So when did we all become such pansies?

By Jack Cashill

As a kid, I was the victim – and beneficiary – of a malady I remember as the “Asian flu.” Without hesitation, I can trace the onset of this illness to early October 1957, when I was 9 years old.

I remember the date specifically because I followed baseball. I grew up as Dodger fan in a metropolitan area with three choices, all of them viable. The New York Giants had won the World Series in 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955 and the New York Yankees in 1956.

The Yankees had also won in 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953. I might have been a Yankee fan save for the fact that when I came of age, my older brother informed me that the Yankees were already “taken.” They were “his” team.

Like my brother, Yankee fans were insufferable. On occasion, they would roam the neighborhood in bands searching out apostates. We Dodger fans were few: little brothers, “colored kids,” left-handers and other misfits. We came to dread these mini-pogroms and detest the Yankees and their fans.

I remember the date of my Asian flu malady so precisely because it coincided with the 1957 World Series. At the time, these games were played only in the daytime.

I used the word “beneficiary” above because I, unlike my friends, got to watch the Series from the comfort of the living room couch.

The Asian flu was a happy memory for me. It was especially happy because the underdog Milwaukee Braves came from behind to beat the Yankees four games to three, the final victory a shutout at Yankee Stadium.

I did not know the word “schadenfreude” then, but I certainly knew the concept. I was not too ill to glory in my brother’s misery.

Although my teachers were surely suspicious of the timing, there was no doubting my illness. Our family doctor made a house call. My temperature crested at 104 degrees.

I remember the number well because it gave me bragging rights. The Asian flu struck many children in my neighborhood. After the fact, we compared our temperatures the way we would our batting averages.

I was the envy of my fellow baseball fans. Not only did my illness strike during the World Series, but at 104 I also topped their paltry 102s and 103s.

For me this all seemed providential as I was a generally healthy kid. I would not miss another day of school for the next four years and would win the school’s perfect attendance award at graduation in a landslide.

Not hearing anything about this epidemic in the news, I googled “Asian Flu 1957” to test my memory. Here is what I learned from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In the early months of 1957, a virus known as influenza A subtype H2N2 was first identified in East Asia. It spread worldwide causing somewhere between 1 and 2 million deaths, an estimated 69,800 in the United States.

Especially vulnerable were “young children, the elderly, and pregnant women,” the first of which I can attest to through my own experience.

The population of the United States in 1957 was roughly half of what it is today. Were wagering on life and death not so distasteful, I would gladly take the “under” position in an over-under bet that COVID-19 will kill 140,000 Americans.

We were a hardier people back then. Although likely more lethal than the coronavirus, the Asian flu minimally affected the way we lived our lives.

Although the flu struck children with force, the schools did not close. The economy churned along, and Lou Burdette threw three complete games, two of them shutouts, to humiliate the New York Yankees.

Better still, no one got called “racist” for saying “Asian flu.”

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