“This is the worst year ever!” you hear people cry every year around this time. And this year has been a rough one, with the deaths of Bowie and Prince, and the election of Donald Trump. (Well, Trump’s election has been rough on me. You may differ.)
But if you want to talk about really bad years, the kind that make other years say, “Dude, calm down,” let me give you some prize packages.
1970: An earthquake, and the landslide that it triggers, kills about 70,000 people in Peru. A tropical cyclone in Bangladesh kills more than a quarter of a million. And the war in Vietnam, a conflict so unpopular that both conservatives and liberals want it to end, doesn’t end but instead expands into Cambodia.
1348: The Bubonic Plague mows down millions with no end in sight.
1876: Famines that will last for two years begin to kill millions in India and China. A cyclone wipes out another 200,000 in what’s now Bangladesh. The U.S. presidential election kills Reconstruction in the South, thus leading to the end of the civil rights for millions of black Americans.
1919: The Spanish flu ravages the world, murdering about 10 million people this year alone. The United States saw massive race riots and labor strikes, leading to the country’s first Red Scare and the raids on Communists and other radicals.
1943: This one may be the meanest of them all. World War II is at its murderous height, slaughtering millions from Stalingrad to England to the Pacific. Famines in China and what is now Bangladesh murder millions more. The Holocaust is at its sickeningly efficient peak.
And then there was that year around 70,000 BC when Toba, an Indonesian volcano, blew up and covered the sky in ash. It sent the entire world into a virtual nuclear winter (without the radiation) and plunged the human population to only a few thousand – or less.
2016 doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?