COVID-19: Are We At War? Will It Change The World?

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Above photo: Neil de Grasse Tyson quote. QuoteFancy.

The Struggle Against Coronavirus

The use of war metaphors to describe the response of threatened societies to the coronavirus and the disease it causes (COVID-19) is certainly understandable and not entirely inaccurate. But it is also misleading in crucial respects.

Like a wartime enemy, the virus is portrayed as a maleficent external threat, an alien force that endangers one’s homeland and personal security.  Associating the biological threat with a political adversary, the American president labeled it a “Chinese virus,” while Chinese leaders have insisted that, despite its apparent origin in Wuhan Province, the virus was originally manufactured at the Pentagon’s recently closed biological warfare facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

This game of blame-the-adversary is absurd, of course, but the wartime analogy nevertheless has some validity. As in total war – the sort of no-holds barred struggle represented by the 20th century’s two world wars – the entire population is mobilized and required to make sacrifices, while government powers are expanded, and industry is retooled to supply the needs of front line forces. Again, as in a major war, people feeling themselves besieged look to political leaders for protection, organization, and inspiration, and the struggle is considered a supreme test of their leadership.

This is why U.S. President Donald Trump has declared himself a “wartime President.” But the label immediately draws attention to the analogy’s deficiencies.

A war against a human enemy ends either with the defeat of one side or a stalemate. In either case, the outcome redefines between the parties, and peacebuilding, while by no means inevitable, becomes at least a possibility.

But a virus – the latest manifestation of what used to be called a plague – is an environmental threat. Its cause is not to be found in the aggressive or defensive policies of any state, or even in the social problems that produce such policies. Environmental threats are the result of collective activities that, consciously or unconsciously, redefine the relationship between human beings and the natural world.

As a consequence, the “defeat” of one threat does not produce even a cold peace. So long as human activities continue to unleash natural disasters, whether they take the form of viral plagues, atmospheric pollution, coastal flooding, extreme weather, nuclear accidents, oil spills, or disasters as yet unseen, this “war” is endless – and unwinnable.

What caused the coronavirus crisis? One can try to lay blame on the practices of sellers in the Wuhan food markets or the bioweapons experiments of researchers at Fort Detrick, but the underlying reality producing a global plague is uncontrolled globalization. With breathtaking increases in numbers of transactions and participants, diverse populations around the globe are now trading with each other; investing in each other’s industries and businesses; traveling to each other’s lands as workers, students, and tourists; dating and marrying each other’s children; absorbing elements of each other’s cultures . . .and contracting each other’s diseases.

The great “Spanish Flu” plague of 1918-19 correlated with the vast increase in foreign travel connected with World War I. A series of more recent outbreaks, including the recent H1Ni, SARS, and MERS infestations, correlates with the vast increase in foreign trade and travel since the end of the Cold War.

If this is so – if environmental threats, whether biological, meteorological, or industrial, are multiplying out of control – what is the cure?  What end to this sort of “total war” can be foreseen? And what can be learned from the relative success of the Chinese, Koreans, and others in dealing with the coronavirus?  Although it is too early to offer definitive answers, a few principles are becoming clear:

First, social and political systems around the world are facing a series of critical threats emanating from natural disasters caused or exacerbated by the normal operations of these systems. Rather than blame particular individuals or groups for these disasters, we need to focus on their systemic causes – the collective activities that have redefined people’s relationships with each other and the natural world – and the best ways of preventing or mitigating their disastrous effects.

This means multiplying current research into biological illnesses, climate change, industrial practices, migration, and other relevant topics by a geometric factor.  The sort of research that has been devoted to developing high-tech weapons systems must now be redirected towards understanding the causes and nature of environmental threats and the best ways of preventing and mitigating them. However, since the causes of disaster are socio-political as well as natural, this research must be much more than techno-scientific.  It must also explore new ways of combining collective social control over our economic and technological development with mass political participation and individual freedom.

Second, a collective threat necessitates a collective response. Responding to an environmental crisis requires strong government action supported by popular approval. Leaders of the United States, which has now become the epicenter of the virus, were at first highly critical of the Chinese response, which locked down the entire province of Wuhan and imposed strict controls on travel and other activities in China.  These policies were portrayed as authoritarian and elitist, at least until new cases of the virus in China virtually disappeared. Meanwhile, democratic South Korea managed to test virtually its entire population for infection, and by combining efficient control measures with efforts to raise popular morale, brought a frighteningly large infestation under control. By contrast, the U.S. proved grossly unprepared to deal with either the medical crisis or its economic effects and is just now adopting strong measures to counter both threats.

Third, social systems unable to cope with the rising tide of environmental threats must now be recognized as obsolete. Since the threats will continue after the current crisis recedes, the measures taken by governments to deal with its effects, as well as changes in the popular consciousness generated by the experience, are unlikely to be revoked or disappear. Post-coronavirus, we will be living a different sort of collective life: experiencing new feelings of deprivation, making new demands for satisfaction, and rethinking assumptions that may have seemed sacred, pre-corona.

Will people in the United States, for example, ever again think that they can thrive without government “interference” in their communal lives and in the labor market? Will they ever again believe that “national security” can be guaranteed by high-tech weaponry and troops stationed in foreign countries? Will they ever again consider public health, gainful employment, and access to accurate information less than fundamental human rights?  The global environmental crisis is changing the world in dramatic ways, many of them unpredictable, but – potentially at least – not all of them for the worse.

Fourth, the continuing environmental crisis is likely to transform international relations by creating new forms of global governance, popular participation, and individual rights. If uncontrolled globalization is the source of many of our most serious environmental problems, controlled globalization seems the most obvious solution. Nations and would-be empires will continue to jockey for power; old habits are hard to break. But there is massive social learning taking place in the shadow of the coronavirus.

Closing borders and building walls will not protect us from death-dealing viruses, rising levels of seawater, uncontrollable fires, industrial disasters, or any of the other consequences of feckless development. (Edgar Allen Poe dramatized this brilliantly in “The Masque of the Red Death.”) Only collective action at the global level can do this.  Perhaps the great irony of the coronavirus plague will be that, by dramatizing the existence of a common threat, it has at last provided the earth’s inhabitants with a motive to recognize and institutionalize their common humanity.

  • Commenter

    Humanity should now know that weapons such as gain-function viruses should not be allowed to be created. And the 400 U.S. bio-weapons labs situated globally should be shut down. We cannot allow the madmen to continue to create new strains and new viruses.

  • Bigbrothersamother

    Masks and medical equipment. Made in China, Stayed in China. 50 years of bad deals and neoliberalism for Americans who were sold out for profit to global cheap labor, and failed preparation for this type of event. Now companies that profited from trashing our workers and shipping factories to overseas sweatshops get bailed out again, and the poor will die or have their credit destroyed if they seek medical care, and we have a totally crashed economy. Will never vote for biden again, or the whole biden-obama-cheney-bush-clinton gang. He has some nerve pointing the finger.

  • Bigbrothersamother

    If you’re unfortunate enough to go to hospital, check out the supplies– all made overseas, the gloves, everything, to squeeze the labor costs down and maximize profit for giant corporations.

  • mwildfire

    Wouldn’t it be nice, if humanity “learned” from this and changed its ways? I think it highly unlikely, because the sociopaths who now control governments, corporations and media are determined to return to the destructive normal. They control the narrative through the media, and thus they control the thinking of the vast majority–herded into camps which shout at each other, so there is the illusion of independent thought, but it is only an illusion. Changing our collective ways would require wresting power from the oligarchies, and that would require getting much of the population united. This the oligarchy can prevent.

  • Bigbrothersamother

    News reports that the governor of another state is sending forces door to door in search of new yorkers, with no evidence they’ve ever been in contact with a virus. In the U.S.A. If that didn’t get people out into the streets, their minds are gone.

  • subcomandante Felix

    It is most interesting that “Chinese leaders have insisted that, despite its apparent origin in Wuhan Province, the virus was originally manufactured at the Pentagon’s recently closed biological warfare facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland.”

    In early March Dr. Joseph Mercola posted this on his website: “According to bioweapons expert Francis Boyle, whom I recently interviewed on this topic, the evidence suggests COVID-19 is a weaponized coronavirus4 originating from the Biosafety Level 4 facility in Wuhan City. It’s the first BSL-4 facility in China, and was set up specifically to research coronavirus and SARS. He describes COVID-19 as a chimera consisting of SARS (an already weaponized coronavirus), HIV genetic material and influenza virus, designed with so-called “gain of function” properties that allow it to spread a greater distance than

    This suggests that the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic could well be another false flag operation by the CIA. The other question is whether this act of war against the Chinese was approved at the highest level of the world’s most dangerous rogue terrorist state?

  • Bigbrothersamother

    hatred of China is phony. The western companies love China. Walk down any market, and everything’s made in Asia by cheap labor to squeeze out more profit. If they go to war with them it’ll be because workers are organizing and demanding better pay and working conditions for making our overpriced tennis shoes.

  • schpadoinkle

    it’s corporate fascism/ the 1% against the rest of us. once the vaccine comes out there might actually be a deadly pandemic.
    meanwhile just totalitarianism, and old/disabled/homeless dying, from that terrible virus 😉

  • subcomandante Felix

    This is not about hatred of China but if true crimes against humanity on a global scale. The corporate media is doing all they can to bury the connection of COVID-19 to the U.S. biological weapons program. See the story in the National Interest “Like China Some Russians Think Coronavirus is a U.S. invention” Or if you prefer more mainstream corporate propaganda see the Washington Post: “The U.S.-China coronavirus blame game and conspiracies are getting dangerous”

  • mwildfire

    Color me skeptical. You got any evidence of this? Seems unlikely for several reasons, including that logically, if you’re worried about New Yorkers bringing the virus, would you send people door to door, massively upping interperson contact, to “search for New Yorkers”–and how do you identify that nasty race anyway?Well I guess they do tend to dress in black, and I guess you could make them talk and look for the accent. Then what? Round them up and drag them to the border without touching them?

  • mwildfire

    Okay, I’ll make it four conspiracy theories in a row with the one y’all left out–that thevirus was released by a US agent during the military Games held by teams from around the world in Wuhan in October.

  • kevinzeese

    There is more research on the coronavirus that indicates it was not human-made. They do not know where it began but it came from animals, most likely bats, and while the Wuhan animal market spread the disease that is not where it originated.

    The above blog discusses this study

  • Bigbrothersamother

    search-engine door to door rhode island, new yorkers. I think I read it on the huffington post.

  • kevinzeese

    It is being widely reported that national guard is going door-to-door in Rhode Island. If it were public health officials asking about anyone being ill or taking temperatures, that would be a positive step. But, national guard is the wrong approach.

  • Bigbrothersamother

    It’s very confrontational. Could go bad fast, as there are many right wingers who think this is the new world order coming in, and their country is under attack. We don’t need a civil war on top of this because of authoritarian governors.

  • Jon

    Thank you Patricia for this. We peace and justice activists must demand
    the incineration of all bio-weapons and the materials used to make
    them. The idea, for instance,of bringing back smallpox from extinction
    is ghastly!

  • Jon

    Bravo! We need everyone to get on board with their abolition, just like nuclear weapons. We need a neutral, expert team mandated to destroy every bio-weapons facility no matter whose country. Any country that resists should be treated as a rogue nation and “sanctioned.”

  • Jon

    Thanks again Patricia! Sound the alarm: do not trust Big Pharma’s solutions. In a year there will be a big push to accept their new anti-covid vaccine, but what else will be in it that they don’t tell us? I’ll trust my immune system, thank you!

  • Patricia P. Tursi

    Dylan Ratigan has been promoting the Shift…the coming social, fiscal, technological, etc changes.

  • bigbrothersamother

    I also will not be force-medicated. Magically they care about me with this one problem, but leave me to die broke with any other health problem. I don’t think so. My refusal does not put anyone else in harm’s way, only myself, which is in my right to decide on my immune system as my health care.

  • subcomandante Felix

    Just because a virus is “naturally” occurring, does not mean that it cannot be manufactured and spread as part of a CIA false flag operation. Unlike the U.S., the Chinese are highly unlikely to spread bald-faced lies —
    especially about something as serious as the origin of the COVID-19
    pandemic. PR of all people should understand that the U.S. is capable, willing and has the moral turpitude to perpetrate such monstrous evil. Let’s
    not forget that the colonial-settler nation state was founded on indigenous
    genocide using in part, biological weapons

  • bigbrothersamother

    If they have plenty of money to send troops door to door in search of new yorkers who haven’t even been tested for anything, then they have plenty of money to have their federal funding cut by those who have sworn an oath to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Adolf wouldn’t try that in the south or governors would be sent packing with their tail between their legs.

  • Big Brother Sam Other

    Why are people left making guesses about what’s happening? It’s because there’s so little belief in big corporate-state media with ownership consolidated into very few hands. There’s a billion-dollar propaganda industry that’s paid to manage perception and mess with our heads all day every day. We’re watching 1% t.v. Even our elected leaders state openly that we have fake news. It’s a success of today’s Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee, and Joseph Goebbels that they can come right out and say it, and people still hang on every word as absolute truth.

    That’s more frightening to me than a virus from which most people will self-recover.

  • Big Brother Sam Other

    Are there photos of the troops? Are they wearing protective CBRN suits? If not, why? Military is equipped for biological warfare. If it’s that dangerous that New Yorkers have to be hunted down and placed on house arrest, then it should be dangerous enough for hazard suits. What happened to all the NBC or CBRN suits to protect troops? Are they concerned about it? If they’re not concerned about it enough to wear protective suits, why go door to door after American citizens? If they’re going door to door contacting New Yorkers, aren’t they spreading the virus door to door? Shouldn’t they be isolated?