On COVID-19, let’s lose the language of war

While words born from conflict seem to fly in headlines and internal memos, there might be a better way to frame the challenges we all face together.

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In a parallel, COVID-free universe, May 9, 2020, is a day of color and celebration, street parties, concerts, parades and events. World leaders are coming together in a spirit of friendship and cooperation. The media is replete with reminiscences — some joyous, some somber — about the end of WWII, as commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe dominate the news agenda.

It’s a long way from today’s reality of empty streets, shuttered businesses, closed venues and daily press briefings with their rolling statistics of infections and death. The new language on everyone’s tongues: lockdown, social distancing, PPE and ICU.

Nevertheless, leaders all over the world have still been reaching for the language of war.

It was at the beginning of the crisis that President Trump described himself as a “war president.” France’s President Macron declared repeatedly in a public address that “we are at war,” while U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested we are fighting “a second battle of Britain.”

Meanwhile, headline writers have been evoking images of doctors “on the front line” desperate for “ammunition;” of patients “losing the battle” against the “enemy.”

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