6 May 2020   Leave a comment

I am continuing the argument I started to develop yesterday about how it is a serious mistake to use a war metaphor to think about the efforts to contain and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. My concern about this metaphor was only aggravated by the comments made by US President Trump yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona, as he toured a Honeywell facility making protective equipment for healthcare workers:

“Now it is one more time for the men and women of Honeywell who are supplying the weapons, the armor, the sweat, and the scale in a war to defeat the new invisible enemy — a tough enemy, a smart enemy.  But nobody is like us, and nobody is tough like us.  And I said it before and I’ll say it again: The people of our country are warriors.”

There is considerable irony invoking the warrior cult since Mr. Trump dodged the draft to avoid service in Vietnam from a medical exemption based upon bone spurs. The doctor signing the exemption rented his office from Mr. Trump’s father.

Once President Nixon ended the draft in January 1973, and the US has relied upon a volunteer army since then. It is a serious mistake to emphasize the “voluntary” aspect of the current US military. To be sure, there are some who genuinely volunteer for patriotic reasons, but only “0.4 percent of the U.S. population is on active duty”. Many, however, volunteer because they have no meaningful employment alternatives, or because of the hefty bonuses offered to enlistees, or because they need funding to go to college, or, finally, to avoid a bad home life.

In truth, the war metaphor romanticizes civilian and military life in a wartime. To take Chris Christie’s examples of World Wars I and II, there was little that was “voluntary”. Taxes rose considerably, conscription was rigorously imposed, there was extensive rationing of goods and services, movements of people were monitored and controlled, news was controlled, and propaganda was rife. And, importantly, most were free from the fear of a combat death: young men between the ages of 18 and 35 were the ones who were asked to kill and be killed.

The efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic thus far mimic some of the most incompetent generals in human history: General Ambrose Burnside at the Battle of Antietam; General Douglas Haig at the First Battle of the Somme; and  Quintus Servilius Caepio at the Battle of Arausio. These generals all shared the contemptible attribute of disregarding the value of the lives of their soldiers. Similarly, Mr. Trump makes sure that he is tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis while failing to assure adequate testing for US citizens. He makes sure that corporations are well-funded while ignoring the plight of ordinary citizens who have been asked to forgo their wages in order to limit the spread of the virus. He wants to open up the economy, admitting that more citizens will die, as pointed out in The Guardian:

“The top US public health expert on the White House coronavirus task force, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned in a CNN interview the previous evening that there will be a ‘rebound’ of new coronavirus cases in the US if the country rushes towards a ‘premature’ reopening of society and business.

“’How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner rather than later?’ he asked.

And on Tuesday morning New York governor Andrew Cuomo warned against what he called a life or death ‘trade-off’ when planning how and when to lift restrictions.

“’The faster we reopen the lower the economic costs, but the higher the human costs because the more lives lost. That, my friends, is the decision we are really making,’ Cuomo said at his daily briefing.

“Critics are now sharply questioning the Trump administration approach to what Fauci called ‘a very difficult choice’ that weighs a death toll against economic catastrophe.

“’They’ve decided in a very utilitarian kind of way that the political damage from a collapsed economy is greater than the political damage from losing as many as 90,000 more Americans just in June,’ said Rick Wilson, a former Republican strategist. ‘We’re witnessing the full-scale application of a kind of grisly realpolitik that is a clear willingness to trade lives for the Dow Jones.’”

The one important way the war metaphor is somewhat apt is that the poor, the people of color, immigrants, incarcerated people, the physically weak, and the elderly will die instead of young men aged 18-35 in order to assure that the rich and well-to-do can continue to live their unruffled lives.

“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” Frederick Douglass, 1857

Posted May 6, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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