A Rumor of War

By popular demand, Star Spangled Gamblers will be offering regular commentary on the coronavirus. Dr. Dawg will provide this weekly column for straight talk about what’s going on, even if there is no betting market to pin the discussion on.


by Doctor Dawg

There is a lot of talk these days about the United States being at war with the coronavirus. It’s time to get more specific about what that means.

This is Not Pearl Harbor

The United States of America was caught flat-footed, despite warnings from scientific experts. Now a disaster is unfolding in all 50 states. But coronavirus is not Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor was the result of a series of non-fatal lapses in judgement. A few ignored intelligence reports by a few military officials that led to a stunning short-term loss of military power and human life. But senior officials in the United States government, including President Franklin Roosevelt himself, had been preparing for war long before the Japanese attack came. Hitler and Tojo had the drop on Uncle Sam, but we weren’t out of the game. In fact, six months later, at the Battle of Midway, the United States Navy scored a decisive victory over the Japanese that they never recovered from. Pearl Harbor was a setback, not a defeat.

When I think of where we are in the war against COVD-19, I am thinking in more brutal terms. I am thinking about Hitler’s astonishing conquest of France in June 1940. It was the defeat of a Great Power due to rot and arrogance in its management — a government and culture that believed that past victories guaranteed future successes, and that every war would be the same. During the World War II, it meant lacking radios, Jeeps, and tanks to move at the pace of German Blitzkrieg. In public health, it was the Trump Administration’s failure to have the testing capabilities to contain COVID while there was still a chance, and the resulting decision to surrender the economy by shutting down the entire country — the last line of defense against a pandemic that could be anywhere or nowhere. We are now stranded at Dunkirk, hoping to catch a break.

How does the price of this war compare?

The United States government made a series of choices that will cost the country more in life and treasure than losing a war. According to the Congressional Research Service, the 14 years the USA spent fighting in Vietnam cost about $850 billion in today’s money. It also cost the lives of 58,000 American servicemen. We are one month into this outbreak and it has already cost $2 trillion in appropriated funds, not to mention a loss of GDP that could be as much 34 percent this quarter, according to Goldman Sachs. At the same time, the President is talking about 100,000-200,000 deaths being a good scenario for the USA.

This is worse than losing a war.

Let’s talk about the counter attack.

The coronavirus death toll is exploding past what the nation experienced on September 11, 2001. According to some projections, we’re on pace to lose one World Trade Center’s worth of Americans every day by April.

When Osama bin Laden’s cronies suckered punched New York and Washington, D.C., Americans resolved to immediately hit back at the source of the problem: al Qaeda’s training camps in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cruise missiles reduced most of them to ash soon after.

We know that the source of the coronavirus and the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak were Chinese wet markets. These are animal cruelty bazaars that cater to consumer preferences for exotic animal meats that are carved on the spot. Wet markets also happen to be superhighways for species-jumping plagues that move from meat-pile-to-meat-pile and accumulate genetic traits that allow them to infect humans.

When we lost 3,000 lives to terrorist training in camps in Afghanistan, we blew up the camps.

We are about to lose 2,000 Americans a day to wet markets. Do you think we’ll blow them up?

But it’s not just China’s fault. After all, experts have been warning about pandemics for decades.

So why didn’t anyone listen to them?

There are a number of reasons why Americans ignored the experts who had been sounding the alarm about coronavirus. One of them was inconvenience. We’re not really used to hardship in this country and we have essentially lost our ability to imagine widespread death and sustained economic loss. The last event that exposed Americans in all 50 states to this kind of suffering was the Great Depression and the Second World War that folowed.

The other reason that we ignored the experts is political. Studies show that concerns about COVID-19 track along the ideological spectrum. The more conservative you are, the less likely you are to take this disease seriously. There are probably some underlying personality traits that influence this, but it’s worth stating that scientists and academics have severely undermined their credibility with the right-of-center public by deploying their PhDs in the Culture Wars.

Yes, academics have been selling people obviously un-scientific facts for a while. Here’s the loudest and most divisive one: that boys and girls are not different and that gender is made up. That might sell at Yale, but everyone at Walmart knows that it is fake news.

By lending their credibility to divisive culture wars, scientists have alienated many of the people they needed to persuade. In recent years, many academics made the same mistakes that clergymen made before them: they quit trying to persuade and instead rushed to judge. It is little wonder that so few were listening when the wolf arrived at our door.

How does this war end?

The worst case, contemplated above, is a nation-shifting defeat like France’s in 1940. This would mean widespread death and a generation of dependence on foreign capital to rebuild the nation. In the out years, Chinese tourists would visit relics of American empire, getting engaged under the State of Liberty like Americans do the Eiffel Tower. They would do this while the hearth of global finance and culture shifts east to Beijing. This scenario probably won’t happen. Trump Drs. Fauci and Birx are already unveiling information that shows promising results from the social distancing orders in place today, and the Treasury’s ability to sell debt on the global market at a near-zero interest rate says a lot about the world’s faith in the American way, even when times get tough.

The more likely course for the war on COVID-19 is that of the war in Vietnam. An idiotic and preventable conflict that everyone, from the White House down, knew we could have avoided. The similarities don’t end there.

In our war against COVID-19, we know so little about where our enemy is. Hidden in plain clothes on the street, squatting in a concrete jungle like the Vietcong. What is the difference between a booby-trapped village and a contaminated elevator? We don’t understand COVID any better than we understood Ho Chi Minh, and we have no better intelligence about where its weak points are and how to beat it. With no better option, we’ve already spent maddening resources dropping napalm — not on the jungle, but on our own economy — hoping to slow its advance. In hospitals, we dangle our warriors out in the open. They’ve got the wrong equipment for this fight and are paying in blood for the rest of us.

Eventually, we’ll accept the painful truth of defeat and move on. We’ll suck up our pride and honor our dead, hoping to do better next time.


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4 thoughts on “A Rumor of War

  1. Damn, the Vietnam comparison was right on. Every article I read about Covid 19 is the same, no one knows anything. It could be bad, it could be mild, if you’re young maybe fine or maybe not. We have very few tests but they do little good because there is no vaccine and no cure. The vast majority of the death toll that will remain unknown is the death from lack of adequate housing, food and non-Covid healthcare needed by the poorest people on earth but can’t afford because they don’t have jobs anymore. Not to mention the political unrest caused by a gigantic worldwide depression. If unemployment hits 30% in the US then what will it be in Pakistan, India or Iran? My guess is much higher than 30% because they depend so much on exporting things to the world that no one wants to buy or can afford to buy. I think it’s bizarre that no one is talking about these insane costs. It is costing the entire world far more than money when we shut down the world indefinitely.

    1. Thank you for saying so.

      My feeling is that despite what the warnings about the country shutting down indefinitely, people will start reconstituting social and professional groups organically as they realize who of their friends and colleagues are healthy and who are not. I doubt we’ll all be sitting around in quarantine come Memorial Day. But maybe I’m an idiot?

    1. Thank you for saying so. I appreciate the feedback — helps me decided what content to post on this website and how much I can sleep at night :-). Share it with your friends and keep coming back!

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