Monday September 27, 2021

Fury and folly

What if the vaccine that’s eventually developed is so large in scope it includes the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Pope Francis?

I revisit Guterres’ words of a week ago: “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” We must, he said, “silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes . . . to help create corridors for life-saving aid. To open precious windows for diplomacy.”

And several days later, the pope, delivering his weekly blessing not from St Peter’s Square but from the papal library, called on the world to “stop every form of bellicose hostility and to favor the creation of corridors for humanitarian help, diplomatic efforts and attention to those who find themselves in situations of great vulnerability.”

My heart, hearing such pleas, cries: what if . . . what if . . .what if?

What if idealism were the essence of human politics, not its scapegoat? What if war and xenophobia were understood to be not business as usual, the equivalent of self-defense and always necessary (at least when we do it) and thus something to be funded without question – year after year, decade after decade, century after century – but rather, the Pandemic That Doesn’t End?

Just to clarify the matter, I would make a slight amendment to the words of Pope Francis and Secretary-General Guterres: We need a global ceasefire right now not merely so that we can address, and halt, the spread of Covid-19 – after which we can go back to murder, torture, sanctions and such . . . the business of teaching our enemies their lessons and/or simply eliminating them – but rather, we need a global ceasefire because this is what we have always needed.

I would make a further clarification. “Ceasefire” sounds like a temporary halt. We need a permanent halt: to war, xenophobia, the false divisiveness of national borders. And this will not happen merely by political authorization, any more than the coronavirus can be ordered – by some powerful leader – to cease and desist its destructive impact on the human race. Just as much as we need medical vaccines, we need social vaccines.

And even as we talk about “waging war” on Covid-19, that is not what is going to work. Remember all the wars we’ve waged over the last half century or so? We’ve waged a war on drugs, cancer, crime and poverty – even obesity, for God’s sake. And, oh yes, terror. Indeed, evil itself. How did those wars turn out?

“In America in my lifetime, war has not been a vehicle for positive outcomes, but for normalizing a particular kind of process in which a White House’s caprices and a populace’s complacency expand indefinitely,” Adam Weinstein wrote recently at The New Republic. He makes note of Joe Biden’s dismissal, in his latest debate with Bernie Sanders, of Medicare for All as crucial in dealing with Covid-19.

Excerpted from: 'The Fury and the Folly: We Need a Vaccine to Stop Endless War'.