“In war, the first casualty is the truth.” — Aeschylus
Last week, we observed that, throughout the history of wars, a term developed to describe the paralysis of confusion that afflicts soldiers and generals surrounded by the thick of battle.
That term — “fog of war” — represents the confusion that prevails during the conflict and results in factors such as delays, confusion and indecision.
We also noted that, in the fog of war, there is often a refusal of the commanding generals to accept the truth about the enemy, thereby preventing them from executing effective rules of engagement to defeat the enemy.
We also recognized that the world is now on a war footing, the likes of which we have not experienced since the Spanish flu — more than a century ago.
We provided two illustrations of how the U.S. political directorate dealt with the fog of war in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when the world teetered on the precipice of nuclear war.
We contrasted that response to the two-decades-long Vietnam War that was punctuated by one example after another of the effects of the fog of war.
As unpopular and devastating as that war was, it is noteworthy that the number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. over the past four months has surpassed the U.S. fatalities suffered during the 20 years of the Vietnam War.
Therefore, this week, we will continue to consider this— are we presently experiencing the fog of war regarding the COVID-19 pandemic? And, consequently, are we now witnessing the death of truth?
The pandemic in perspective
The novel coronavirus, or the COVID-19 pandemic, came out of nowhere. As we ushered in the new year four short months ago, no one could have imagined that the entire world would be transformed and transfixed in the way that it has been in the last 120 days.
Based on the most recent data, there have been nearly 3.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, as we rapidly approach a global death toll of a quarter of a million people. Corresponding data for The Bahamas was 83 confirmed cases and 11 deaths.
Leadership in the time of COVID-19
In times such as these, when the planet’s inhabitants are pining for prescriptions for this pandemic, the world frequently turns to the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth – the United States of America — to lead the way. What has been the response of U.S. leadership?
The United States, with nearly 330 million people, from its formation, has exemplified an epic experiment in democracy.
The founding fathers were very concerned about the powers it granted to the federal government compared to the states. The debate about states’ rights reached a crescendo in the mid-1800s, when it was regarded as one of the causes of the bloody American Civil War.
Subsequently, there have been landmark Supreme Court decisions that have addressed contentious issues, seeking to resolve federal versus states’ rights.
To answer the question about how to assess the leadership surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, we should similarly look at the approaches of the federal versus the state governments. This week, we will review the response by the federal government.
The U.S. president’s response
The federal government’s response has been inept, incompetent and inadequate.
History will not be kind to President Donald Trump, who fell asleep at the wheel during this crisis and who manifested virtually all of the symptoms of being overcome by the fog of war.
If you think that is an unduly harsh assessment of the U.S. president, just listen to his own words regarding this pandemic over the last four months. The following chronology speaks volumes.
On January 22, when asked by CNBC whether there were any concerns about the virus spreading to the U.S., the president responded: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
On January 24, the president praised China for its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus: “China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American people, I want to thank President Xi!”
On January 30, at a campaign rally in Iowa, Trump talked about the U.S. partnership with China to control the disease. “We only have five people. Hopefully, everything’s going to be great. They have somewhat of a problem, but hopefully, it’s all going to be great. But we’re working with China, just so you know, and other countries very, very closely. So it doesn’t get out of hand.”
On February 2, while being interviewed by Sean Hannity, Trump said, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
On February 10, at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H., Trump said: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true. But we’re doing great in our country. China, I spoke with President Xi, and they’re working very, very hard. And I think it’s going to all work out fine.”
On February 13, in an interview with Geraldo Rivera, Trump said: “In our country, we only have, basically, 12 cases, and most of those people are recovering and some cases fully recovered. So it’s actually less.”
One of the most revealing examples of the misinformation, confusion and delusion which characterize just how out of touch the president was, was voiced on February 26, at a news conference, during which Trump said: “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”
In a meeting with Republican senators on Capitol Hill on March 10, Trump said, “This was unexpected… And it hit the world. And we’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
One week later, on March 17, Trump told reporters: “This is a pandemic… I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
On March 21, Trump tweeted: “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains – Thank You!”
On March 24, President Trump said: “Easter is a very special day for me. And I see it sort of in that timeline that I’m thinking about. And I say, wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?”
On April 7, while criticizing the World Health Organization (WHO), Trump said: “The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China-centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately, I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”
On April 14, the president said: “Today I am instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
Finally, one of the most irresponsible and potentially dangerous comments came a few days ago, when, during a White House briefing, the president suggested that injections of disinfectants into the human body could help combat the coronavirus.
Those irresponsibly inappropriate comments prompted extensive condemnation by persons on both sides of the political divide as dangerous to the health of Americans and inspired a near-universal alarm.
In addition to falling asleep at the wheel this year, in 2018 the Trump administration dismantled a National Security Council directorate at the White House that was charged with preparing for pandemics.
This directorate had warned for years that a pandemic would erupt; it was not a question of if, but when. Therefore, public health and national security experts were alarmed when President Trump said that the coronavirus “came out of nowhere” and “blindsided the world”. That was a lie. We will never know how many lives could have been saved if the Trump administration had not disbanded this office.
Denials, delusions, obfuscations, confusion and double-speak are all signs of the fog of war. And, notwithstanding the thousands of lives lost from this pandemic, the biggest casualty is the truth.
The truth about the state of preparedness, the truth about this virus miraculously disappearing, the truth about the efficacy of voodoo drugs that have proven to do more harm than good, the truth about the need for more significant testing before opening the society again, the truth about the need to rely more on the science instead of political expediency and the truth about the possibility that considerably more COVID-19 carnage could be coming next winter.
Next week, we will examine the responses by some of the individual states in the USA, as well as our response in The Bahamas, to assess the extent to which these leaders have succumbed to the fog of war.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.