It’s official. Medical authorities, global bureaucracies, and national governments around the world (including the otherwise sensible Trump administration) have “declared war” on COVID-19. If you’re still wondering whether you should enlist, lend an ear to the March 13 summons of UN Secretary-General António Guterres:
“COVID-19 is our common enemy. We must declare war on this virus. That means countries have a responsibility to gear up, step up, and scale up. … The United Nations—including the World Health Organization—is fully mobilized.”
Would this be the WHO whose Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was an executive member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a revolutionary militia listed by the United States in the 1990s as a terrorist organization? Who, as a high official in the Ethiopian communist government, presided over the brutal repression and massacre of his own people? Who, having allegedly covered up a cholera epidemic in Ethiopia during his tenure as health minister, was then promoted by the Chinese as their candidate for the leadership of WHO? And who, once elevated to that position, promptly installed as WHO’s goodwill ambassador (move over, Gandhi) Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s Prince of Peace, but then rescinded the appointment due to an outcry?
Would this be the WHO that on Jan. 14 repeated China’s claim that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the Wuhan virus, lavished servile praise on the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of and early success in containing the contagion, and in three separate statements, from January to early March, advised against (xenophobic) restrictions on travel from China?
Oh well. Or as Emily Litella used to say, never mind! It’s time to gear up, step up, and scale up; Uncle Tedros wants YOU!
In his address to the French people, Emmanuel Macron used the war-word six times. Channeling his inner Churchill, Boris Johnson assured the British that they would “win this fight” and “beat the enemy.” Angela Merkel barely demurred, knowing that neighbouring European nations might be somewhat nervous about another German declaration of war. But Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts damned the torpedoes and went full speed ahead, pleading in an op-ed in the Boston Globe: “We need a Manhattan Project to fight the coronavirus epidemic.” And the American Medical Association was so fetched by the atomic analogy that it repeated it. In another op-ed call to arms, CNBC urged NATO—yes, NATO—to declare war “against this deadly pathogen,” presumably on the principle that a viral aggression against one member nation is an aggression against all.
I have no idea whether declaring war on COVID-19 will eradicate the virus, but it surely won’t help with the cliché epidemic.
During my relatively brief lifetime, there have been at least three similar declarations of war: the war on poverty, the war on drugs, and the war on terror. This is the first “war” declared against a microscopic parasite. Presumably, our rulers’ previous campaigns against SARS, MERS, H1N1, the Spanish flu, and the Black Death were merely skirmishes, as befitting their relative insignificance.
As in all such portentous state “mobilizations,” the current one is pure political bombast, worthy of the Miles Gloriosus from Roman comedy. Poverty, drug addiction, and terror are impersonal abstractions, and COVID-19 is an insensate molecule. As such, none of them can be deterred by rhetorical bellicosity.
What we are seeing, as usual, are governments play-acting at war, in the way that children make-believe with their battalions of tin soldiers. The hyperbolic military metaphor merely invites us to ponder the profound un-seriousness of the statist response whenever there is a threat to our safety or economic well-being, and brings to mind the perennial truth of Ronald Reagan’s maxim that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
If governments were waging even a metaphorical war on the virus, they would intern all infected residents, all travellers returning from infected countries (i.e., all travellers), and hermetically seal the borders against foreigners. They would not, as for instance in Canada, leave the Roxham Road unauthorized border crossing officially closed but effectively unguarded, or continue to allow direct flights from China to land at major airports, sending passengers on their way with the hopeful exhortation to “self-isolate” on the honour system—the equivalent in war of releasing captured enemy soldiers on their word to return to civilian life upon reaching home—and directing others to connecting flights, without a thought for their unsuspecting seat-mates.
If that’s war, then it’s war waged nicely, in the kind and gentle mode of the modern Canadian army, which has long been reduced to a branch of the International Peace Corps.
Meanwhile, based on 12,000 active cases on April 6, 37,577,474 uninfected Canadians (99.97 percent of a population of 37.59 million) are under virtual house arrest, forbidden to go to work, to school, to the mall, to church, to see their doctors or visit their aging relatives, and compelled to wait in long lines outside grocery stores and other “essential” services (as determined by our omniscient public caregivers, including, until just a few days ago, marijuana dispensaries).
When our prime minister belatedly remonstrated, with his usual avuncular condescension, “Enough is enough. Go home and stay home!” I assumed his decree was directed at foreign visitors still arriving from the incubation centres of the virus. But it was his own citizens he was confining to their homes, and without the least apology or awareness that in doing so he was behaving like a tyrant and trampling on centuries-old civil liberties. Not even Le Roi Soleil could have imagined that he possessed the legal authority to so transgress against the ancient and natural rights of his subjects.
In the state’s egalitarian penchant for winking at the palpable threats to public safety while abolishing the freedoms of everyone else, the “war” against COVID-19 follows the paradigm of the war on terror, in which octogenarian grandmothers pushing walkers are subject to the same onerous security measures at airports as young unmarried males from Saudi Arabia flying solo (lest our protectors be guilty of “racial stereotyping”). In obeisance to the same progressive sensibilities, every major city in Europe and North America now has its own crime-ridden (and growing) Middle Eastern ghetto. Some war, in which potential “enemies” are cordially invited to immigrate.
Like the war on poverty (and all such modern welfare state programs), the apodictic consequence of this one will be that an already tumescent bureaucracy will swell like Edmund Spenser’s monster Orgoglio, spending and the debt will balloon, taxes will rise, individual freedoms will contract, and the problem will remain either unsolved or exacerbated. It is already taken for granted that the state’s “war-footing” control over private production will never be completely relaxed; that the extraordinary “temporary” unemployment benefits governments are dispensing will, as always, incentivize unemployment and be renewed and increased at the next crisis; that the world economy will collapse through the administration of the COVID-19 “cure” and, of course, millions will be pauperized and tens of thousands will die needlessly as a result.
As we have seen too often in the past, one of the boons to our rulers of conjuring up war fever is to induce among the populace a mood of patriotic credulity—what in literary fiction Coleridge called the “willing suspension of disbelief”—in which citizens are even more inclined to accept that their public guardians have their best interests at heart. Even in normal times, Big Government liberals are willing to vest their trust—a trust purchased by the government’s gift of the wealth it has stolen from others—in the state’s inherent altruism. The assumption among liberals is that individuals and private businesses are motivated by self-interest and greed; but somehow, once they aggregate in trade unions, bureaucracies, or governments, the channels and sluice gates of original sin become magically stopped up.
The founders of both the United States and Canada understood that government is by instinct despotic, and that the state poses a greater threat to its own citizens than any foreign invader. As Joe Sobran has put it, “[T]rust in government is truly crazy. Your own government is your natural enemy. That is why the Framers built all the safeguards we have torn down.”
Harley Price has taught courses in religion, philosophy, literature, and history at the University of Toronto, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, and Tyndale University College. He blogs at Priceton.org.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.