Phases of Responses to an Epidemic

While holed up in a quiet corner as the COVID-19 epidemic sweeps the world, I have been intrigued by the worst and best in human responses to the epidemic. There seem at this stage to be a few phases, but I am sure there will be more as the epidemic unfolds over the rest of the year.

Let me say that I have had to cancel all travel for the foreseeable future, not merely because the air-conditioned nature of many forms of travel are now highly risky situations (COVID-19 can reach up to amost 5 metres and remain in such environments for up to half an hour after an infected person has left), but also because the useless travel insurance companies will not cover you if you travel to a part of the world that has even the threat of an epidemic. To be clear: I was planning to go to Europe to join my wife, but now that cases in Europe are rising rapidly, the travel insurance was certainly not going to help me if I contracted the virus. So I am staying put. Actually, I would love to be in China, since it is the safest place in the world right now. Already, about 60,000 (out of 80,000) have recovered and new infections are very few indeed.

As for the phases:

Phase 1: Racism.

With the first news of a new virus first identified in Wuhan only a couple of months ago, the uglier side of human responses became obvious. In those few parts of the world that used to be colonisers – the ‘West’ – highly offensive and openly racist statements were made in the media and by political ‘leaders’. I will not repeat them here, but they also appeared official travel restrictions and in everyday comments and actions, such as avoiding Chinese restaurants. Sure, they were dressed up as anti-communist Sinophobia, but they were a more blatant form of the official racism and hate speech that has been run-of-the-mill for a couple of years now.

At the same, people in countries who have experienced such forms of colonial racism were quick to send aid to China where needed, especially in terms of much-needed medical equipment while local producers caught up. Think of South Korea and even Japan, who were quick to help their Asian neighbour.

Phase 2: Rumour

They say that the first casualty in war is truth. The same applies to an epidemic. Rumours flew, aided by social media and a good number of deliberate efforts to seed such rumours. The rumours included a supposedly secret ‘biochemical weapons’ laboratory in Wuhan, from which the virus escaped. Or the completely false depiction of Chinese people eating bats. Or that another country had unleashed a biochemical attack on China. Or that the Russians were to blame for accusing the USA of a biochemical weapins attack. Or that China had secretly weaponised the virus to get back at the USA. Or that all sorts of weird and wonderful things could cure you from infection. On they went.

Thankfully, the media outlets in places of the world where responsible media is a reality – such as China – were soon up to the task. They provided up-to-date services with reliable information for people, while the World Health Organisation worked hard with its ‘myth-busters’ service. Indeed, it was precisely the WHO that came in early, with people on the ground in China and the formulation of a distinct plan of action.

Phase 3: From Complacency to Reality

This phase was my experience. Since I was in a relatively remote corner of the world, largely by myself, I assumed that the whole epidemic was happening ‘over there’ and that it would not affect me too much. I pondered matters such as the human-animal disease cycle but largely kept to usual patterns of life. I continued to make travel plans and thought things would be fine in the immediate future. I was keen to get back to China, since I feel so much at home there.

Then it finally hit: this is actually serious (as my Chinese friends had been warning me for some time).

The outcome: I cannot travel. I need to be very wary of public gatherings. I need to wear a face-mask when out. I need to be extra careful in Australia, since the regime here is alarmingly inept, even as more and more schools in the major cities have cases of COVID-19. So I will to stay put for a few months, if not the rest of the year.

The plans of yesterday change today, and will change again tomorrow.

Phase 4: A New (China) Model

As I have mentioned a few times in earlier posts (here and here), the Chinese approach is to offer a model of the best possible way to do something. Even more, they learn from their experience, address shortcomings, and seek to present an even better model next time. If someone else wants to follow that model, well and good. The Chinese will not insist on it, but they will help to adapt the model to local conditions.

Obviously, this is a positive turn. It has been assisted by the World Health Organisation saying very loudly and clearly that the resolute and differentiated approach in China in dealing with the epidemic is unprecedented in human history. Other countries should learn and learn fast.

Some did: South Korea knew that China had bought it time, so when the epidemic broke out there they followed the Chinese approach. Quickly quarantine affected areas, close down public events and travel, get hold of the necessary equipment and contain the outbreak. Japan too followed suit. And since these countries had been quick to assist China, the latter reciprocated tenfold with expertise and experience. In Iran, which is facing sanctions from the rogue state known as the USA, China moved quickly to assist with the outbreak there.

Indeed, the early criticism of China’s socialist system soon waned in other parts of the world. As Europe began to see the epidemic rising across that part of the world, countries began to adopt the China Model. Italy first quarantined Lombardy, where the largest outbreak initially happened, and then moved to quarantine the whole country and ban travel. Neighbouring Austria indicated that it too would follow the China Model.

More will do so as the epidemic spreads further: France, Germany, The Netherlands … But I fear for places like Australia and the United States, since the health systems in these places now count as inferior and the regimes in power are alarmingly inept.

An effort to understand Australian Sinophobia

Since I spend my holidays in Australia, I find a need to understand the extraordinarily vicious Sinophobia thereabouts. In our time, perhaps New Zealand is the only country where it is worse, but that is not by much. Russophobia is part of the picture as well, but not as bad as in that very weird country, the United States.

So let me suggest the following:

1. The weakness of Australian governance, especially at a national level. No matter what party has been in power over the last decade or more, it has characteristically been weak and torn by inner strife. They spend most of their time turfing out one leader and finding another, so much that elections are a waste of time and money. When a government is weak, it likes to find an external threat.

2. There are two caveats here. To begin with, the general populace is largely positive with regard to China. Survey after survey indicates around 65 percent are positively disposed. Further, the political subclass is split, with significant portions across the limited political spectrum engaging with China. For now, the Sinophobic element is able to set the agenda, making use of a gaggle of rabid ‘commentators’ and ‘advisors’ who do not realise they are being used. Australia also has a compliant corporate and state-owned media (ABC and SBS) playing the same tune.

3. At a deeper level, the Sinophobic narrative – with its distortions and deliberate misinformation – taps into a vast storehouse of Australian racism from the past. This comes form a time when the population was less than 10 million and was largely descended from British immigrants. In this context, the ‘yellow peril’ was invoked, an obviously racist trope and part of the white Australia policy. This is really nasty material, which many of us thought had been left behind.

4. The Sinophobic propaganda is a signal of an ongoing identity crisis. Since 1972 and the end of the white Australia policy, Australia has seen British descendants become a minority. Western European descendants (like myself) will also soon be a minority. Most immigrants come from East Asia, the Subcontinent and Africa. For example, Chinese is the second most spoken language in Australia now. As this shift happens, with about 200,000 immigrants per year, the demographics and culture have been changing. In this context, the racist invocation has become more shrill as Australia makes the transition to a Eurasian nation. That it alienates a significant portion of the population should be obvious.

5. The rampant Sinophobia may also be seen as a symptom of the difficulty of figuring how to deal with a declining United States. That the USA is in decline is obvious to everyone. Asian countries have by and large figured this out and have been working to solve their own problems. But Australia is trapped. It gambled on alliance with the United States after the Second World War, but the governing bodies know full well that the USA today would neither want nor be able to lift a finger to help Australia. Further, for some time now, Australia’s number one economic partner has been China, which has enabled Australia to avoid a recession for 27 years. Australian policy setters, along with the woeful media, are unable to manage this situation. Either break with the United States or break with China. The latter option would have severe economic and social consequences, while the former would simply challenge the whole political culture of the last 70 or more years.

6. At the deepest level, this Sinophobia is part of the long-standing colonial and anti-colonial struggle. The anti-colonial project I have in mind is the one that came to the fore in the twentieth century. As the Soviet Union realised (in the 1930s) that the Russian Revolution was in part an anti-colonial revolution, and as it began to support at many levels the global anti-colonial struggle in the name of opposing capitalist imperialism, the century was determined at many levels by this struggle.

With its immense economic power and socialist political structures, China has now taken the lead in the anti-colonial project. We see this with the world-changing Belt and Road Initiative, Africa-China Cooperation, the Asia Infrastructure Bank and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The latest element of this is the shift away from the US dollar in international transactions and reserves (for example, China plans in March to trade oil in Renminbi, the most significant shift from the last item that is still almost exclusively done in US dollars).

In response, a small number of countries – 15 at most – have made an effort to counter this anti-colonial project. Of course, they are former colonial powers, pushing a tired agenda that is too little, too late. The catch is that some of the former colonies have joined this new colonial bandwagon. These are not the countries that achieved independence in the twentieth century, but earlier. The United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are the culprits. While we may think this is perverse, it is useful to recall that each of them has been a colonial power on their own. Australia, for example, was for long a colonial master of Papua New Guinea and still sees itself as a master. That China has now engaged with Papua New Guinea and is doing what Australia never did – improve the basic infrastructure in Papua New Guinea so that it may actually develop economically – is seen as an affront to Australia’s continuing colonial arrogance.

 

Political weakness, a storehouse of racism, an identity crisis, a declining and angry United States, and the anti-colonial project – these are the factors that seem to be important. There may be more, but none are particularly pleasant. No wonder, then, that in 2017 and 2018, Australia was voted the least friendly country by Chinese surveys.

What did Joseph Goebbels and General George Patton have in common?

Let me begin with Joseph Goebbels:

While National Socialism brought about a new version and formulation of European culture, Bolshevism is the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself. It is not only anti-bourgeois, it is anti-cultural. It means, in the final consequence, the absolute destruction of all economic, social, state, cultural, and civilizing advances made by western civilization for the benefit of a rootless and nomadic international clique of conspirators, who have found their representation in Jewry.

Behind the advancing Soviet divisions we see the Jewish death squads [Liquidations-kommandos], behind these rise the Terror, the ghost of the starvation of millions, and complete European anarchy.

To be expected, of course. ‘Judaeo-Bolshevism’ it was called in Germany, and it was one of the most effective propaganda efforts to bolster support for the invasion of the USSR, and indeed defend against the Red Army as they destroyed the Wehrmacht.

But now we have General George Patton, commander of the US Third Army in Europe and regarded as the most able of Allied leaders. Apart from opposing the denazification of Germany, he described both Jews and communists as ‘lower than animals’. Jews were ‘greatest stinking bunch of humanity I have ever seen’. As for the Red Army:

I understand the situation. Their (the Soviet) supply system is inadequate to maintain them in a serious action such as I could put to them. They have chickens in the coop and cattle on the hoof – that’s their supply system. They could probably maintain themselves in the type of fighting I could give them for five days. After that it would make no difference how many million men they have, and if you wanted Moscow I could give it to you. They lived on the land coming down. There is insufficient left for them to maintain themselves going back. Let’s not give them time to build up their supplies. If we do, then . . . we have had a victory over the Germans and disarmed them, but we have failed in the liberation of Europe; we have lost the war!

We would easily be able to arm the German troops that we have at our disposition and drive the Russians back. They hate those bastards.

We have destroyed what could have been a good race, and we are about to replace them with Mongolian savages. And all Europe will be communist.

Patton felt that the USA had fought the wrong enemy. Instead, he would have preferred an alliance with Hitler against Stalin’s Soviet Union. No wonder the Germans preferred to surrender to troops from the USA and UK.

Footnote: Winston Churchill held similar views.

Winston Churchill: white supremacist

More great material from Losurdo’s book on Stalin. In his long demolition of the myth of Stalin’s anti-Semitism, Losurdo also makes a few observations on Winston Churchill’s racist views. To begin with, in the famous ‘iron curtain’ speech of 1946, Churchill saw the British Empire as the champion of liberty and ‘Christian civilisation’ – or rather, ‘English-speaking’ people: ‘Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples’. Innocent enough at first sight, since he was seeking a closer alliance with the USA, where he gave the speech.

But his use of “Christian civilisation’ and ‘English-speaking world’ are codes for a deep-seated racism. In a letter to Eisenhower, he wrote that ‘English-speaking world’ is actually a synonym for ‘white, English-speaking people’. And in 1953, he called the USA to assist England in Egypt to ‘prevent the massacre of white people’. (Eisenhower shared such views, describing the Chinese as an ‘inferior race’.) This is but the tip of the iceberg, as Christopher McMahon observes:

Winston Churchill made no secret of his racism, stating to Leo Amery, “I hate Indians…They are a beastly people with a beastly religion”. The racism didn’t stop at insults, Churchill was an advocate of genocide, he said that “I do not admit…that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race…has come in and taken its place” and “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes”. This genocidal attitude towards everyone that wasn’t white manifested itself when Churchill was in power with famine in India. The policy of Rice Denial during World War Two was essentially an order from Churchill to starve India.  Millions of people in India died as a result of the imperialist actions by Britain. Churchill even attempted to blame the famine on Indians themselves by claiming that Indians were “breeding like rabbits”. Churchill saw Indians as nothing more than animals that he could treat as he wished for the good of the British Empire.

On top of the genocide, Churchill also viewed eugenics favourably and held anti-Semitic views. Churchill advocated sterilization of those he deemed “feeble minded” and stated that “the Feeble-Minded and Insane classes…constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate”. Churchill’s anti-Semitism becomes apparent when we look at his attitude towards the USSR.  He thought of the Soviet Union as a “world wide communistic state under Jewish domination” and an aggressive form of “semi-asiatic totalitarianism.”