WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump erroneously stated Monday that the Spanish Flu of 1918 ended World War II, incorrectly citing both the year the pandemic occurred and the year that the Second World War ended.
The events took place more than two decades apart.
“The closest thing is in 1917, they say, the great pandemic. It certainly was a terrible thing where they lost anywhere from 50 to 100 million people, probably ended the Second World War,” Trump said. “All the soldiers were sick. That was a terrible situation.”
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The president was alluding to the Spanish Flu, which broke out in 1918. The first infections were identified in March of that year and lasted until 1920.
The Second World War started in 1939 and ended in 1945 with the surrender of the Axis powers, specifically when Japan surrendered unconditionally after the United States dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.
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A White House official told USA TODAY Trump was talking about World War I, where more soldiers died from the disease than in battle and infected around 500 million globally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the deployment of troops during the First World War plausibly contributed to the spread of the Spanish Flu due to intercontinental movement and crowded conditions.
The Spanish Flu did not officially cause the end of World War I. The end of that war came from Germany signing an armistice, which caused the fighting to stop, after suffering great losses on the battlefield.
Nevertheless, soon after the president’s reference, “Second World War” and “World War” started trending on Twitter, and gathered the attention of lawmakers and celebrities alike.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., tweeted it was cruel that Trump’s son and family let him “stand out there like this.”
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Actress and activist Sophia Bush tweeted, “So to recap things we’ve learned since 2016 … 45 hasn’t read the Constitution, hasn’t read the Bible (but likes to hold one upside down), and clearly never took a US History class. Or … math? Cool cool, very cool.”
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Star Trek actor George Takei tweeted about the 75th anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb, “bringing a long and devastating war to a shattering, violent end. Remember history. Don’t distort it.”