经济学人官方译文 | 蚊子夺去了很多人的性命,同时也塑造了人类社会


Killer insects
The itch of fate
Mosquitoes have shaped societies as well as decimating them, says Timothy Winegard

DURING THE second world war, American troops in the Far East were said to have two foes. The first was Japanese. One propaganda poster depicted an enemy’s sabre, slick with blood. The second adversary had no sword but was terrifying all the same. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes infected around 60% of Americans stationed in the Pacific at least once. Drugs such as Atabrine could help, but nasty side-effects meant that some GIs shunned their daily dose—with predictable consequences. “These Men Didn’t Take Their Atabrine” warned a sign propped below a pair of human skulls in Papua New Guinea.

At least decent treatment was available. For most of human existence, says Timothy Winegard in his lively history of mosquitoes, “we did not stand a chance” against the insect and its diseases. That was partly because of ignorance. Earlier humans blamed malaria and its mosquito-borne cousins on “bad air” from swamps, even as the years passed and death kept whining at their ears. Malaria once killed over 20% of people in the Fens of eastern England. Yellow fever ravaged Memphis, Tennessee, deep into the 1800s. No wonder Mr Winegard calls the mosquito a “destroyer of worlds”, which may have dispatched around half of all humans ever born.
至少那个时候还可以获得像样的治疗。蒂莫西·怀恩加德(Timothy Winegard)在他对蚊子历史的生动叙述中写道,纵观人类历史,在蚊子及其携带的疾病面前,大部分时间“我们都不堪一击”。部分原因是无知。经年累月,死亡的嗡鸣不绝于耳,而早期人类却一直将疟疾及蚊子传播的其他疾病归咎于沼泽地释放出的“瘴气”。疟疾曾在英格兰东部的沼泽地带夺走了超过20%的人的性命。19世纪后期,黄热病摧毁了田纳西州的孟菲斯市(Memphis)。古往今来所有的人口中,可能约有一半是因为蚊子而没了命,难怪怀恩加德称蚊子是“世界毁灭者”。

But his book is more than a litany of victims. Mr Winegard convincingly argues that the insect has shaped human life as well as delivering death. Mosquitoes helped save the Romans from Hannibal and Europe from the Mongols. And if malaria has changed history, so has resistance to it. Europeans believed that the relative immunity enjoyed by some Africans made them ideal slaves in the New World. Later, the tables were turned. “They will fight well at first, but soon they will fall sick and die like flies,” predicted Toussaint Louverture of the Frenchmen sent to end his slave revolution in Haiti. He was right. About 85% of the 65,000 soldiers deployed to the colony died of mosquito-borne illnesses, and Haiti won its independence.
但他的书可不仅仅是对受害者的记录。怀恩加德令人信服地论证了蚊子除了带来死亡,还塑造了人类生活。蚊子救罗马人于汉尼拔的大军,也让欧洲摆脱了蒙古人的铁蹄。如果说疟疾改变了人类历史,那么人类对疟疾的免疫力也一样。欧洲人认为那些对疟疾产生了一定免疫力的非洲人非常适合在新大陆做奴隶。后来风水轮流转了。“一开始他们战斗力会很强,但很快就会生病,一个接一个地死去。”杜桑·卢维杜尔(Toussaint Louverture)对被派到海地镇压他领导的奴隶革命的法国人做了这样的预测。他说中了。被派到这个殖民地上的6.5万名士兵中约有85%死于蚊子传播的疾病。海地赢得了独立。

These dashes across time and distance could become exhausting, but Mr Winegard is an engaging guide, especially when he combines analysis with anecdote. One highlight relays a bizarre plot by a Confederate zealot to infect Abraham Lincoln with yellow fever; another passage explains the ancient Egyptian habit of fighting malarial fevers by bathing in urine. (A few of the witticisms fall flat. Calling the 18th-century Caribbean a “dinner-party buffet” for mosquitoes seems glib, for example; anthropomorphising the pests as a “guerrilla force” is a metaphor too far.)

But much of Mr Winegard’s narrative is thrilling—above all the concluding chapters in which he tackles the modern mosquito. Drugs and insecticides have helped slash malaria rates, but mosquitoes can quickly develop immunity themselves. In total, the insects still kill over 800,000 people every year. And though gene-editing might one day render them harmless, or even obliterate them altogether, mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika have recently been spreading to new regions. The destroyer of worlds has not finished yet.