In the spring of 1919, as the world’s major powers descended on Versailles to negotiate peace after World War I, President Woodrow Wilson was in bed with the flu. At a moment when, as Wilson’s doctor put it, “the whole of civilization seemed to be in the balance,” a horrific influenza pandemic cast a shadow over the prospect of a new order.

A century later, we find ourselves again crippled by a pandemic during another of those rare plastic moments in world affairs—a perfect storm of major shifts in the balance of power and…

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