Some have likened the coronavirus pandemic to war. And yes, city, state, national, and international leadership must respond, protect citizens, and activate production of needed equipment.
Still, comparing fighting a pandemic to war is, as we Danes say, galimatias — it is gobbledygook and makes no sense.
A war has a tangible enemy based on differences in territorial, belief, or faith-based identities.
A war is fought to protect land, property, or in order to further ideology.
A war is brought on by conflict, disagreement, competition, or hostility.
If this is a war, it is one fought in host cells on a microscopic level. The coronavirus travels from human to human in order to replicate itself. In order to do so, it seeks new hosts. Once it enters the human organism, it seeks to alter the host cells in order to suppress or alter their normal defenses.
For those dealing with slowing the spread of the disease, for caregivers, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, every day is a battle. A dreadful one at that.
But otherwise, it makes no sense to talk about the response to the virus as a war.
It is, in fact, counterproductive, or even dangerous, because coronavirus does not care whether its host is Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, Chinese, North Korean, or Russian.
The problem with using the terminology of war is that it falls short in preparing us for what is needed in response to it from each of us individually, and particularly, from all of us collectively.
As we have seen in the coronavirus outbreak, attempts to exempt one group of people over another from protective measures, or favoring one region over another doesn’t work. The virus does not care if the next host is Republican, Democratic, indigenous or imported. It doesn’t distinguish between American, European, African, Australian, old, young, rich, poor, famous, unknown, or whether he or she is white or a person of color.
Any attempt to think “us versus them,” or “our people versus their people” as one has to do in a war doesn’t work with a pandemic.
Dealing successfully with coronavirus will force us to upend some of our beliefs about who is “deserving” and who is not. Any attempts to divide and conquer will only backfire.
A pandemic cannot be fought with war mentality.
It requires a different kind of mindset because:
- Refusing international collaboration puts everyone at risk
- Refusing international guidance and information-sharing puts everyone at risk
- Having groups of people afraid of seeking medical assistance for financial, social, or cultural reasons puts everyone at risk
- Failing to accurately disclose medical facts puts everyone at risk
- Delaying dissemination of information puts everyone at risk
- Denying unpleasant facts puts everyone at risk
- Making people go back to work when they are ill because they cannot afford to take time off puts everyone at risk.
- Having people without access to healthcare puts everyone at risk
- Having limited supplies of protective equipment puts everyone at risk
- Having lack of access to testing puts everyone at risk
- Having some unable to afford anything other than cramped, unsafe, and inadequate housing puts everyone at risk
- Competing illegally or with lack of transparency for resources puts everyone at risk
- Having inadequate facilities for immigrants, asylum seekers, the incarcerated, the mentally ill, and the elderly puts everyone at risk
In war, conflict, hostility, and certain kinds of competition, ethics go out the window. Compassion and feelings of empathy must be eradicated in order to win.
Coronavirus demands that we connect to other sides of ourselves. The only way we can achieve success is if everyone wins.
Or to alter and old saying a bit. This virus pandemic reminds us that truly, what we do now for the least of these, our brothers and sisters, we do for all of us.