The latest issue of The Christian Century arrived in my mailbox today. In it is an article that ties in nicely with my blog post from yesterday: “Are we really ‘at war’ with the coronavirus?” by Jason A. Mahn.
“War language is the language of power,” writes Mahn. I share Mahn’s misgivings about using war language to describe the current situation with COVID-19. As I mentioned yesterday, war rhetoric without a clear enemy is dangerous, because the passions ignited by such rhetoric can be too easily aimed in the wrong direction. When Trump calls COVID-19 “the Chinese virus,” the target becomes not the disease but an entire body of people. Furthermore, by painting Chinese people as the enemy, Trump also inadvertently (or not?) lumps all Asians into the same boat, because many xenophobic Americans see all Asians as Chinese, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, etc. In other words, Trump’s racist portrayal of COVID-19 incites further racism and stereotyping.
Beyond the possibility of misdirected anger, war language can hurt us all by encouraging false bravado. After the Boston Marathon bombing on Patriots’ Day, April 15, 2013, the phrase “Boston strong!” rang out not just in Boston, but throughout the country. The slogan initially instilled a warm feeling of community solidarity but very quickly evolved into a cry for bloodthirsty revenge. I’m all for patriotism, but rallying around “My country can beat up your country” jingles is not always healthy.
What would be a better way of talking about COVID-19? Well, for starters, let’s not pin the blame on a nation or an ethnicity. Let’s focus on solutions and working together for the good of all. Let’s make sure the public is informed, not misled. Let’s stop playing war games.
Humans are resourceful and resilient. We can get through this, but let’s try to get there in one piece.