Coronavirus Pandemic and the Rhethorics of War

Currently, there is no shortage of news of the Coronavirus Pandemic. The problem with so much news with a currently limited amount of information is that it is repetitive.

One of the roles of politicians is to give an account of events which they cannot control. This involves searching for the language to convey that account to the public. The chosen language of many political leaders today is the language of war.

Wartime analogies are used to prepare the public for bad news, to encourage it to accept limitations to personal freedoms and to motivate those in the necessary services. In the UK, the Forces Sweetheart Vera Lynn, aged 103, re-released her iconic song “We’ll meet again”.

Not everyone is happy with the wartime analogies.

The feminist writer Cynthia Enloe writes that

““Waging a war” is the most deceptively alluring analogy for mobilizing private and public resources to meet a present danger. We should, however, resist that allure.” (WILPF)

Many writers and leaders from Aeschylus to our time have observed, in one way or another, that the first casualty of war is truth. In that form the saying is attributed to Senator Hiram Johnson in 1918, but as I am writing in English, I go first to Dr Johnson:

“Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.” The Idler 11/11/1758

If we choose to embrace the analogy of war to give an account of this crisis then we need to do so with the understanding that people go to war for many reasons. But amongst them are those to protect themselves, their family, country, culture or religion; that is to say so that they can carry on as before. But in fact that never happens and wars change things for victors and defeated.

We need to move beyond the rhetoric and reflect not only on the values we seek to preserve but also on what needs to change.


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