SARS-CoV-2: An Endless War?

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By then end of January 2020, it was clear to most Americans that despite what the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said, the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China was going to become a pandemic. Americans stood up to the challenge in the same way that we have in previous emergencies in war or disaster, even if some politicians did not. We proved willing to sacrifice and put aside the exercise of some very fundamental rights. Recently, however, this attitude has begun to change. This too, is typical of Americans. Not that we have a short attention span or that we have narrow limits on what we are willing to suffer. Rather, it is a questioning the ways, ends, and means – the strategy of this war against an unseen enemy.

I do not need to explain how Chinese and UN World Health Organization (WHO) denials and misinformation allowed the pandemic to spread. The point here is that most Americans voluntarily followed the guidance of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Some did not. As analogies were made to war, and Congress actually worked with the President to implement effective legislation, some state governors invoked emergency executive authority to impose their interpretation of how to implement the CDC guidance. These measures, both voluntary and those imposed by executive decree, necessarily imposed hardships and affected jobs, savings, investments, and the survival of small businesses. The numbers of people infected, and the death toll, continued to rise. People were asked to sacrifice more. Some governors went beyond CDC recommendations and ordered people to sacrifice more, even without legislative approval. “We the People” began to protest.

Why? I believe that the wartime analogy is fundamentally correct. Winning a war requires a strategy, a balancing of ends, ways, and means. In a democracy, the people need to be brought in on the overall strategy. This is what happened in both world wars. Wilson and Roosevelt knew that for the American people to support the war and sacrifices that must be made, they had to know what they were fighting for and had to be confident that we were doing this in the right way. In the Second World War Frank Capra, working with Walt Disney, made a series of films for the War Department explaining this. These were released as “Why We Fight.” (You can see them on You Tube.) More than just why, these films and other wartime information explained the overarching strategy, like “Island Hopping,” and how the sacrifices made by American were important to securing the means and implementing the methods to achieve the end.

This was not done in Korea or Vietnam, and it is not being done now.

The current guidance for re-engaging the economy is not a strategy. It is an important line of operation, but it is not an application of resources and methods to achieve an end state. Listening to the news media, health care experts, and politicians, it is impossible to say what that end state is. What does success look like? How will we know when we have won? Instead, we get vague and uncomfortable phrases like “the new normal.” Even the measures of success change as the CDC and some governors change the criteria for measuring the impact of the disease. We get warnings that this disease will come back, and possibly worse. At the same time, the average American is looking at personal and family economic disaster, psychological and spiritual impairment, and other health problems as people cannot see their health care professionals for routine care. Sometimes even for some not so routine care, conditions that, left untreated, will cause other complications later.

For ISOA members, this deficiency, the absence of an integrated strategy, creates uncertainty making it difficult or impossible for them to execute their contracted functions. ISOA members represent valuable means — or resources — that can be used to fulfill objectives for defeating this current threat, both at home and abroad. These resources include emergency medical support, base and life support functions — such as the construction of emergency hospitals and treatment centers — transportation of medical equipment and personnel, and protecting these resources in increasingly fragile environments. Without a coherent strategy, it becomes difficult to let government planners know what applicable resources are available through ISOA. It also limits the ability of ISOA members can develop proposals to assist the government in identifying ways to use their resources to bring about the end state. Increasingly, ISOA members support private sector interests that are also affected by, or are contributing to the defeat of, this unseen enemy. Whether supporting the public or private sector, ISOA members must be concerned about the care of their employees. This includes identification of and care for infected persons, isolation, evacuation, and implementing new procedures to limit the spread of the disease while accomplishing their contracted missions. These too, must be integrated into an overall strategy and not operate in a stovepipe fashion.

We need a strategy for our fight against this latest disease coming from China. What does victory look like? How will we eradicate it? How can our actions help to do that? How can we best manage risk to do the things we must do as a nation — as a civilization — to move forward so that this disease does not destroy us in other ways than by succumbing to the disease itself? And then, as we asked for the two world wars, what will we do to assure that this doesn’t happen again? In our last real, declared, war, we provided this information to the American people, and they responded with whole-hearted support. We need to do that again for this “war.”