President Donald Trump got history wrong on multiple counts Monday when he claimed that the “1917” Spanish flu pandemic likely led to the end of World War II ― which began more than two decades later.
“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,” Trump said during his White House press briefing. “Probably ended the Second World War, all the soldiers were sick.”
Leading up to that comment, Trump had been praising his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 160,000 people in the U.S., claiming without evidence that without his ban on foreign travelers, millions more would be dead.
The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 overlapped with the final months of World War I, which is ostensibly what the president intended to refer to. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was first identified in military personnel in the spring of 1918 before spreading to an estimated 500 million people worldwide. It continued until the following year. The spread was likely exacerbated by the widespread deployment of troops, crowded wartime living conditions and other effects of the war, the CDC states.
World War II began in 1939.
Given the Trump campaign’s repeated efforts to frame presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as lacking mental acuity, Twitter users did not allow Trump’s gaffe to slide.
Critics, including Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub and conservative group The Lincoln Project joined the fray: