Establishment news coverage of COVID-19 has often been framed in terms of military conflict—“the war against the virus” or “the fight against COVID-19”—by CNN, the New York Times, and more. Just as with previous “wars” on poverty, drugs, cancer and terrorism, this new ‘war on COVID-19’ is doomed to fail if we adopt a similar militaristic approach, Michael Marder reported for RT on March 29, 2020.
When we speak about the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we should approach it by saying without a doubt: “This is not a war,” Marder wrote. We cannot turn a blind eye on how critical this condition is, however this does not mean his situation requires a militaristic approach. We should be searching for more holistic/systemic ways of grappling with the coronavirus crisis and how we can bring about a better world after the current pandemic winds down.
The metaphor of war is valued in our competititive, market-driven culture which has led to neoliberal policies that have resulted in the privatization of utility companies and pension funds, erosion of workers’ rights, divestment from public healthcare and other community services.
We are also prone to indulge in militaristic inflected discourses and actions in modern western medicine. We say that someone “fights an illness,” that the deceased has “lost a battle” with a lethal affliction, that tumors may be “aggressive” and that, therefore, they should be “aggressively attacked” with chemotherapy. By using such concepts, our medicine turns into militaristic medicine, making it easy to declare a “war on the virus”.
In battling this coronavirus war, the enemy is invisible and there is no clear front line. The line is erased and the front is drawn between each of us and even within each of us, given the uncertainty of whether or not one is infected with the coronavirus. The possibility of killing and being killed is also very distorted. The role of the virus is quite ambiguous since neither the virus itself, nor those infected have the intention of killing anyone.
In wars beyond the sphere of armed conflicts between human communities, victory and defeat are unattainable. These are wars without peace. Peace is not at all contemplated in hostilities against terror or a virus. The maximalist objective they have is the complete elimination of the enemy, in this case the virus. An inflated concept of war runs the risk of becoming a fight for a cause lost from the start.
As terrifying and tragic as it is, the coronavirus pandemic presents a unique opportunity to rebuild a sense of common good, Marder wrote. To do this, we would need to concentrate on small acts of kindness and solidarity all around us. That includes lending a helping hand to the elderly with buying food, provisions or medicines, caring about the most vulnerable. That is not to mention the enormous risks that medical personnel take in treating people who have contracted the virus. Combined with some government actions, such as abolishing the difference between public and private healthcare systems, these experiences may reinvigorate the notion of the common good.
We can not become infected by militaristic approaches to the coronavirus. If an appeal to the common good would make sense again, if it were to guide our behavior in a state of crisis, then it would be significantly more effective in overcoming an emergency situation than the frames of war that are again being thrust upon us.
Source: Michael Marder, “This Is Not a War: Coronavirus Pandemic Presents Unique Opportunity to Rebuild a Sense of Common Good,” RT, March 29, 2020, https://www.rt.com/op-ed/484247-coronavirus-pandemic-common-good/.
Student Researcher: Jiovani Valdivia (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)