Can you feel it? I do. The headlines are still grim, but I sense a distinct upbeat in the public mood about our war with the coronavirus. We’re making headway.
The wartime analogy may seem trite, but it’s apt and instructive. Wars are not won in a straight line – history teaches that we can expect periods of progress interrupted by discouraging setbacks, and that there will be critical junctures and changes in trajectory.
World War II in the Pacific is a good model. The onset of coronavirus in the U.S. early this year was our Pearl Harbor – a debilitating blow that shook us to the core. Foreboding, uncertainty and dread filled the air. Our world had turned upside down, and nobody knew when and how we’d be able to right it again. Sound familiar?
Just six months later, the battle of Midway turned the tide. The war was still young, and Japan still had the upper hand. Ahead were three more years of brutal fighting. But the shift in mood was unmistakable.
Until then, our decimated Pacific fleet had been hanging on by its fingertips, undermanned and confronting a militarily superior foe. But we caught them napping–good fortune abetted by our aggressive pursuit of a dangerous enemy (perhaps analogous to today’s initiative to restart the economy despite continuing virus risk) – and carved out an improbable, decisive win.
Midway demonstrated to the world–and to ourselves–that our enemy was far from invincible. We’d found our footing and we never looked back.
I believe we’ve achieved a similar turning point in the war against the coronavirus. Our initial defense – hunkering down, staying at home, social distancing – was sensible and served the objective of "flattening the curve," but it sure felt like cowering in fear. Now, we’re back on the front foot.
The numbers are getting better, with total deaths expected to be a small fraction of the initial projections. Just as in the early days after Pearl Harbor, we’re rapidly building our war-fighting capability – masks, ventilators, treatment facilities, therapies and improving scientific understanding of the virus. We’ve learned that the disease is very contagious but less lethal than originally thought. We see now that it’s a war, not Armageddon.
And what’s next in this war? The challenges ahead are substantial, but not overwhelming. We know that:
• It’s far from over. We must keep fighting; we have better weapons and more knowledge, but the virus is still out there and there are more nasty battles sure to come.
• We will – because we must – begin to revive the economy, and there is growing grass-roots willingness to do that. Americans will be climbing out of the shelters, looking both ways, and getting back to work.
• We will continue to build up our testing capability, which will enable ever-improving protection; and we will develop a vaccine, the end game.
And there’s that one other huge obstacle standing in the way: we must set aside the politics and knock off the blame game.
America’s legendary response to crises is to close ranks – one nation, indivisible, arm-in-arm against the foe. This time, it’s different. While there’s been very positive spirit of togetherness among the public, it seems that political leaders and media did not get the memo.
The progressive agenda now entails a concerted effort to convince Americans that our coronavirus problems, from the pandemic’s start through every day going forward, are primarily the fault of Donald Trump. That’s election year politicking, illogical, divisive and – most importantly – it prevents us from mounting a concerted, unified effort.
FDR had his political enemies, but after Pearl Harbor, all pulled as one.
In contrast, there is one hideous example of the consequence of American discord in wartime. For over a decade, while politicians bickered and activists protested, the Vietnam War slogged on and on. Ultimately, 58,000 Americans died, the ground we’d fought for was overrun, and our allies were left to fend for themselves. Viewed from either side of the Vietnam War controversy, the outcome was a national disgrace.
The lesson in short: we can’t fight a successful war with the coronavirus while we are at war with ourselves.
To those who disapprove of our president’s wartime performance, you will have the opportunity to vote for a different one in six short months. Convince the electorate that you have a candidate who will be better able to carry the fight forward, and your problem will be solved.
In the meantime, please do not handicap our nation’s ability to prosecute this war effectively.