“Give me a stay-at-home order out of an abundance of caution for I certainly would prefer that over you giving me death” – Patrick Henry’s lesser-known and decidedly more cautious brother, Frank
War is the sacrificing of lives for the preservation of your country’s way of life. Sometimes it’s for the preservation of your civilization.
Today, pundits and politicians alike tell us that we are facing our gravest challenge since World War II: the fight to destroy the Coronavirus. To that noble end, we are to hole ourselves up in our homes, and shutter our restaurants, schools and businesses. We’re even to close our borders and severely restrict any gatherings. Only “essential” operations can continue. Not even Disneyland is spared.
We must do this, you see, because our nation is at “war” with the Coronavirus.
So they say.
What’s the “war” here, you ask? It’s to slow the spread of the virus, so that our underequipped hospitals can gear up for the anticipated flood of new patients. By doing this, we will ultimately save thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of lives.
To do our part of the “war,” the narrative goes, we must self-isolate and close down our world for as long as it takes. We will do so even if it utterly collapses the world’s economy into a depression. Because, as Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo phrased it: “Even if all this saves one life, it will have been worth it.”
It’s tripe. No, it’s worse than tripe. I put it plainly to you that what we are doing is actually the opposite of war. In fact, it is the height of cowardice. It is complete capitulation. It might even border on the French kind (okay, maybe that’s too far).
When we think of war, we cannot extricate the inevitable causalities and other painful sacrifices that come with war. They are endemic to what war is. In World War II, America and its allies understood they would lose men, women and children, buildings and even whole cities. But it was all for our collective fight to defend and preserve Western civilization.
It begs the question: What is the purpose of war? The answer should be obvious: to defend a country’s way of life, and its values. Sometimes it’s to save civilization itself. Many wonderful quotes speak to the glory of such sacrifices of life and limb: “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees” (Emiliano Zapata Salazar). “Give me liberty, or give me death” (Patrick Henry); “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” (Winston Churchill).
And so on. But one thing is clear from such sentiments and from history: War is not to protect lives. On the contrary, we specifically contemplate that we will sacrifice lives in the defense of our civilization. But the stated goal of today’s “war” seeks precisely the opposite. Everything is about sacrificing our civilization so that we can save lives. This is an upside-down “war” where we are only saving lives, not giving them; and where freedom and our actual civilization mean little.
It’s an Orwellian “doublespeak” twist on the definition of “war.” All the while, the press and our political leaders would have you believe that we’re all doing our share in this “war,” by staying at home, not going to work, not sending our children to school, and otherwise choking our economy. We’re being courageous, and we’re all doing our part!
They make you feel like you’re a hero for staying at home. You’re not.
It’s the “Department of Defense.” It’s not the “Department of Saving Lives.” But this particular “war” seems to be only about saving lives. Other than Trump, virtually no one discusses the economic destruction of the country, nor the possibility that every day propels us further to a proverbial point of no return. Virtually no one discusses the immediate impact upon the lonely and suicidal, children, and the elderly (some of whose caretakers cannot take care of them anymore). Virtually no one discusses the impending poverty of millions, many of whom suddenly have suddenly lost their life savings, their stipends, their businesses, or their jobs.
Almost no one considers how the lack of food, suicide, other diseases, violence, and general poverty will foster desperation and crime. And virtually no one discusses the tragic irony that many more will likely die as collateral damage from such things, all in our great effort to avoid people dying from the coronavirus.
Indeed, if you dare suggest we consider the collateral consequences to our civilization in any way whatsoever, many will look at you as if you’re advocating child sacrifice (or worse: that you’re insensitive).
It shouldn’t be surprising. After decades of our culture insisting that America was built on the backs of slaves and the slaughter of American Indians, and that capitalist robber barons have advanced capitalism only to exploit American workers, it’s a wonder that anyone thinks there’s anything worth fighting for, let alone dying for.
I have more faith than that. And I’m willing to bet that many more of us are willing to take the risk that the virus might infect us, and even the very slight chance that we might die from it—if the alternative is the collapse of our nation.
But few seem to be presenting this as a choice. And the governments of our cities, states, and countries all seem to have made the decision for us.
Barak Lurie is an attorney, radio show host at AM870 in Los Angeles, and best-selling author of Atheism Kills.