COVID-19 and the fog of war

Every year, many thousands of people die of what is called ordinary flu.  Tens of thousands die in traffic accidents.  Then there are industrial accidents, household mishaps, and huge numbers of avoidable deaths attributed to tobacco and illegal drugs.

We have, sad to say, learned to live with these deaths.  We do not close down society because of them.

The coronavirus (COVID-19), tragic though it is, pales in comparison, so far, with other causes of death.

While we should never downplay the effects of the current pandemic, we must keep it in perspective.  To allow the counter-measures to bring about an economic collapse would kill untold numbers of people, directly or indirectly.  In addition, the economic collapse of one large, bellicose nation could trigger a war, with millions of dead in a short time.

North Korea claims to have had no COVID-19 infections.  Even if that doubtful claim were true, it is but a matter of time before there is an outbreak of the virus there.  Faced with the imminent prospect of his entire army being debilitated, Kim Jong-un, mercurial and reckless in the best of times, is likely to roll the dice militarily.

Iran is another case of modern-day but psychologically medieval leaders with their fingers on triggers.  They hold an apocalyptic view that commits them to bringing about world chaos in order to prompt the return of their Twelfth Imam.  COVID-19 seems to be running rampant in that nation, which rejects U.S. assistance in controlling the disease.  Instead of wearing suicide vests, might the newest jihadis choose self-sacrifice by contagion?

Italy is not a military threat, but many nations watch Italy as a case in point, observing what can happen once the virus rampages through a population.  They are taking notes, both those who seek to control the spread of the disease and those who would weaponize it.

The mirror image of Italy is South Korea, where immediate, decisive action forestalled what otherwise could have been a massively disrupted society, open to invasion by North Korea.  South Korea is, as is Japan, a nation of people who are culturally homogenous and compliant regarding government edicts during national emergencies.

The U.S. is, by contrast, a mosaic of subcultures in which internecine conflict is the rule rather than the exception.  Distrust of government and of big business is a common theme.

It would be wrong to casually dismiss the pandemic as being just another health issue, but on the other hand, overreaction carries risks of adverse consequences of catastrophic scales.  Knowing how much to do, or how little, involves the concept known as "the fog of war," in which major decisions must be made with minimal information.

I have no great wisdom to offer, but of one thing we can be certain:  we had better get this right.

Every year, many thousands of people die of what is called ordinary flu.  Tens of thousands die in traffic accidents.  Then there are industrial accidents, household mishaps, and huge numbers of avoidable deaths attributed to tobacco and illegal drugs.

We have, sad to say, learned to live with these deaths.  We do not close down society because of them.

The coronavirus (COVID-19), tragic though it is, pales in comparison, so far, with other causes of death.

While we should never downplay the effects of the current pandemic, we must keep it in perspective.  To allow the counter-measures to bring about an economic collapse would kill untold numbers of people, directly or indirectly.  In addition, the economic collapse of one large, bellicose nation could trigger a war, with millions of dead in a short time.

North Korea claims to have had no COVID-19 infections.  Even if that doubtful claim were true, it is but a matter of time before there is an outbreak of the virus there.  Faced with the imminent prospect of his entire army being debilitated, Kim Jong-un, mercurial and reckless in the best of times, is likely to roll the dice militarily.

Iran is another case of modern-day but psychologically medieval leaders with their fingers on triggers.  They hold an apocalyptic view that commits them to bringing about world chaos in order to prompt the return of their Twelfth Imam.  COVID-19 seems to be running rampant in that nation, which rejects U.S. assistance in controlling the disease.  Instead of wearing suicide vests, might the newest jihadis choose self-sacrifice by contagion?

Italy is not a military threat, but many nations watch Italy as a case in point, observing what can happen once the virus rampages through a population.  They are taking notes, both those who seek to control the spread of the disease and those who would weaponize it.

The mirror image of Italy is South Korea, where immediate, decisive action forestalled what otherwise could have been a massively disrupted society, open to invasion by North Korea.  South Korea is, as is Japan, a nation of people who are culturally homogenous and compliant regarding government edicts during national emergencies.

The U.S. is, by contrast, a mosaic of subcultures in which internecine conflict is the rule rather than the exception.  Distrust of government and of big business is a common theme.

It would be wrong to casually dismiss the pandemic as being just another health issue, but on the other hand, overreaction carries risks of adverse consequences of catastrophic scales.  Knowing how much to do, or how little, involves the concept known as "the fog of war," in which major decisions must be made with minimal information.

I have no great wisdom to offer, but of one thing we can be certain:  we had better get this right.