, technology has wildly accelerated to meet urgent needs, and a new sense of momentum has spread across the University, our communities, and our state as we unite behind the common goal of saving lives.

At the same time, the toll exacted by COVID-19 becomes more personal each day. Just as we are entering the “endurance” phase of the pandemic, we may be feeling depleted. For over two months we have been coping with a life that seems suddenly fragmented, temporary, and thin. Let’s take some more lessons from the past. As the notice at right describes, “Avoid Worry, Fear and Fatigue,” “Avoid those that cough and sneeze,” and (my personal favorite) “Keep warm, get fresh air and sunshine.”

Although there may not be much sunshine this weekend, many of us will be trying to find new ways to observe Memorial Day, ways that prioritize safety over tradition. Please take advantage of this opportunity for rest and relaxation. Your strength will be needed in the weeks to come.

For those of us enjoying an extra day off, let us take a moment to gratefully remember the many health professionals for whom this weekend will be long, not because of the holiday, but due to the hours of work, research, testing, and care they will provide. To all of you on the front lines, thank you.