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 international community.
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.