A Wartime Footing

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tags: COVID-19, national mobilization, emergency

Shortages of critical medical supplies and hoarding of toilet paper, small businesses forced to close their doors, and unemployment skyrocketing. We are in a time of profound uncertainty and collectively feeling deep anxiety about our ability to meet the challenges we face.

In the midst of this, we are witnessing a highly mixed reaction from governments around the world. Some leaders seem to have lived up to the moment—issuing sober calls for calm, informing their citizens about the nature of the threat, and laying out a clear path. Others seem to be passive observers, merely reacting to unfolding events—garbled in their public statements, hesitant to take decisive actions, and unclear of what to do. And another set of leaders have performed abysmally—refusing to take responsibility, blaming others, and failing to calm an anxious public.

But for all the variety in national responses, one constant has been the call for a wartime footing. The French President Emmanuel Macron last week announced that “nous sommes en guerre”—we are at war. Virtually every country in the world has now issued a version of that declaration. Such calls historically have been meant to mobilize society and empower governments to do things that in ordinary times would be inconceivable. They are also meant to remind citizens that no matter how grave today’s challenges seem, there is a precedent for how democratic societies have weathered storms in the past.

Controlling the spread of the coronavirus is not the same as fighting a world war or contending with an economic depression. Nevertheless, there are lessons from America’s past that can frame how we think about this seemingly unprecedented challenge. The analogy is of course imperfect. We are not facing the outbreak of foreign hostilities and our economic fundamentals are sound. But as our national conversation turns toward mobilizing the full resources of the state, our shared history can help guide what we ask of ourselves, and what we demand of our governments.

Read entire article at The American Interest

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