Coronavirus struck humanity at a moment of profound global weakness. At 75, this world order is showing its age.
It’s one of the bitterest ironies of this pandemic spring of 2020. This could have been a moment in which the global community celebrated the creation of the current world order, 75 years ago as World War II came to an end. The liberation of the concentration camps, the suicide of Hitler, the victory in Europe — and, on April 25, the opening of the conference in San Francisco that resulted in the formation of the United Nations — all these anniversaries are upon us.
You might say, correctly, that vastly more urgent matters have pushed this distant history off the front burner. What you cannot say is that the events of 1945 have lost their relevance to the concerns of the moment. The irony is that all that 1945 jazz is keenly relevant to the political and social realities of 2020 — but in ways whose implications are profoundly disturbing.
The coronavirus, as the trajectory of facts attests daily, does not recognize international borders. Yet the COVID crisis reveals the severely compromised state of global cooperation two decades into the 21st century.
To pick just one of many examples, consider the World Health Organization. If human civilization were living up to its name, wouldn’t the WHO have come to the fore in a moment of dire threat to the entire human population? The world’s designated public health agency ought to have had sufficient authority to act decisively in all societies and marshal a united response from the nations of the world.
Instead, the lay public in the United States may have even heard about the WHO exactly twice during this pandemic. The first time was because the federal government, acting on the President’s orders, rejected use of WHO’s testing kits, in favor of its own tests, which turned out to be a failure.
Second, this week, was when the President attempted to shift blame for the disaster away from his own administration toward the WHO and bombastically announced his White House would be cutting the group’s funding.
The WHO is not to blame; it did, and is doing, the best it can. What we have here is another overwhelming indictment of Trump’s entire style of governance, or more likely its zenith. You might call that style National(ist) Cynicism. Or you might use his own, earlier phrase, with its own discordant World War II echo: America First.
We’ve achieved that, all right: first place in COVID cases, first place in COVID deaths. Number one with a bullet.
Do these juxtapositions make it any more clear why the whole 1945-plus-75 show hasn’t found a sponsor this season?
More bitter still, of course, is that it isn’t just the POTUS. After all, he’s in good company amongst the current leadership of the great powers, among whom rank half a dozen other nationalists with autocratic instincts. If you’re wondering why no discernible hint of meaningful international solidarity has arisen on the political stage at this moment when humanity so desperately needs it, you can look for your answer to this authoritarian axis. Pardon my echo.
Roger Kimmel Smith, a former network coordinator with the NGO Committee on Disarmament at the United Nations, is a freelance wordsmith based in Ithaca, New York.