A new phase of the epidemic begins with propaganda

by Fabius Maximus

Summary: We know we are in the last phase of the epidemic because the propaganda barrage begins as powerful forces work to exploit it for their political ends. Much depends on whether we choose to be gullible or skeptical.

“War is the health of the state.”
— Said by Randolph Bourne in his essay “The State” (1918).

USA vs China - Dreamstime-137840077
ID 137840077 © Olga Diachkova | Dreamstime.

In December, Harvard professor Niall Ferguson wrote a prescient NYT op-ed explaining that a Cold War has already begun with China. The US government has used COVID-19 to make that more likely. The LAT worries that “Coronavirus pandemic pushes U.S. and China closer to cold war.” Others are less optimistic: an op-ed at Defense News warns that SecDef Esper’s “Dark vision for US-China conflict makes war more likely.

Wars often begin with a barrage of propaganda. A Harris Poll reports success for the US government in this first phase (our government has not dealt well with COVID-19, but remains skilled at its core competency): “The Coronavirus crisis is turning Americans in both parties against China.” See the poll results.

A story from a US government propaganda agency, Radio Free Asia, has been endlessly and uncritically repeated as if its gospel. It gives no sources, other than hand-waving and wild guessing, to claim that China has underreported the number of COVID-19 cases. What makes Americans such wonderful peons is that no matter how often the government lies to us, we always believe them (see the Big List of Lies).

The Right has contributed to the bombardment. Here are samples from the past week.

Blaming China and WHO Isn’t Scapegoating” by Rich Lowry at National Review. This is typical of an amateur with delusions of grandeur looking at the actions of experts with the benefit of hindsight. As the many timelines show (e.g., here), China and the WHO escalated their warnings as evidence accumulated, and did so fast compared to past epidemics. For example, see the CDC’s timeline of the US response to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu epidemic (remembering that the US spends ~8x per capita on health care). Unlike cocksure amateurs, responsible officials know that premature warnings have effects. Lowry and his peers would mock and condemn them, and demand punishment for the resulting costs (after all, they want Dr. Fauci fired for telling the truth).

Powerful Americans Were Catastrophically Wrong about China” by Jim Geraghty at National Review – Lots of lies about statements by China and Dr. Fauci. Geraghty interprets statements about what is known now as statements about conditions in the future and things discovered in the future. He confuses experts with mages in fantasy. I discuss this lie by conservatives about Fauci’s January 21 statement here.

An earlier article by Geraghty assembled a timeline focusing on China’s mistakes in the first few weeks of the epidemic. These hindsight timelines are commonplace after disasters, showing that the disasters were obvious. But in the whirl of events, such things are commonplace. Geraghty also does not mention that the US government ignored WHO’s warnings in January and February, and began full mobilization in mid-March – an eight weeks delay. Between the lust for war and the need to defend Trump, blaming China is the easy path for the Right.

How to make China’s Communist Party pay for the COVID-19 pandemic” is an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton (AR-R) on Fox News. The GOP will go to any lengths to turn attention from Team Trump’s errors. The Editors at the NY Post echoed his rant.

Many of the Right’s articles about this are absurd. Such as “Republicans Demand Explanation after Reporter with Ties to China Questions POTUS at White House Briefing.” How dare they!

Our military lusts for war

War Is a Racket.
— Title of a book by Smedley D. Butler (Major General, USMC, deceased), one of America’s most decorated soldiers (1935).

Military journals overflow with articles excited about the prospect for war with China. My recent favorite is “Unleash the Privateers!” by Mark Cancian (COL, USMC, rtd.) and Brandon Schwartz (law student) in Proceedings – “The United States should issue letters of marque to fight Chinese aggression at sea.”If Chinese aggression was that obvious, international trade sanctions would hit China like a nuke. There would be no need to wreck the global economy by unleashing privateers, a scourage with nations spent centuries eliminating.

The US and China clashing - Dreamstime_113188035
ID 113188035 © Florin Seitan | Dreamstime.

Why war, hot or cold, is useful for our rulers

“War is one of the great agencies by which human progress is effected.”
— Opening of “The Benefits of War” by Stephen Luce (Rear Admiral, US Navy)North American Review, 1 December 1891. He founded the Naval War College and was its first president.

We were conned into war with Vietnam by the Tonkin Gulf incident (as LBJ said, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”). We were conned into war with Iraq (there were no WMDs). We were conned into war with Afghanistan (details here). Now our leaders repeat the play.

A Cold War now with China would serve many purposes. It would shift attention from the US government’s myriad failures to deal with COVID-19 (described here). More importantly, this is the goal of the defense community’s decade-long program to replace the Soviet Union with China as the master foe justifying our trillion-dollar per year military spending. They skillfully exploit the current epidemic of fear and misinformation about COVID-19 to further this goal.

But we, the American public, have two great powers. First, we have the ability to learn from experience and see through the current propaganda barrage. Second, we have the political machinery bequeathed us by the Founders. While idle, it requires only our energy to set it motion – and retake the reins of America.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. Things that we had postponed for too long, that were long-term, are now immediate and must be dealt with. This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”
— Important words said by Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, to a conference of corporate chief executives (WSJ).