Governor Phil Murphy said at a press conference, when asked about Board of Educations incumbents and altered special elections, that had hadn’t given the matter “four seconds of thought”. Why? “We’re at war,” the governor said.
President Donald Trump also invoked a military struggle, referring to the coronavirus as “the invisible enemy” and promising a “total victory”. In many respects, a pandemic is a war, and the invisible enemy has infiltrated almost every country on Earth and every man, woman, and child is a potential victim of its unconscious campaign.
The coronavirus is believed to have originated in the market stalls of Wuhan, China, last year and, after the Chinese government was unable to contain it fast enough, rapidly spread through the world. It wrought havoc on Iran and Italy, overwhelming the hospitals and causing the governments around the globe to begin instituting measures to try to mitigate it.
In a time of war, there are casualties, and unfortunately, in this case there is no exception. In New Jersey, Governor Murphy announced that more residents had died of the coronavirus than in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
As of April 4, the NY Times reported, “At least 8,400 people with the coronavirus have now died in the United States, according to a New York Times database. The death toll has grown by more than 500 each day for the last week and now exceeds the number of people known to have died from the virus in mainland China, where the pandemic started in December.”
Johns Hopkins reported that, globally, there are 1.2 million confirmed cases, with 64,000 reported deaths and 229,000 recovered patients.
In the United States, there are 311,000 cases with 8,400 deaths and 14,700 recovered patients. Trump said that Americans needed to prepare for a “very, very painful” next two weeks as the battle with the invisible enemy continued. Dr. Fauci said that it was not unrealistic to expect possibly 100,000 or more Americans to die before the crisis was over. In perspective, before this passes into the history books, the US could be looking at losses that equal our year and a half in the First World War, or roughly double the losses incurred in the decade-long Vietnam War.
In Italy, now third place to the US and Spain, there are an estimated 124,000 cases with 15,000 reported deaths. The Italians’ mortality was the equivalent of fighting another First Battle of the Isonzo, carried out between June 23– July 7, 1915, ending in a bloody stalemate with the Austro-Hungarians in World War One.
In terms of viewing the pandemic as a war, we can look at a few ways in which the modern concept of war was transformed and find parallels with the current crisis, and, perhaps, draw some guidance from them.
As mentioned in a previous article, during the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, President Bush told Americans to go about their normal lives, to go shopping. If we changed our way of life, then the terrorists would win. During President Johnson’s administration, he promised both “guns and butter” when fighting the Vietnam War. In other words, the American public would not be expected to sacrifice in general while conducting these campaigns abroad.
The Korean War was lost in the shadow of the Second World War, but similarly, the American public was not asked to give up anything as they had a decade prior.
During both World Wars, the American public joined in the effort. The “home front” was as real as the “battle front” and citizens did their part by saving metal cans, growing Victory Gardens to raise their own food, enduring rationing, and watching industrial America transform from commercial to military production to meet the demands of the national effort.
Even more so than the First World War, World War Two, which is still in living memory, was a “total war” where all elements of society were geared towards the prosecution of the war, but all elements of society were also potential victims. In terms of pandemic, the effort to combat it is more like a total war, requiring the whole population’s participating, than the cabinet wars of the 18th Century or the conscription-free long-term, low-intensity conflicts of the early 21st Century.
All levels of government from the federal to the municipal say the same thing: people need to stay at home. They need to wash their hands. Practice social distancing. These are the tactics which everyone needs to employ otherwise the invisible enemy will continue to inflict casualties. There is no conscientious objecting in this war.
“Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense,” English author George Orwell (pictured) said. Replace “fascist” with “virus” and it still applies. “If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’.”
Every person is a soldier in the war, whether he or she wants to be or not, because like in a total war, every person is a potential casualty. If ever there was a time for personal and political differences to be put aside on at least one matter: that we must take up arms through personal sacrifice and modifying our daily behavior, then this is it. The only uniform in the COVID-19 war is the human body, and consequently it is the main battlefield as well. All who wear that uniform, all seven billion of us, must do our part