The Press is to be thanked for a heartfelt editorial “Life During Wartime” [March 19]. But what war are we evoking, exactly?
Remember Susan Sontag’s analyses of the historical uses of metaphor to encapsulate — and often demonize — illnesses and events which overwhelm society, until they cease or are brought under control. Like cancer. Like “Spanish” influenza. Like AIDS, and like the coronavirus.
Metaphors in this context are many-faceted crystals. Turned one way, you see personal sadness and attempts to poeticize experience. But with time, historical cracks in the crystal emerge: cracks of moralizing, stigmatizing, manipulation, politicization, pontification, victimization, capitalization, optimization, and rank ignorance.
The most egregious of the fabulistic metaphors is “the war” and “the fight,” implying personal courage and choice. Cancer is “the enemy.” Each new virus is an “enemy” sent to test individual will and inherent goodness — implying there’s a moral and personal “choice” to outwit nature.
The war the pandemic “invasion” most resembles metaphorically is not the nostalgically blurred Second World War, which drew the best out of the population under a decent, educated president and a young, protected rich country, and which we “won.” The war best exemplifying this crisis is the horrendous war in Syria, where the population huddles in huts, awaiting the next bomb or chemical assault to hit and drive them without warning, unprotected, into a perilous abyss. A war perpetuated by a degenerate, self-serving, lying psychopath for which no just punishment is imaginable. A scarecrow propped up by Putin, where propaganda and privilege rode in on the same horse. The war in Syria is the apt metaphor for this time in America.
No individual can “fight” cancer cells multiplying in their body. A population huddled in mansions, houses, trailers or huts can be exhorted to social distance, but “the fight” (sic) must be preparation, education, community ethos, and equal allocation of all resources under the umbrella of science. This can only be undertaken by the government.
All squandered by tossing the stewardship of this nation into the greedy paws of an ignorant, incoherent buffoon. Soldier on: it’s is a long way, virus-wise, until an election, the impeachment recourse also having been squandered.
As for those of us who pack memory, we will not be given precious ICU beds, nor tests. Social Security has not been increased. And, locally, no relief from onerous property taxes or penalties. But, hark! a new mailbox has been installed at Town Hall to drop off your cash during the crisis.
Stay indoors by all means, but no one will be immune from the implications of this crisis, and no one will stave off death with their purchasing power. History has also taught that lesson.
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One fine body…