Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson.
David Whineray, The independent
Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have each now described the fight against coronavirus as a “war”. Trump describes himself as a “wartime president”. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked the public to support health workers, who he refers to as the “troops”.
If the fight against coronavirus is a war — and there are also good arguments why such an analogy is misleading — what war is it? Which previous conflict provides the best historical insight into the dynamics we face today?
There’s a few previous wars to choose from. In terms of deaths, the Trump administration’s prediction of 100,000 American mortalities exceeds Vietnam. The map showing where Americans have stayed at home (the North East) and where they haven’t (the South) compares to the Civil War. The response of some European governments to the suspension of democracy in Hungary has echoes of the run up to 1939. But the closest parallel to today’s crisis is the First World War. In terms of both geopolitics and socioeconomics, 2020 is the new 1914.
Let’s take geopolitics first. In 1914, a combination of inept bilateral diplomacy and a lack of developed multinational structures hampered governments’ collective ability to manage the July crisis. Sound familiar? Much of this year’s diplomacy has been similarly bilateral, piecemeal and ad hoc. The lack of global governance (beyond a limited, advisory role for the WHO) has frustrated a coordinated global response.
The 1914 and 2020 crises share the same wider geopolitical backdrop too. Both hit as nationalism was prevalent within the Great Powers. Both occurred as tensions between challenging powers (Germany in 1914, China in 2020) and status quo powers (the UK in 1914, the US today) flared. Both took place as the established global order was fraying: the post-1945 rules-based international system today and the legacy of the Congress of Vienna in 1914. And both followed periods of rapid globalisation: just as today countries are adapting to social disruption and technological change, the citizens of 1914 saw a similarly shrinking world — new transatlantic liners, telephones, airships, electricity and automobiles combined with large-scale urbanisation and industrialisation.
Beyond politics, 2020 is also tracking 1914 psychologically, socially and economically. Financially, both crises are prolonged, brutal and expensive, requiring substantial increases in borrowing and national debt.
Socially, just as the First World War led to suffrage for women, a trade union movement and unemployment benefits, coronavirus is fuelling new ideas for radical reforms such as a basic minimum income, and is challenging a Western socioeconomic model that many see as having failed to monetarily value core workers or sufficiently invest in public services. Last weekend, Britain’s new Labour Party leader called for a “reckoning” when the crisis passes. Glance through Twitter today and you will see a multitude of tweets on what people plan to do when things “go back to normal” after this crisis passes. People in 1914 talked of the same. But the world never did return to how it was before the Great War. 1914 was the defining year of the last century, triggering revolution in Russia, the decline of Empire, the United States’ global emergence, and the creation of European welfare states and social rights.
If we see half a million deaths across countries from coronavirus — and months of house arrest — then Western societies, economies and politics won’t simply snap back to how they were before 2020 either. Globalisation, US leadership, China’s role, the European Union’s future, the distribution of wealth in societies, and the very social contract between citizens and governments are all now in play. The kaleidoscope has shaken. The world is about to change. 2020 is the defining year of the 21st century. Coronavirus is this century’s July crisis. Welcome back to 1914.
French President Emmanuel Macron has assumed the mantle of peacemaker in the absence of the leaders of Germany, Britain and the US. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to stand down next year she appears to be avoiding involvement.
As the coronavirus pandemic loosens its grip on America’s cities, America’s president is losing his grip on reality. As Monday dragged on for seemingly a year’s worth of instability and extra-legality emanating from Donald Trump and his allies, culminating in his bizarre march from the White House to the Episcopal Church across the street, with soldiers tear-gassing and rubber-bulleting him a path so that he could pose for pictures, two things became obvious.
California’s Orange County health officer resigned last week after protests at her house over her mask mandate. Fresno, Riverside and San Bernardino counties softened theirs after push-back. President Donald Trump has famously shunned the coronavirus face covering. And Santa Clara County resisted mask orders for weeks before joining other Bay Area counties in requiring them.
China, South Korea and Japan are uneasy neighbours in the eastern corner of Asia, with each one carrying historical baggage concerning the other. The three countries belong to a category of highly vibrant economies, with unmatched strengths. Of the three, South Korea and Japan belong to the American camp,
Perhaps at no moment in recent American memory has a widespread understanding of civics been more crucial. Yet the portents are ominous. The latest surveys show that fewer than half of American adults can correctly name the three branches of government, and the National Assessment of Educational
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi have developed a national-scale mapping of soil erodibility, a first of its kind in the country, according to an IIT Delhi press release. The process of soil erosion starts when rainfall occurs on the soil or when water flow (runoff) displaces the soil
Sofia Oliveira was 12 years old when catastrophic wildfires in central Portugal killed more than 100 people in 2017. She “felt it was now or never to raise our voices” as her country appeared to be in the grip of deadly human-caused climate change. Now a university student, Sofia and five other Portuguese young