Op-Ed

Consider This | The fog of war, pt. 3

“In war, the first casualty is the truth.” — Aeschylus

Two weeks ago, in part one of this series, we observed that a term was developed to describe the paralysis of perplexity that afflicts soldiers and generals surrounded by the thick of battle.

That term — “the fog of war” – represents the bewilderment 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 exact engagements in order to vanquish the enemy.

We provided two illustrations: one about how President John F. Kennedy skillfully overcame the fog of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 when the world teetered on the precipice of nuclear war, and the other about how his two successors were suffocated by the fog of war in the two-decades-long Vietnam War.

Last week we observed how the incompetently inept president of the United States was completely asphyxiated by the fog of war, manifested by his absolute failure of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. We observed his denials, delusions, misrepresentations, lies and complete ignorance as articulated in his own words. History will forever indict him for his mismanagement of this crisis.

One of the most irresponsible examples of misinformation, confusion and delusion, which characterized just how out of touch the president was, was voiced on February 26 at a news conference, when he 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.”

The absurdity of that pronouncement was exceeded by his most irresponsible and potentially dangerous comments when, during another White House press briefing, the president suggested that injections of disinfectants into the human body could help combat COVID-19.

Up to yesterday, there were 4,077,594 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide and 281,287 deaths.

That represents a rate of 6.8 percent of deaths to infected cases. The result of this dereliction has resulted in the United States experiencing more infections than the other six highest countries combined, with more than 1.35 million infections and over 80,100 deaths, at the time of this writing.

The number of deaths to infections is approximately 6.0 percent, very close to the global statistic of 6.8 percent.

This week, we will consider this — five months after COVID-19 arrived in the Western Hemisphere, do our political leaders continue to be trapped in the quagmire of the fog of war regarding the COVID-19 pandemic?

This week, we will review the reaction of some of the states in the United States to this pandemic, some of the success stories and, finally, we will rate The Bahamas’ response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The states’ response

Given that 50 states comprise the United States of America, we are bound to observe almost as many different responses as there are states.

Several states within the union did not immediately initiate state of emergency orders, did not require the use of masks in public, failed to implement adequate urgent responses to the COVID-19 crisis and opted for an early opening of their state’s economy despite simultaneously increasing infections and fatalities.

Perhaps the most impressive response to this crisis was enunciated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has excelled in his management of this crisis.

His daily, fact-filled briefings were viewed by many millions, principally because people felt that they were obtaining a truthful explanation of how the pandemic was affecting his citizens.

His briefings were replete with information and proposals about how New York was practically addressing this crisis. History will recount that Cuomo was honest, direct and cut to the chase. He receives the highest approbation for his management of this crisis.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California adopted similarly progressive approaches. He was one of the first governors to implement a state of emergency, including mandated social distancing protocols and the closure of his state despite the enormous economic cost of his decisions.

By contrast, the governor of our nearest geographic neighbor, Ron DeSantis of Florida, demonstrated his failed leadership by hesitating. Not only was he painfully slow to respond with effective measures to contain the crisis, but his nonchalance has also resulted in needless infections and the death of many thousands in his state.

The governor of Florida’s neighboring state, Georgia’s Brian Kemp, was equally ignorant and dismissive in his response.

In early April, many months after medical pandemic experts opined that social distancing was a useful containment tool, he publicly claimed that “until the last 24 hours” he had not been aware that asymptomatic people could spread the coronavirus. The governor’s position is the height of ignorance by a state chief executive and a complete dereliction of duty.

Despite protests by many mayors in that state, Georgia’s governor reopened its economy in early May. The result has been a 40 percent spike in infections.

Success stories

There are several success stories, notably New Zealand, Australia and Singapore among a handful of others. Those countries took austere measures early in the crisis. They closed their borders, stringently practiced social distancing and unapologetically adopted stringent measures to protect their citizens.

Those countries immediately took decisive measures to limit the spread of infection; ensured that health resources were readily available; conducted considerable tests; limited the impact on critical services; alleviated the effect on its citizens and companies; and provided that the right measures were taken very early in the crisis.

As a result of those early, decisive actions, those countries’ death to infection rates were 1.4 percent or lower – exponentially lower than the global statistic of 6.8 percent.

There are lessons to be learned from those success stories.

The Bahamas’ response

At the time of this writing, The Bahamas has recorded 92 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths. This represents a death rate of 12 percent, nearly double the global statistic. Therefore, it begs the question: how has The Bahamas performed in this crisis?

Considering our limited resources, and in light of the fact that this crisis caught us unaware, as it did most countries, the government should be given a passing grade for its management of this crisis.

However, there have been some missteps, such as the alphabetic approach to food store shopping days in the early stages of the crisis and the endless lines created by shortened hours of operation of essential businesses.

Bahamians are also infuriated that the government has demonstrated preferential treatment to non-Bahamians over its citizens, unreasonably allowing the former to breach our borders despite a lockdown of our ports of entry, especially because several hundred Bahamians were prevented from returning home for many weeks during this crisis.

The anger over this prohibition was exacerbated by the way government chose not to apply their rule to non-Bahamian residents – an action that has resulted in the resignation of a Cabinet minister for overstepping his authority.

There is also a justifiable disgust that some of our underprivileged citizens were prosecuted for breaking curfew, reportedly for some very justifiable reasons in some cases, while others were allowed to do so with impunity.

Finally, the government has not clearly articulated what specific milestones must be achieved to relax the state of emergency, along with specifics about what it will take to open our economy.

The matter of widespread testing has not been properly addressed.

We need this testing in order to learn more about whether herd immunity is a possibility here in The Bahamas, as well as to make those who will eventually be required to return to work more comfortable about the possibility of catching this vile and vicious virus.

We also have to recognize that most of our islands within the commonwealth are not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and, therefore, should not be subjected to the same stringent protocols of those islands that are.

In fact, that there exists beautiful and healthy places in this world, like our COVID-19-free islands, should be a major thrust of any upcoming tourism sales initiatives.

Places in this world that have not been visited by the virus are very valuable, appealingly and alluring to the person who has been cooped up for months and wants to have a safe vacation.

Conclusion

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 truth about the need to rely more on the science instead of political expediency; and the truth about the possibility that more significant harm may be coming next winter.

The Spanish Flu killed 40 million people in the first wave in 1918, and the second and third wave of that pandemic forever silenced 60 million people in the two succeeding years.

If there is a lesson to be garnered from that historical moment, it is this: we must not be lulled into a sense of security and allow ourselves to relax, not accepting the belief that this is only the first wave of many more to come.

It is critically important for The Bahamas’ political electorate to stay the course, not to relax its vigilance and not to succumb to the urge to open the nation prematurely, as some states and countries have done.

The second wave can be more catastrophic than the first and we cannot be as unprepared for what is coming as we were for what is here now.

The second time, there is no acceptable excuse. Now we know the enemy. There can be no fog of war. The second time, there can only be truth and with truth, victory.

• 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 pgalanis@gmail.com.

 

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