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A Pandemic May be Reported Like a War But It Is Very Different
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I was walking in the early evening down an empty street in Canterbury, wondering how residents were coping with fear and isolation stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. People living there must have been in their houses judging by the cars parked outside, but there were few lights in the windows suggesting that they were in their kitchens out the back.

The silence was complete aside from the twitter of birds, eerie but magical, reminding me of streets in Beirut or Baghdad during a lull in the fighting. But then Lebanese and Iraqis have all had too much experience of crises when it was too risky to set foot outside one’s own home. For people in Canterbury it is a new and worrying experience.

I had my worst experience of loneliness when I was six years old in 1956 and I caught polio in an epidemic in Cork. An ambulance took me to a ward in St Finbarr’s hospital in Cork city which only doctors, nurses and clergy were allowed to enter. I had grown up within a tight family group and felt frightened and bewildered. One day I saw my parents waving their hands frantically and with manically cheerful smiles on the other side of an oval window in a door leading into the ward.

I discovered early on that reading was the easiest way to escape from an unappealing world. As a child, I would become wholly absorbed in historical adventure stories by the once vastly popular G A Henty and, rather more contemporary ones set in or around the two world wars by Captain WE Johns, featuring the war heroes Biggles and Gimlet.

As a foreign reporter my luggage used to be weighed down with books to fend off potential tedium. A hazard for journalists specialising in the Middle East was once a call from a Libyan diplomatic mission saying that one had been granted an exclusive interview with the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

This sounded too good to be true and so it was, but was difficult to turn down, even though one was aware that the Libyans had probably made the same promise of exclusivity to a dozen journalists and there was a better than even chance that none of us would see the mercurial Gaddafi. Since the only way to find this out for sure was to go to Tripoli and wait, I travelled with a full helping of Jane Austen. I would lie on my bed in the hotel in Tripoli reading Pride and Prejudice, Emma or Mansfield Park, disappearing into the country house world of the early 19th century English gentry.

More fraught situations required a less genteel reading list: wars require boring periods of waiting for something to happen and I discovered that an effective antidote to tedium or self-pity was books about even nastier conflicts, like the battles of Verdun or Stalingrad, showing that, however bad things might be for oneself, they had been a great deal worse for others.

In the coronavirus pandemic, as has happened in past wars, politicians make irritating efforts to evoke wartime spirit and camaraderie. The media highlights upbeat items designed to demonstrate national solidarity and raise morale.

The tone is unnecessarily patronising since most people are capable of dealing with a solitary or uncertain existence so long as it does not go on too long and they and their family are together and not under direct threat. The worst affected in most crises are people who were not doing too well pre-crisis: an adviser in a Citizens Advice Bureau told me that she was most worried about what would happen to her mentally ill clients who not only could not operate online, but are frightened of telephones.

Curiously, the pandemic has re-established the use of the telephone as the best way of keeping in touch with friends and colleagues. I have always found emails to be a chilly and not very satisfactory way of making contact with people. In the present lockdown, many others have reached the same conclusion. Telecommunication companies in the US say that they had expected a big increase to be in the use of the internet, but found instead that the number of phone calls has increased much faster and are twice what they used to be.

My experience of coping with isolation and loneliness has to do mostly with armed conflict in places like Belfast, Grozny, Baghdad, Beirut and Benghazi. At first glance, this would seem to fit in neatly with what happens to people facing lockdown and possible infection today. Certainly there are points in common, but the analogy is not as helpful as it might seem.

The Covid-19 pandemic is really not like a war despite innumerable comparisons: the number of fatalities caused by the virus worldwide totals around 100,000 compared to an estimated 20 million deaths in the First World War and 56 million in the 1939-45 conflict.

In one respect, however, the pandemic is very similar to a war: they are reported the same way by the media. War reporting tends to mislead, not so much because of “the fog of war” or propaganda, but because it dwells so exclusively on melodrama; reports of epidemics are equally sensationalist and catastrophist.

“If it bleeds, it leads” is a well-established principle of the news business and always will be. Political leaders, for their part, revel in threat inflation as it puts them centre stage and enables them to extend their authority without opposition. The cruellest current example of this epidemic-fuelled authoritarianism is in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a lockdown with only four hours’ notice, forcing millions of unemployed migrant labourers to take to the roads in a desperate bid to reach their home villages. In South Africa shanty towns, police beat people for not staying in their houses full time even when their house consists of a few pieces of plywood and corrugated iron.


As with war reporting, objective and substantiated information is difficult to come by despite, or even because of, the tidal wave of news. How far, for instance, does the death rate in each country exceed the normal death rate for this time of year? The vulnerable health service workers in every country are being rightly lauded for their selfless courage, but does the significantly lower death rate in Veneto compared to Lombardy reflect the fact that fewer patients are hospitalised in the former region and the hospitals themselves may be a prime source of fatal infections?

There is a politics of pandemics, just as there is a politics of war in which conspiracy theories abound. In the small but vicious polio epidemic in Cork, where I caught the disease, as in Wuhan today, local people were convinced that the authorities were lying about the number of fatalities and were secretly burying the dead in mass graves.

A pandemic, like a war, requires decision making in circumstances in which crucial information is scant or unreliable. The cooperation of many countries and individuals is needed to stop a war or an epidemic disease, which explains why it takes so long to end them.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, Coronavirus, Disease 
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  1. Pandemics are like wars in the way bodies are being buried. Check out the photos of NYCity’s dead being interred in this Daily Mail article. Mass graves with bodies like sardines, showing once again that humans living in close proximity, whether in cities or the German work camps of WW2, are vulnerable to infectious diseases. And this in spite of the heroic efforts of both German camp guards and staff and NYCity health workers to keep their respective charges alive. (Of course, they differ in that NYCity is not under constant bombardment by an enemy as were the Germans, the effect of which was to cut off all supplies of food and medicaments, which resulted in mass starvation on top of death due to disease.)

    • Disagree: Jett Rucker
    • Replies: @Personanongrata
  2. @ThreeCranes

    Pandemics are like wars in the way bodies are being buried. Check out the photos of NYCity’s dead being interred in this Daily Mail article.

    Hart Island is NYC’s cemetery and mass burial is business as usual.

    Italicized/bold text was excerpted from the website of the New York City Council:

    Hart Island: The City Cemetery

    In 2018, 1,213 individuals were buried on Hart Island, including 303 fetal remains, 81 children, and 829 adults.

    Hart Island Burial Process

    Four days each week, seven DOC staff members and eight incarcerated individuals travel by ferry from City Island to Hart Island.

    Both the staff and work detail are responsible for the burial of remains, and for tending to the Island’s upkeep.

    The bodies of the deceased that are transported to the Island are placed in pine boxes marked by black permanent marker.

    The boxes are sometimes marked with a name, but usually just with a number used to identify the person.

    The boxes are stacked three deep in a trench 36 inches below the surface, burying between 150 to 162 adults and 1,000 infant and fetal remains per trench.

    • Agree: Jett Rucker
  3. Sean says:

    I think there’s a lot in what you say except that in war governments conceal casualties under official secrecy, whereas the daily death toll and individual tragedies even are each given huge coverage because the media are not only still working they are working more than ever before. Imagine if this was done with the annual flu epidemic.

    A pandemic, like a war, requires decision making in circumstances in which crucial information is scant or unreliable. The cooperation of many countries and individuals is needed to stop a war or an epidemic disease, which explains why it takes so long to end them.

    I take a different view. Just as there were many simulations and plans concerning WMD terror attacks after 9/11, following SARS and Swine flu there were plans for dealing with a respiratory disease pandemic that hospitalised 4% of those infected. They understood exactly what it would be like (minimum 200,000 deaths was predicted in a 2011 UK government document) so Ferguson of Imperial’s projections came as no surprise. They rated it as much more likely to happen than other emergencies and UK Influenza Preparedness plan (herd immunity under another name) was in line with long standing contingency planning to get through the worst as fast as possible and put it behind the country.

    ‘Flattening the curve’ was not considered viable because that would require an open ended total lockdown.This pandemic is almost exactly what every government including the UK’s had planned for, and official testified to parliamentary committees on how it would play out. It’s rather less that what they had planned to ‘take on the chin’, as Boris put it, and without all-age social distancing. Yet all the preparedness and government worst case guidance to apply instructions on how to assess for organ failure (ie kick the patient out the ICU to die so that someone more save-able could get a scarce place) was abandoned when it came down to it. Because the politicians knew they could not be seen to do nothing or rather to take a decision that could to pin blame on them.

    The same political balking at things that could end their career is happening with flatten the curve, except with the FTC lockdown it is the political consequences of exiting the FTC regime which are swiftly becoming regarded as unacceptable. Flatteners are hoist by their own petard, because the politicians fearing mass deaths would be held accountable for death from ending the total lockdown. But even just loosening it will mean just that: mass deaths. There is no immunity firebreak preventing and second epidemic. But there is a country which has done what Britain planned to do: Sweden. Isolation of the old folk only and get immunity preventing a second epidemic and no economic dislocation to speak of.

    They will be in excellent immunological and economic shape a couple of weeks hence. Britain will be desperate after months of lockdown af finally call a halt having gained nothing but an enormous breach in national wealth and the inevitability of a second epidemic.

  4. Wielgus says:

    It often gets compared to the flu pandemic of late WW1, but that was not well-publicised at least until after the war ended. People were finding it hard enough to cope with bombs, shells and bullets and a flu epidemic was not good for morale. So mention of it was often censored.
    Whereas this thing crowds everything else off the news schedule despite being quite a bit less lethal.

  5. It is a Scamdemic and not a Pandemic in which the real death figures are about the same as happens every Flu season.
    The only scary thing about this Scamdemic is how easy people rolled over, believed the constant MSM waffle and accepted the Stasi Lockdown. (Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics. The ongoing manipulation of Stats and the Lockdown that was never needed.
    Imperial College London: receives \$209 million from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
    Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants mandatory vaccination…

  6. The “Plandemic” brought to us by the usual suspects is not like a war, in that there is no real “enemy”. “If it bleeds, it leads”, is a cop-out used by a press that has been long tasked by intelligence to support its psy-ops (Operation Mockingbird) against the public. Like the fake murders (Manson, Bundy, Zodiac ), fake shootings (Take your pick ) and over-hyped natural disasters (government crony bonanzas). How do we know Covid19 is fake? The inventor of the PCR test says it can only determine the presence of a virus, but not its quantity. I hate to use their terminology. I like Kung-flu better. It displays the need to demonize China, and since “kung” means skill, the skill of our managers at manipulating us. As well as stealing from us. How many billions to fight a nonexistent enemy? Can you hear veteran fraudster (fake AIDS) “Phoney Tony” Fauci say “winning”! “Billy the Vaxxer” Gates’ eugenics project, er, charity will have more money to sterilize your daughters, give you permanent health damage, and if we let him, the microchip/mark of the beast.

    Wake up people. “Ordo ab Chaos”, the usual suspects love to say. Let it benefit us. The credibility of our real enemies is at a low point. Let’s see if we cant take their NWO and “drown it in the bathtub”.

  7. The vulnerable health service workers in every country are being rightly lauded for their selfless courage, but does the significantly lower death rate in Veneto compared to Lombardy reflect the fact that fewer patients are hospitalised in the former region and the hospitals themselves may be a prime source of fatal infections?

    Add to fatal infections the lately brought up possibility that ventilators operating at maximum intensity may damage patients’ lungs.

    This webzine has its majority or writers — and the editor-in-chief is one of them — aligned with the official narrative (lockdown, flatten the curve, etc.) from the mainstream media. Many readers are also agreeing with that. So, for once, it has stepped out of its motto of publishing mostly controversial stuff that is “largely excluded from the american mainstream media”.

    One would expect at least one of those writers or readers to come forward and produce a comment addressing the hypothesis of the excerpt I quoted above.

    I am waiting.

    • Thanks: AaronInMVD, Jett Rucker
  8. Jett Rucker says: • Website

    There is one big thing about governmental responses to the COVID virus that resemble a war: they are the worst possible thing(s) that could be done about it (the virus).

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