Just as the horrific pandemic seems to be waning, a different threat to survival appears. It is not mortality caused by disease; it is death initiated by human beings. Putin rivals the pandemic in his potential for destruction.
Historian Sam Biagetti makes the fascinating observation that World War II was the first conflict in American history in which combat killed more fighters than disease. Then came the Covid 19 death toll, matching the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.
Last year’s Day of the Dead marked a grim milestone. On 1 November, the global death toll from the pandemic passed 5 million. It has now reached over 6 million. The World Health Organization believes that figure is a significant underestimate.
The language of warfare permeates much of the national discourse about the pandemic. Nurses work on the “frontlines.” Coronavirus is described as “an invisible enemy”. The country has been “battling” the virus. On January 15, then President-elect Joe Biden announced his vaccine distribution plan, declaring, “We’re in a war with this virus.”
Ed Yong, science journalist for the Atlantic, writes: “Scientists and public health experts around the world have been warning us for many years that a pandemic caused by an unknown virus was not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when’, and that we needed to prepare. But, as German virologist Christian Dorsten pointed out, ‘there is no glory in prevention’, and pandemic preparedness has not received the necessary resources or attention. Hopefully, this will change. Ultimately, the best way to reduce the risk of future pandemics is by avoiding a return to ‘business as usual’”.
No one in his wildest imagination would have been able to foresee what we were forced to endure these past few years of pandemic. There was no universal preparation for an event so unlikely that it seemed beyond the realm of the possible. So the world dismissed the idea – and paid a heavy price for its unwarranted optimism.
Now the leader of Russia is warning the world that his finger is poised on the nuclear button. If he does not succeed in getting his way he promises there will be consequences “the likes of which the world has never seen in all of its history.”
The Russian president gave us warning. Again, many dismissed what seemed irrational as impossible. Days before the attacks began on Ukraine the consensus was that Putin was simply boasting and trying to create an atmosphere of fear. But power-driven egomaniacs do not hesitate to lay out their plans in advance, as the Jewish people have painfully learned.
The lessons learned from our war against Covid must be put into practice against those who today threaten human survival by war. The countries that best succeeded in curbing the spread of the virus were not necessarily those with more resources, but rather those who did not hesitate to implement aggressive measures to contain the virus and control its spread as early as possible. Asian countries, building on their previous experience with SARS or other infectious diseases, were quick to react and implement contact-tracing procedures, while Western countries often floundered with this basic public health procedure. And, as New Zealand’s government so brilliantly demonstrated, the adoption of early and aggressive measures is much more successful when leaders show empathy and inspire trust.
There is a striking difference between the horrors of death by virus or by edict of vicious political leader. Scientists believe that the coronavirus is the product of a crossover from the animal world to the human. War, in the words of Steven Magee, is the product of a mutation from the human world to the animal and the bestial.
And lastly, we would do well to be guided by the words of Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations: “The truth is simple: No person is safe until all – everyone, everywhere – are safe, and no country is safe until all countries are safe. Only by working together can we ensure that no one is left behind. Only by working together can we recover better and build a world where everyone thrives in peace, dignity, and equality on a healthy planet. It is possible, together.”