The Unseen Weapon of Mass Destruction
America, today, is a hemisphere with such an array of ethnic backgrounds but still shares one common link, immunity. This link, like many of the inhabitants, is an imported item to the Americas. This item was imported along with the cause for its existence. That cause, disease, would become the most inexpensive, effective weapon the conquests have.
Even in modern day, when a person gets sick, their loved ones care for them. Many times these loved ones are family and share similar strengths and weaknesses as those who fall ill. And with the seclusion from the rest of the world, it wasn’t just one or two diseases that those original inhabitants were weak against. And as a family member would fall to an illness they would expose the rest of their family. Those family members who were weak would eventually face a similar fate, those who were lucky to have immunity would likely go reside with other family members who were more resistant to the current strain and assist them.
But the bombardment of the new strains hitting the Americas was like a wild fire. As one strain seemed to burn out, two more would pop up unexpectedly. “Influenza, small pox, measles, mumps, and pneumonic plague arrived first, followed by typhus, diphtheria, malaria, and yellow fever” Butzer pg 351. Each disease with a swarm of symptoms, some minor and likely already treated in the old world, but others too aggressive to address. Eventually leading the populations to catastrophic levels of fatalities that delivered the old world’s inhabitants to their gods, and sparing so very few to watch their societies crumble under the new rule.
The first and still very prominent today, influenza, is easily spread through the air. Today, the symptoms are well known and are often dismissed by those infected as medicine and treatment is so readily available. Symptoms of high fever, headaches, exhaustion, cough, sore throat, running or stuffy nose, body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea for those of the ancient world without effective medicines were likely improperly addressed or under estimated and the body worsened.
With today’s medical knowledge people are still dying from dehydration and bacteria caused pneumonia and those who do live suffer advancements or are struck down by “congestive heart failure, asthma, and/or diabetes” according to the CDC. Even these health issues can lead to death today, before we had the medical treatments and diagnosis of our modern medicine, the damage of the “flu” alone was staggering to a society with no immune systems against it or knowledge of how to treat it.
Even as the flu created chaos and weakened the immune systems of the inhabitants, other diseases were waiting to flood in. The mumps and measles were airborne pathogens that with any exposure could be transferred to the inhabitants. Additional symptoms were now bombarding the locals leading to more problems of pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis, seizures; all which without proper medicines and treatment even today can cause death. And those who lived faced blindness, deafness, and in the case of mumps, even sterilization.
Other diseases such as small pox and pneumonic plague still required physical contact, maybe not always of the person to person type, but rather bedding to person, it still was capable to giving very horrible ends to those who would be otherwise be unexposed. Rashes from small pox could be over looked as something less extensive and treated improperly leading to exposure of others in the family or worse yet, infection of the blisters for the ill. It was a war zone for each individual body, let alone each household and each city.
Even today, these diseases run rampant in parts of the world despite our attempts to vaccinate. An outbreak of mumps 2 years ago, despite his complete vaccination record, left my son with permanent signs of his personal battle with this disease. He lived, but must be constantly watched to insure other problems have not been caused. In other places with less access to the vaccinations, the measles takes the life of 1 in every 4 lives it touches.
There is no question the ancient societies of the Americas were being murdered by unseen enemies, but those remaining were being demoralized. They watched loved ones die and in some cases, worse yet, live. It was excruciating. Their societies were being enveloped and falling into ruin under the hand of the visitors, regardless of if they wanted to fight back or not. There was no protection from this weapon. Guns were intimidating but the bullets had to strike you, but with so many of the diseases requiring only the breath of a symptomless but carrying person to touch the immuno-deficient, there was no stopping it.
The pain of knowing there is nothing you can do to fight back. Nothing you can do to reassure those who you love and care about that they aren’t going to die, is agonizing. I can only imagine what those who lived through the wild fires of disease felt as they watched their worlds, their lives, their families fall. I was able to have faith my son would live, but for them with each death, that hope with each new victim of the diseases, that faith must have been shattered for those people.