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‘Your grandparents and great-grandparents had to live through devastating wars, with a bloody end a very real possibility. Today, all you have to do to play your part is stay at home.’
This has been one of the typical messages levelled at those who have been struggling or unwilling (there’s no place for conscientious objectors) to comply with lockdown measures. A case of, ‘cop yourselves on lads and stop complaining.’
Uncomfortable home truths
On the face of it, it makes sense. We’re not being sent to the battlefields in our millions or asked to work around the clock to do our bit for the war effort. No. To stop the spread of coronavirus, it’s simply a case of adhering to an even more sedentary lifestyle than many had been living heretofore — sedentary in terms of work anyway.
In addition, in the more economically advanced nations, some are getting paid for their efforts i.e. getting money to do nothing.
The problem is, this just-stay-at-home thinking assumes people have no issue in doing so. Yet even the most misanthropic individual can suffer from cabin fever. A change of scenery every now and again, however unremarkable, is needed for one’s mental health. Or at least the reassurance that you can move relatively freely about without fear of retribution. Simply knowing you are “allowed” to do something can be good enough in itself, you don’t actually have to do it.
What’s more, while there’s been a cautious return of sporting events that have long served as catharses for many, seeing games played at empty venues has rendered them as exciting and emotionally useful as President Iván Duque’s daily coronavirus updates. Indeed, both tend to leave us just more depressed.
‘In the past, we could “rely on” a widescale war or two to give a raison d’être to the restless, fighting-fit, sexually frustrated (read incel here) men.’
Added to this is the increase in already existing worries amongst our younger generations about a financially insecure future, especially for those who have been struggling to find a meaning to their lives. To repeat myself for the umpteenth time — the pandemic appears to have inhibited foresight in some folk, if they ever had the faculty at all that is — the collateral damage from the stop-coronavirus-at-all-costs approach could be very high and long-lasting.
While some academics, though not all, say that previous pandemics played a part in reducing inequality, today’s viral enemy will most likely do the opposite. For one, Covid-19 is not a fatal infection for the working-age population, bar a very small number of exceptions. So it won’t be the case that it will be an employees’ market when we get through this. Job insecurity and lack of opportunities will most likely be worse, not better.
Such an environment is a perfect breeding ground for discontent.
In the past, to counteract this, we could “rely on” a widescale war or two to give a raison d’être to the restless, fighting-fit, sexually frustrated (read incel here) men, with most of the women providing backing support on the home front or tending to the wounded in field hospitals.
Of course, we can never rule out another conflict where our “First World” nations get involved en mass — it is, after all, in the so-called developed regions where we tend to have more discontented young men. However, today’s modern warfare requires fewer infantry soldiers than previously. (In emerging-market countries such as Colombia, to highlight but one difference, it could be argued that criminality absorbs at an early age those who otherwise might have become “lost”, thus giving them a purpose with more pressing concerns to worry about than the meaning of life.)
‘Our best “hope” might be for Mother Nature to strike first with her own deadly attack, by whatever means she deems necessary.’
So as much as there may be sufficient numbers of willing young men ready to take up arms for a cause, our next global conflict involving the advanced nations is likely to be less in-your-face than those that humanity suffered in the 20th century.
Nonetheless, by that very fact, it could prove to be much more pernicious. As we’re seeing with coronavirus, when you’re fighting a microscopic enemy it’s rather difficult to pinpoint exactly where to strike a telling blow.
So imagine a more lethal, indiscriminate killer than Covid-19 at large amongst the populace. We’re talking 21st-century biological warfare. In such a scenario, mobilising our frustrated young men — those who managed to avoid death from the initial wave of disease that is — would be of little use, save for sending them in as foot soldiers to tidy up and, perhaps, repopulate enemy territory if and when the belligerents have been defeated.
Bet on Beijing
It might sound far-fetched, but with a belief amongst a number of shrewd analysts that the US and its allies are already in a cold war with China, heating this up doesn’t require an actual military battle.
If this current pandemic happens to be an unplanned test for something far uglier to come, China’s leaders must surely be confident that having tight control over their people gives them a distinct advantage over the West, with its disenchanted, disunited, undisciplined youths. In fact, Beijing mightn’t be far off the mark if it feels the West has hit the self-destruct button. In a zeitgeist of cancel culture and wokeness, a slight nudge is all that’s needed to send it over the edge.
Our best “hope” might be for Mother Nature to strike first with her own deadly attack, by whatever means she deems necessary. The problem with this is that it most likely wouldn’t sufficiently deal with the issue at hand in the way conventional warfare would i.e. disproportionately “take out” those disenchanted young men. It would, or at least should, however, make us all, wherever we’re from and whatever we believe, appreciate our precious, privileged time on this planet. It’s certainly going to take something more threatening than this novel coronavirus to achieve that in any case.
Having said that, it is an insult to all those who died in the world wars, not to mention the Spanish flu, to compare them to this current pandemic. Mercifully, Covid-19 is a discriminate killer and at that, not a terribly lethal one.
Nonetheless, for those of you who feel coronavirus is our defining war moment right now, you might want to start building that bunker while you still can. To borrow from the 70s rock hit, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’
Total war, 21st-century style, might be the only way to give a dose of much-needed reality to incel and virtue signaller alike.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.