Adam Ruins Everything (2015) s02e22 Episode Script

Reanimated History - 100 Years Ago Today

1 Hard today to imagine a world without smartphones or jet planes or fidget spinners.
Yet the change and innovation at the turn of the last century set the stage for the marvels of the modern era.
One of the most important technological achievements of the early 1900s was the Panama Canal, whose construction was driven by the peerless will of President Theodore Roosevelt.
I shall build a spectacular waterway through impenetrable mountains and jungle! We shall join two great oceans into one! A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.
Ooh! I love palindromes! Who said that? Madam, I'm Adam! Yes, I remember you.
Please don't call me "madam.
" Sorry, I stand corrected! And speaking of corrections The real story of the Panama Canal is way more complicated and messed up than this reversible rhyme! I'd say I'm surprised but You're not! Because I'm Adam Conover and this is "Reanimated History"! Closed Captions Provided by truTV By building the Panama Canal, Teddy Roosevelt connected the two greatest oceans on the globe and set the stage for a century of progress and commerce.
Sorry, but it's not that simple at all.
The true story of the Panama Canal is totally insane and rarely told.
In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt wanted to build the canal to show off America's power and strength.
Joining the Atlantic and the Pacific will be the most impressive thing I've ever done! Except, of course, for that time I engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a great white.
But where to build my magnificent canal? Easy! He built it in Panama.
Actually, not so easy.
Because at the time, the country of Panama didn't even exist.
Wait what? The truth is, the US actually created the country of Panama in order to build the Canal.
And it all started with this guy: a wealthy French businessman named Phillipe-Jean Bunau-Varilla.
Monsieur President, have you considered the lovely Colombian province of Panama as a location? No go.
I tried to rent the land from Colombia and they rejected my offer! Then we'll get rid of Colombia! I'll pay for a revolution, get you the land for cheap and you build the canal! Voila! Wait a minute.
Are you seriously proposing that I help you overthrow a sovereign nation just so I can build a canal and make myself look great? Er uh yes? "Bully!" is what I say when I love something! Let's do it! Bunau-Varilla quickly put his plan into action! If you allow me to act as your diplomatic representative in Washington, I'll cover the cost of your revolution.
Sounds great! How could that go wrong?! And Roosevelt sent US warships to sit off the coast of Panama to deter the Colombians from fighting back.
Ho there, Colombians! Get a load of this! Those US Naval reinforcements did the trick and Panama became a new country in less than a day! Well, sounds like everything turned out okay! No one got hurt and the Panamanians got to form a newly independent country! Nope! Because the US immediately screwed over that newly independent country.
Of course they did.
As Panama's diplomatic representative, my first official act is to give away the land for the canal to the Americans.
Are you kidding?! We won't stand for such a raw deal! Viva Panama! When the Panamanians balked, Roosevelt landed 2,000 Marines in their new country and threatened them with "grave consequences" unless they changed their minds.
Viva Panama and its American overlords.
So, in order to build the canal, the United States funded a revolution, created a new country, and then effectively stole the land from that new country.
Come on, are you seriously trying to tell me that the Panama Canal was nothing but an imperialist monstrosity? Oh, no, not at all! It was also a groundbreaking marvel of engineering! Wow, that's quite a pivot.
Before construction even started ahh Workers had to cut through nearly 50 miles of ugh Dense jungles and oh steep mountains.
Oh boy! Once built, the canal contained seven million tons of concrete and featured incredibly powerful motors that moved millions of gallons of water, propelling ships weighing up to 80,000 tons from one ocean to another.
This colossal engineering marvel reduced a trip of 8,000 miles to just 48.
Look, now I'm in the Atlantic and now I'm in the Pacific! Atlantic, Pacific! Atlantic, Pacific! Just havin' some fun.
At least one of us is.
Well, you have redeemed the canal in my eyes! It may have had a sad history but it was an incredible feat of engineering.
Yes! And it was also an incredibly deadly one.
Another pivot? Are you trying to give me whiplash? The work of constructing the canal was so brutal that over 5,000 workers died! Hey, buddy, just carry these highly volatile explosives over there, will ya? The work was so dangerous that they actually ran a special train just to transport the dead.
Hey, at least the ride back is free.
Workers who were brought in to do the dangerous jobs were from the Caribbean and were mostly black.
But workers who were brought in to do the relatively safe jobs were from the US and were mostly white.
You guys are lucky.
I am buried in paperwork.
And it wasn't just the division of labor that was unfair.
Caribbean workers were forced to live in cramped, unsanitary boarding houses, while US workers lived in nice neighborhoods with theaters, ballparks, schools and libraries.
Worse still, white workers were paid in gold, while black workers were paid in silver that could only be used at separate, but definitely unequal, stores.
My God.
What you're describing sounds a lot like Segregation? That's exactly what it was! While constructing the canal, the United States imported a brutal system of Jim Crow-style segregation The ultimate result of which was that black workers were four times more likely to die than their white counterparts.
This is horrible! I didn't want to know any of this! I liked it better when it was just Teddy Roosevelt and his fun palindrome! Ha-ha! I know you did.
But the truth is, the real history of the Panama Canal just isn't that simple.
It was an imperialist land grab, and it was an engineering wonder, and it was a death trap for thousands of workers of color.
You don't get to ignore any of that just because it doesn't read the same backwards and forwards.
You know, it would be nice, just once, to hear a story we can feel good about.
Oh, then I have a story you are gonna love! It's about Harvey Wiley, who prevented supermarkets from becoming modern-day death traps.
Uh-oh I'll be right back to tell you all about hiiiii.
.
Say what you will about the healthiness of our modern food, at least we know that when we buy it it isn't rotten or full of literal poison.
But until the turn of the last century, that wasn't always the case.
And that only changed thanks to a food safety pioneer named Harvey Wiley.
He's today's Unsung Badass of History! I did that for emphasis.
Sure you did.
While working as a professor of chemistry at Purdue University in the 1870s, Wiley began studying the chemical makeup of store-bought honey and was alarmed to discover This isn't honey at all! It's just factory-made glucose! Gross! Pure honey should contain nothing but bee barf! At the time, there were no federal laws about food labeling, so companies could call a product whatever they wanted no matter what was in it.
This "jam" is rotten apples, glucose and tar dye! This "chicken" is spoiled pork! Ugh, I hate IPAs.
Also, I think there's strychnine in here.
Ah, a little strychnine never hurt anyone.
Actually, food adulteration and contamination were killing tens of thousands of Americans every year! Okayyyy That's it! I shall make protecting consumers from dangerous food my life's work! Wiley soon rose through the ranks to become chief chemist for the US Department of Agriculture.
Making food safe will be a piece of poison-free cake! Yeah, it wasn't! Wiley spent decades trying to convince Congress to pass food-safety bills.
This rotten egg has been deodorized with chemicals! These pickles are bright green because they're full of poisonous copper sulfate! This milk came from a cow with tuberculosis! This entire lunch is lethal! But his appeals fell on deaf ears.
Listen here, you rabble-rouser, regulating food is a threat to American capitalism! How dare you infringe on the public's right to eat candy-dyed red by lead? You misunderstand me, sir.
I am a devoted capitalist! I believe that if consumers aren't worried that their food might kill them, they'll buy much more of it! But food industry lobbyists worked tirelessly to crush Wiley's legislative efforts! Ah-ha! A little lead never hurt anyone.
Americans don't believe or even realize that their food is killing them! I guess I'll just have to prove it by poisoning people myself! Wiley concocted an experiment.
He dosed meals with controlled amounts of the dangerous chemicals commonly used in food at the time, and he fed them to healthy young men.
Thus was born The Poison Squad! Okay, today we got borax beef, sulfuric salad, salicylic stroganoff, formaldehyde fricassee aaaand ice cream for dessert! Ho-hooooh! The ice cream is also made of borax.
Wiley carefully monitored their poison intake and recorded the effects.
Perfect! Keep eating! Make it stop! I've had so much formaldehyde that I'm embalmed.
Yet alive! Keep eating! The project was so crazy that newspapers began reporting on it daily! Ha-ha! Daring lads eat poison so you don't have to! Read all about it! The public was so captivated that Poison Squad members became celebrities.
Wiley's plan worked so well that not only did he raise public awareness of food safety, he also attracted the attention of our old friend President Teddy Roosevelt.
I too had a terrible experience with rotten food.
As a cavalry commander during the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt had watched helplessly as hundreds of soldiers got sick and died from eating rotten canned meat.
I must make amends.
Ha-ha! I will see to it that this bill passes faster than you can say "poisoned pancakes"! A-hah! I knew Teddy wasn't all bad! Of course not, he did plenty of great things! Among them: the federal law he signed was the first to protect consumers from adulterated, harmful food.
It also lead to mandatory food labeling and the establishment of the FDA! Oh, oh! I also killed a lot of exotic animals.
And Wiley's prediction that safer food would be good for business came true.
Over the next century, the American food industry grew to be the largest in the world.
In part because consumers were willing to buy more food if they knew it was safe.
Guaranteed poison-free? Woo! Ronnie's eating canned clams tonight! But even more importantly, the Food and Drug Administration estimates that food safety regulations have saved hundreds of millions of lives! With a record like that, it's no wonder that Harvey Wiley is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
And that's why he's an Unsung Badass of History.
Wow! Right next to the heroes of World War One.
Which happens to be the deadliest event of the turn of the century, and the subject of our next segment.
Oh, actually, there was an even deadlier event back then but strangely, few people remember it.
And I'll tell you all about it Do you smell burning wool? Quick, climb into that pile of dry leaves! TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST IT IS TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST IT IS TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TEST TEST TEST TES TEST TEST TES at tha the Spanish flu killed 100 million people.
Holy shit.
The flu was so much deadlier than the war that the German Army even blamed it for their loss.
At a key point in the war, the flu hit the Germans much harder than the allies, which gave the allies the advantage.
Whoa, you guys don't look so good.
Uh feel better? Well, that's a silver lining, I guess? Definitely not.
The United States military took a wallop too.
But we've all had the flu.
It's not that big a deal! Actually, even the modern flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year! But the Spanish flu was a particularly terrible strain.
Normal flu symptoms like a cough and stomach distress were just the tip of the iceberg.
It was the blood and liquid that would fill up your lungs and drown you that Okay, that's enough! We don't need all the gory details.
Sorry! Yeah, that was a little gross, even for me.
In the end, more than half of US war casualties weren't shot by Germans They were killed by the flu.
Being shot sounds nice.
This is insane! Why isn't this a bigger part of the story of World War One? Because the war actually kept most people from knowing just how bad the flu really was! Countries at war restricted reporting on the flu so that morale wouldn't weaken on the front or back home.
Our boys are dying left and right of the flu! I've gotta report on this story! You'll do no such thing! Write that these men died like heroes, riddled with Kraut bullets.
But one country that didn't restrict reporting on the flu was Spain! Of course, the Spanish flu! Oh, it must have been worse there than anywhere else.
Nope.
But everyone thought it was.
Because Spain wasn't fighting in the war, their press was one of the few to report accurately on the flu.
Our people are dying left and right of the flu! Should I report on the story? Yes, of course! We're not at war or anything.
Have it on my desk before you die of the flu.
That's why we call it the Spanish flu? Yeah! Bull No, it's true! No, I mean a literal bull.
Oh, poor guy.
The truth is, the "Spanish" flu killed more Americans than Spaniards.
As many as 675,000 Americans died That's more than the total US casualties in all 20th-century wars combined.
Towns throughout the country lost as many as 90% of their citizens.
So many people were dying that, in Chicago, authorities actually banned public funerals.
This is a nightmare! The scope of the tragedy was massive.
But the people in charge of stopping the flu were so worried about preventing a national panic that they downplayed the flu's spread.
You'll be fine! Just avoid tight clothes and, uhhh, chew your food well! Uh, tough crowd.
That was their actual advice? Yep! All told, some historians believe that the Spanish flu was the deadliest event in human history, and modern civilization was powerless to stop it.
But it did stop eventually, right? Yes.
But not because of anything we did.
Some scientists believe that everyone on earth who was predisposed to die from it, did.
The Spanish flu only went away because it killed everyone it could.
Maybe that's why most people know so little about it.
It's it's almost too painful to imagine.
Exactly.
And that is the worst part of this story.
Because we don't remember what happened, we're totally unprepared for when it happens again.
When it happens again? Yes.
The Center for Disease Control warns that another flu pandemic is only a matter of time.
And what's worse: our government keeps cutting their budget even though one of the CDC's primary missions is pandemic preparedness! Sorry, Sue.
Funding cuts.
I'm gonna need your petri dish and lab coat.
And it currently takes us seven months to develop a new flu vaccine.
According to researchers, that's more than enough time for the flu to kill tens of millions of people! This is starting to make my head spin.
Or is it the flu? Oh! What do I do? Well, there is one small thing everyone can do that could possibly help curb the impact of another flu: get your yearly flu shot.
I didn't do that this year.
I don't feel so hot.
No, I cannot get sick.
I gotta go to my clean room! Clean room? Wait! Whoa! Whoa! I was just about to tell you how we can learn from all of this! Welcome to my clean space.
It's perfectly sterile.
It's locked and no one can get in or out.
Here there are no scary stories, no germs, no once-heroic leaders betraying us, no poisoned food.
Just nothingness.
Oh, I found you! No! How? Get out! I can't take anymore! History is too upsetting and I am done with it! I get it.
History isn't pretty.
In fact, it's brutal.
People die, they kill each other, they suffer.
Exactly! And that's why I am done.
No.
You can't turn away.
You must face it! We have to learn from the mistakes of the past so we can have a better future.
History happened.
It can't be undone.
And the fact is, everything that came before us, good and bad, created the world we live in today.
There's just no such thing as a vacuum with no history.
I see your point.
It's just been a hard few chapters.
True, but much of history is still really inspiring! Think of all the people who have done so much with so little, discovered amazing new truths about the universe, and fought to make a better world! We can learn from them, too! You know, I like that.
Thanks, Adam.
You've inspired me so much I think I'm gonna go to the library and maybe find another book that I can narrate alone.
Wait! Really?! But we were just becoming friends! I have a lot of reading to do.
We could start a book group! Oh, that sounds like a nightmare.
Yeah, sure, I'll text you.
Sounds cool.
See ya later! Ha-ha! Well, at least he didn't close the book this time! Guess that happens automatically.
Hi, I'm Emily Axford and this is Same Time, Different Place.
Many Westerners view the Middle East as a place of constant turmoil.
But after World War One, the French and British actually had an opportunity to help stabilize the region.
All they had to do was keep a promise to one man named King Hussein.
The year was 1916, and King Hussein of Hejaz was leading a revolt against the Ottoman Turks.
Your Ottoman Empire is going down, you Turkish Jerks! Ha! Turk jerks! But he was not alone.
He also had help from Lawrence of Arabia! You know, the dude that's in the movie that's been sitting in your Netflix queue for, like, three years.
That heroic pose left me a little too exposed.
Hi, I'm Lawrence of Arabiaaaaa!! You're not of Arabia.
You're a white guy in a cloak.
Well, yeah, I'm British.
So, if you visited Spain, would you be Lawrence of Spain? When you pee, are you Lawrence of the bathroom? It doesn't matter.
Point is, my people are at war with those Turk jerks too! And if you help us England promises to give you a United Arab State spanning from Jerusalem to Damascus.
That's my dream! You've got a deal.
With Hussein's help, the Ottoman Empire was destroyed.
But the promise yeah, they didn't keep it.
Excellent work, Major Lawrence.
They should write a movie about you! Yes! A movie everyone should've seen by now.
But what about the promise we made to King Hussein? Yes, about that I actually made another secret promise to France saying that we wouldn't keep that promise.
It's called the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
But his men fought and died for us! Yes, well, I guess Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Sykes-Picot was a secret agreement splitting up the region in favor of European interests, ignoring the promise made to the king.
This can't be.
They promised! The Sykes-Picot Agreement set the stage for post-war deals that chopped up the Middle East, with little consideration for the cultural and historical makeup of the land.
That arbitrary border just cut that village in half! The French created the countries of Syria and Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the British mandated that Palestine would become a Jewish state.
One of Hussein's sons got Iraq, the other got Transjordan, a Saudi family got all of what is now Saudi Arabia, and tribal allies like the Kurds got nothing.
Stop! You're splitting ethnic groups willy-nilly! And if that sounds kind of confusing, it's because it was.
It would be kinda like if China combined Indiana, Texas, and Oklahoma into a single state and then made Yao Ming the governor of IndTexahoma.
These random borders resulted in a century of territorial conflicts between different groups who suddenly found themselves on what they felt was the wrong side of a border.
And while a lot of other events contributed to creating the world we have today, those conflicts led to the formation of groups like al-Qaeda, Hamas and ISIS.
Who knows where we would be if that one promise was kept?