khrushcheva123_ John KeebleGetty Images_UKcoronavirusborisjohnsonnews John Keeble/Getty Images

The Fog of COVID-19 War Propaganda

The COVID-19 virus is a large-scale threat demanding extraordinary action. But it is not Nazi Germany, and “beating” another country is not the same as managing the outbreak. We should be wary of leaders who suggest otherwise.

NEW YORK – “We are at war,” declares French President Emmanuel Macron. US President Donald Trump promises “the end of our historic battle with the invisible enemy.” We must brace for our “Pearl Harbor moment,” warns US surgeon general Jerome Adams.

They are not alone. Many political leaders are hoping that the din of war rhetoric will drown out public discussion of their failures in preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic. But, as we know from real wars, propaganda tends to increase body counts.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who, aping Trump, initially downplayed the threat, only to find himself battling COVID-19 personally in an intensive care unit – has been (yet again) trying to encourage comparisons with Winston Churchill. Even Germany’s more reserved leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has called the pandemic the greatest challenge her country has faced since World War II.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.