That is, World War V; V for Virus, not World War V; V for Roman numeral “5”. It’s only the third world war but make no mistake, it is a world war. I justify this assertion, thusly:
The world has not seen such widespread cooperative action
against a single enemy since World War II (both Axis and Allied), nor more
people directly or indirectly influenced by it.
All wars carry a civilian death toll. Healthcare workers –
the soldiers on the front lines – are particularly susceptible to injury or
death but the civilian count is higher with Covid because, unlike the previous
wars almost all Covid victims are civilians.
Every day there is a mounting death toll and casualty count,
rising inexorably in a battle fought in inches with little or no victory in
immediate sight. We are frantically working on the superweapon that, definitively
will tip the balance but until such time we’re knee deep in the trenches and
there’s no Lusitania or Pearl Harbour to prompt America’s saving grace into the
war; they’re already here and as deep in it as anyone else.
As with during the world wars the world has shifted gears
towards production to support the troops – munitions during I and II, medical
equipment in III. While we haven’t reached the stage of severe, government enforced
rationing, at least around where I live the supermarkets have started to put a
limit on the sale of certain products. If production continues to be strained governments
may step in. People had to get used to the change in lifestyle caused by this
disruption to the supply chain (perhaps not as much of an adjustment for the World
War II generation, having just come off of the Great Depression).
In addition, paranoia takes center stage – loose lips used
to sink ships, now they spread a toxic poison. I’ve already spoken of the psychological
ramifications of the Covid Pandemic – already we see people with Cabin Fever
(that exact term being bandied about by the media) and when it’s over we will
see a chronic agoraphobia epidemic. Survivors of wars suffer “shell
shock” or PTSD; a condition not limited to wartime and one we can expect
to rear its ugly head during this war.
Just like I and II we don’t know what the landscape will
look like when it’s all over. I have no doubt that we will overcome our foe –
it’s in our nature to survive – just as we overcame our foes during I and II. Had
the opposition won either world war I would have said exactly the same thing.
With all due respect to T.S. Eliot, the world ends with neither a bang nor a
whimper (a conclusion he was later to admit, himself). Someone has to win and it
isn’t going to be SARS CoV-2.
But how will things look afterwards? No doubt the economy
will spring back with a vengeance but the psychological damage will be severe,
and the political damage. China is already being viewed askance with Xi Jinping
facing criticism for his skepticism and coverup attempt that allowed the virus
to spread beyond Wuhan Provence and, subsequently past Chinese borders into the
An already traditionally xenophobic America, pushed further
by Donald Trump’s border policies (incidentally, as far as border security is
concerned, this crisis must be Trump’s wet dream as it allows a further justification
for his border walls) may be sent over the edge, becoming even more
internalized and recalcitrant.
It’s inevitable that the international landscape will shift
as happens after every war but how? Attitudes will change and habits of
paranoid hygiene will probably last and the Covid Generation (Covidgen? Coronagen?
Generation V?) will, like the Baby Boomers, be defined heavily by a major event
and the subsequent attitudes of the generation before them – an event that will
influence every generation with a living memory and beyond.
T. S. Eliot at
Seventy, and An
Interview with Eliot in Saturday Review. Henry Hewes. 13
September 1958 in Grant p. 705.