One hundred years ago at the end of World War I some people in the United States wanted to punish the Germans, but not President Woodrow Wilson. He was fiercely determined to pursue a peace that would last and believed that this meant the Allies would need to overcome the temptation to punish Germany economically. Instead, he wanted to sow seeds of permanent peace without declaring victory. Wilson’s 14-point peace plan was fair and even merciful.
Wilson had lobbied hard to get Congress and the British behind his 14-point Peace Plan. When he went to Paris to negotiate peace no one doubted Wilson’s steely determination to his plan in place.
But something changed when President Wilson came down with the Spanish flu on that trip. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George visited Wilson while he was recuperating and barely recognized the man he knew.
When Wilson returned to the peace talks he lacked the strength to stand his ground. Formerly a fierce debater, he gave in on everything he believed in. Why? Because he was probably still quite ill. Sadly, the Treaty is regarded as a failure because it punished the Germans so severely that it set the stage for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Wilson’s original plan would have taken the world in a very different direction.
Why take this trip into history’s archives? I mention this because I believe that there are lessons here for us. It would be easy to under-estimate the effects of this pandemic on us, in the same way Wilson and his aides under-estimated the effects of the Spanish flu on the President a hundred years ago. So, what are the lessons here?
1. Take this disease seriously. It has left a permanent mark on us all and it has changed us.
2. Resist the temptation to “get back to normal” like that’s even possible.
3. There is a lot more to learn about COVID and how it affects us. “Be curious”, as the CEO of Norwegian Cruises says. Learn everything you can.
Whether we have been physically ill or not, we have all been scarred by this pandemic. There’s no denying that.
But, it will be tempting to rush ahead like nothing happened for the last two years. It will be tempting to think we can pick up where we left off. It will be tempting to imagine we are all healed before that’s really the case. And what would be the cost of those temptations? Only time will tell.