In Japan they have an ancient saying: "The most beautiful flowers grow only in the shit of Godzilla."
And you know what? They're right. Great things not only happen despite horrible disasters, but often because of them. We're not saying that we're glad these horrible things happened, or that it was even worth it. But a lot of what's great about the world today is a result of history's darkest hours.
We know this statement is going to be pretty controversial down in the comments section, but we're going to say it and stand by it: the Black Death was bad. We want to make it clear right off the bat that when we talk about a silver lining, we are not advocating that the Black Death be brought back. We would not support any such proposal.
The Black Death, a.k.a. The Plague, utterly ravaged humanity, killing between 30 and 60 percent of Europeans, and dropping the population of the entire world by 20 percent by some estimates. The Plague came in three forms. Bubonic was the most common and easiest to spot: Sufferers developed huge buboes under the armpits, on the neck and in the groin, which grew to the size of a small apple or egg.
Death often occurred less than a week after infection. Pneumonic was the second most common form, and it infected the lungs. It also had a mortality rate of 95 percent, which seems impressive until you learn that Septicemic Plague, the third variety, had a mortality rate close to 100 percent, and even today there is no cure for it.
The only reason that the two latter examples were rare is because they killed so quickly that you didn't have time to pass it on before you died. Much like attacking Bruce Willis on Christmas, if you contracted Septicemic Plague, your life expectancy was about a day, and the end was not going to be pretty.
The Silver Lining:
The birth of the freaking modern world.
So how could one of the deadliest pandemics in human history have any positive outcomes?
Well, before the plague there had been massive overpopulation in many European countries, the likes of which the world really hadn't seen to that point. Along with it came famine, poor sanitation, overcrowding; all of which helped to accelerate the progress of infectious diseases like, well... like the plague. Disease, starvation and predators make up Mother Nature's three-pronged population control failsafe, and things had gotten to the point where it was going to be the Plague or lions.
So, what'll it be?
But that ensuing wave of death and horror set off a series of dominoes that would help create the modern world. First, the Plague left behind a sudden shortage of labor, thus landlords were forced to compete for workers by offering higher wages and better treatment. A lower population also brought cheaper land prices, more food for the average peasant and a relatively large increase in income among the lower classes over the next century.
In fact, it has been argued that the Black Death brought about the end of Feudalism, the establishment of Capitalism and was one of the major factors that caused the Peasant's Revolt and ultimately, the Renaissance.
So if you're fond of modern-day culture or the mere fact that you aren't a peasant, go ahead and thank the Black Death. If you are a fan of being a peasant; how did you get the Internet?! GET THEE BACK TO THE MILL, THADDRICK, THE MILLET SHALT NOT GRIND ITSELF.
If you've heard of thalidomide, then you almost certainly know it as the stuff that caused all those deformed babies back in the day.
Thalidomide was a chemical sold all over the world between 1957 and 1961 as a sedative and a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women. However, it was swiftly banned in 1962 when scientists discovered that it caused severe birth defects in the children of women who took it. So, on the plus side, it made pregnancy a lot more bearable, just at the expense of those pesky "child" things.
With tens of thousands of victims of the drug worldwide, thalidomide has been called "the biggest medical tragedy of modern times." So how do we find a silver lining here? Did the babies grow up to have superpowers? What else could possibly even begin to repair this drug's reputation?
The Silver Lining:
How about a possible cure for fucking cancer?
It turns out, despite being banned, thalidomide didn't fully disappear from use. In the mid 60s an Israeli doctor prescribed the drug to leprosy patients who were having trouble sleeping, because fuck it, you know? When a dude's limbs are falling off, he's pretty much game for anything.
"Are you sure that'll cure my leprosy, doc?"
"What? Oh, goodness no, but, you know. You got shit else to do, right?"
What the doctor accidentally discovered was that the lesions and fevers of his leprosy-ridden patients quickly disappeared. Since the medical professional in question was not named Dr. Jesus, it became clear that the drug was having positive effects, and by the 1970s, the Public Health Service began a program to hand out this "Wonder Drug" to sufferers.
Though, we must admit, Dr. Jesus would make a great show.
But we said it cured cancer, not leprosy. It also turns out that thalidomide stops the growth of blood vessels, which is what caused all those defects in "Thalidomide Children" in the first place. However, researchers believe that these very same side effects could be used to stop cancerous cells developing the blood vessels which they need to grow, thus limiting the size of cancers to a pinhead.
But we're not done yet!
Scientists are also experimenting with thalidomide for diseases including AIDS, brain cancer, lupus and autoimmune diseases.
You'd better come through, thalidomide. We put up with a lot of your shit to get here.
Chernobyl is considered to be the worst nuclear disaster in history, and the only one to ever reach 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Seven is as high as the scale goes.
It started when engineers at the plant wanted to see if, should power to the plant itself fail, they could keep the cooling pump system going from the reactors themselves. We can see how someone would be eager to break up the drudgery of life at a communist-run power plant, which probably consisted of hauling atoms back and forth in drab, gray wheelbarrows and standing in line for Enriched Uranium. But deliberately fucking about with nuclear safety regulations just to "see what happens" seems to be taking it too far.
And we all know how well this little experiment went down: Two huge explosions blew off the reactor's roof, the highly radioactive contents were spewed into the atmosphere, air was sucked in which ignited carbon monoxide gas and the reactor was set on fire for nine days straight.
Because the Soviet Union couldn't be bothered to house the Chernobyl reactor in a concrete shell, as was standard, 100 times more radiation was released than in the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings combined. So let that stand as a lesson to the remaining communist nuclear powers: Next time, just play some fucking Minesweeper.
Minesweeper: Marginally more fun than the worst nuclear disaster in recorded history!
The Silver Lining:
It ended the Cold War. Or helped to, anyway.
Back then, what happened in the USSR, stayed in the USSR. Secrecy is what having a police state is all about. So at first, the Soviet authorities stuck to their communist policy of "ignore the disaster and hope it will go away." The only problem was that you can't just explode a nuclear reactor--and release a cloud of death in the process--and expect nobody to notice.
Officials in Sweden raised worldwide alarm about the huge levels of radiation sweeping over Europe from Russia, and The Kremlin was forced to break its customary silence after 48 hours. Three weeks later, among international pressure and wild rumors about damage and death tolls, Mikhail Gorbachev finally commented, with unprecedented honesty. This is the point when, against the will of the hardliners, the light came shining in.
Gorbachev was forced to be completely honest, and give journalists "unparalleled information," and access to nuclear officials and doctors. This was the turning point of "Glasnost," Gorbachev's policy of freedom of the press that had gotten mostly lip service up to that point. And once the press was allowed to start tugging at loose threads, the entire pants of communism came unraveled.
When the citizenry found out that bread lines were not, in fact, "more awesome than ten million rollercoaster blowjobs," this led to mass dissatisfaction and that fueled the eventual end of the Cold War, and the Soviet Union.