Think of a person born at the beginning of the 20th century. Life expectancy in the US at that time was 50.7 for women and 47.9 for men.
African Americans could not expect to live to 35. Approximately 100 babies out of 1000 died before reaching their first birthday.
Modern medicine had yet to be invented. Surgical procedures, for those unlucky enough to face such a dreadful experience, was little changed from the 1800s or the 1700s. The popular anesthesia was ether, and more often than not, patients were given alcohol. During the building of the Panama Canal, for example, workers were dropping dead every day from malaria. At the same time, the hospital in the canal zone attempted to cool the rooms by placing bowls of water in the windows. All they accomplished, of course, was the breeding of more mosquitos.
Food contamination was common. Working conditions in America's factories and mines were frighteningly dangerous. Less than five percent of homes had indoor plumbing. And there was virtually no government safety net - Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and a host of other programs we all now take for granted had yet to be created.
Americans today, however, sincerely believe they live in a world of great risk. What would the generation that came of age in the first half of the last century think?